MUA here to stay: 20 years since Patrick’s dispute

Police try to break through a picket line at Port Botany in 1998.

More than 300 members of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), their families and supporters gathered at the M Club in Maroubra on April 7 to mark the 20th anniversary of the historic Patrick’s dispute in 1998.

The Patrick stevedoring company had conspired with the John Howard Coalition government to send in security guards in balaclavas, dogs and scabs to force waterfront workers out and attempt to eliminate the MUA from the docks.

After one of the biggest industrial confrontations in Australian history, involving mass support from other unionists and the public, MUA members were able to march back into the Patrick terminals in ports around the country a month later, on May 7. While the employers and government were defeated in their aim of smashing the MUA, significant redundancies followed at Patricks and other stevedoring companies.

Paul McAleer, Sydney branch secretary of the MUA, told the gathering: “Our struggle continues all across the industry. They tried to de-unionise us, but we still have 100% coverage on the wharves today.

“We have maintained the traditions of the MUA since the original union’s foundation in 1872, and later generations of workers have started new ones. The MUA is strong and disciplined in our continuing struggle against the ruling class.

“MUA, here to stay! MUA, here to stay!”

ACTU secretary Sally McManus told the crowd: “The legacy of the historic Patricks dispute changed our trade union movement in a number of ways. It united the movement, helping overcome divisions on the picket line.

“The dispute was an iconic ideological battle designed by the Howard government and the bosses to destroy the union movement, just like Margaret Thatcher tried to do against the British miners in the 1980s. Howard and the employers failed in their aim.

“The Patrick dispute taught us how to campaign along with the community to defend the union movement.

“And, the dispute forged a generation of warriors, prepared to wage the campaign against Work Choices in later years. In a sense, John Howard helped create a stronger union movement for future battles.”

Other leaders of the MUA, veterans of the Patrick dispute, thanked MUA members and other unionists, as well as supporters, for their strong solidarity on the picket lines and in other ways. The crowd gave rousing applause and expressed their determination to continue the struggle.

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