The Maritime Union of Australia was formed in 1993 with the merging of several maritime unions, principally the Waterside Workers’ Federation (covering stevedores or dock workers) and the Seaman’s Union of Australia.
However the history of maritime unionism in Australia dates back to 1872, with the formation of the Sydney Wharf Labourer’s Union and, independently, the first maritime union in the world – the Seaman’s Union in Melboune.
This makes the Maritime Union of Australia and its forerunners the oldest continuing maritime union in the world.
The Waterside Workers’ Federation (WWF) principally built its strength around campaigning against the ‘bull’ labour pick up system. The Bull system ensured that the largest men (the bulls) were chosen first for work, whilst other workers often missed out. Eventually, are years of struggle, the WWF fought an won the ‘gang’ system – where men worked in rostered groups, or gangs.
The Seaman’s Union (SUA), throughout its history, underwent several amalgamations to increase its coverage of maritime workers, particularly as the size of the workforce decreased due to automation and the use of flag of convenience vessels. The Marine Cooks Bakers and Butchers Association (formed in 1908) amalgamated with the SUA in 1983, and the Federated Marine Stewards and Pantrymen's Association merged in 1988. In 1991 the Professional Divers' Association also amalgamated with the S.U.A., shortly before it joined with the Waterside Workers' Federation to become the Maritime Union of Australia (M.U.A.).
Although one of the smallest unions in Australia, with only 14,000 members, the MUA holds one of the highest rates of union density, with over 90% of maritime workers in Australia being members of the MUA.
Since amalgamation into the MUA, the flagship industrial dispute has been the 1998 Patrick dispute, a watershed event in Australian industrial and social history.
It revolved around the company Patrick Corporation (‘Patricks’) and its CEO Chris Corrigan, who undertook an illegal restructuring of their operations for the claimed purpose of increasing the productivity of their workforce.
The Maritime Union is a strong union, with a long history of solidarity and activism - working for its members, the community and causes such as the environment, an anti-nuclear Pacific, Peace, land rights and justice for Aboriginal Australians, independence for East Timor and trade union rights worldwide.
The union is active in the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) with National Secretary Paddy Crumlin being elected President of the ITF in 2010.
The Maritime Union runs its own film unit - now and also back in the fifties.
Check out a selection of our film clips on YOU TUBE
A set of 3 DVDs Fighting Films brings together the work of the union's celebrated 1950s union film unit - Keith Gow, Jock Levy and Norma Disher - best known for The Hungry Miles.