Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History

The Old Order and the New: Contrasts in the Response of Australian and Overseas Shipowners to Full Employment on the Waterfront, 1944-1952

Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History (1997), 73, (1), 142–168.

Abstract

In pre-container days shipowners, who controlled most Australian stevedoring, were renowned for their generally aggressive and inflexible approach to labour relations. The period from the mid-1940s through the early 1950s saw a largely unpublicised division between the two main shipping groups. The more profitable overseas group displayed a much greater awareness of the social and political sea-changes occurring in Australia and a consequent desire to alter the pattern of waterfront industrial relations. Reaching the desired modus vivendi with the union implied acceptance of war-time innovations such as the Federal regulatory agency and tripartite committees in each major port. Improving human relations with employees suggested decasualisation and incentive schemes as well as streamlining the shipowners’ committee structure and involving stevedoring management in labour policy decision-making. In contrast, the domestic cartel, struggling in its product markets and hampered by an archaic mindset, opposed any form of consultation with the union. For it, recourse to arbitration was sacrosanct; no concessions should ever be voluntarily offered to employees; decasualisation would be a dangerous risk; and the existing network of employer committees needed little change. Unfortunately for posterity, the Australian lines’ negative and backward-looking policies triumphed and the 1950s saw the waterfront return to its old pattern of distrust and confrontation.

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Details

Author details

Sheridan, Tom

Table of Contents

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