Labour History

Fremantle in Slow Motion: Winning Back the Melbourne Waterfront, 1919

Labour History (2009), 97, (1), 123–136.


A basic misconception regarding precisely what happened on the Melbourne waterfront in 1919 has coloured perceptions of the industrial performance of the Waterside Workers Federation between the defeat of 1917 and the lockout of 1928. Contrary to the prevailing perception of a fatally weakened and embattled organisation, plagued by mass scabbing, the wharfies won a major victory in 1919. The comparatively well-documented success in Fremantle, where a major riot in May 1919 cleared the port of scabs, was followed by a more prolonged, but ultimately successful campaign in Melbourne which has not been documented. Combining violence and intimidation (helped as in Fremantle by the presence of returned soldiers) with strike action, in conjunction with the seamen, the rank and file of the Melbourne wharfies defied both their officials and Justice Higgins to win the abolition of the Nation Service Bureau and reinstate preference for unionists.

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Author details

Bollard, Robert

Table of Contents

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