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  Issue No 106 Official Organ of LaborNet 10 August 2001  




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Indonesia Calling

They needed no resolutions. Soldiers and workers who did not know one another moved together, the black ban started to reach out across the harbour from the noisy, smoke-filled room.


Who is the Imperialist?


The campaign for political and human rights in Burma has strong support from Australian unions. This continues a tradition of support for the peoples of South-East Asia that includes opposition to the Vietnam War, and, in what was a major leadership role, the ban on Dutch shipping after the Second World War.

In 1947 the Waterside Workers' Federation (WWF) Federal Council received an appeal from Indonesian trade unions:

"We appeal to all democratic and peaceful peoples everywhere, and especially to the working class in all countries of the world, to boycott all that is Dutch in all harbours, stores, roadways and other places throughout the world, in the event of the outbreak of warfare in Indonesia."

Menzies denounced the ban (he was opposition leader at the time), as did the mainstream press. The ALP government supported the Indonesian Republic in the UN.

The boycott was international in scope and the most widespread international action any Australian union had been involved with. Rupert Lockwood estimated that a total of 559 vessels were held up over a 4 year period.

Jim Healy remembers that the mood just after the end of the war was a sigh of relief and relaxation, but he reminded union members and returned soldiers of a new fight coming at a public meeting in Sydney, in the smoke-filled room mentioned above.

"No doubt you soldiers are very glad to be back in peace, and we are very happy to welcome you. But for the workers here there is another fight coming."

"Indonesia is calling, calling for our help, for a black ban on all Dutch ships. They call on us to stall the armada with which they would start a new war in the Pacific. Haven't we had enough of war?"

The roar of approval from the men and women was his answer. They broke up into groups, talking, organizing for the job ahead.

The WWF responded by black-banning Dutch shipping in Australia. The ban began in Brisbane and spread around the coast, except for Melbourne where the Groupers controlled the union. The ACTU and 30 other unions supported the ban. Indonesian troops in crews walked off Dutch ships and Indian, Chinese and Malayan seamen also refused to crew them

Wharfies and seamen made sure these seamen had food, clothing and shelter, setting up the Waterside Workers Camp in Centennial Park.

Stan Moran and Tom Nelson from the WWF, and Hughie Grant from the Boilermakers took a rail carriage full of these Indian seamen to Canberra to the Indian High Commission office. This forced the payment of wages that the Dutch shipping companies had withheld from the seamen. A further demonstration outside the Dutch company KPM offices in Sydney was later held to make sure the agreement gained in Canberra was honoured.

The Dutch held over 300 Indonesians in a concentration camp near Casino, NSW. Jim Healy led a campaign for their repatriation.

The camp was a Dutch base, and in September 1945 Indonesian people who were in the Dutch army served notice on Dutch officers that they be discharged into civilian life., pending repatriation to the Republic and that there deferred pay be handed over. A few days later the Dutch Commandant paraded the men and surrounded them with soldiers with machine guns. The Commandant then interned the Indonesians behind barbed wire.

The action by the Indonesians at Casino and at various other sites in Australia in support of Independence actually preceded major action in Indonesia itself. The actions were particularly important as these troops were to act as the first line in the Dutch effort to stop the independence movement in its tracks. As Lockwood says, these troops, unarmed and totally removed from the republican command in Indonesia, could claim the first military victory for the Indonesian Republic.

It wasn't a happy camp with overcrowding and inadequate food, and the Dutch vented their anger at the potential loss of their colonial territory by treating the inmates poorly. A food strike in 1946 led to an inmate, Tazan, being killed, and another, Lenkong being wounded. Arthur Calwell, as Immigration Minister was trying to end the overstretching of the extra-territorial powers that had been extended to the Netherlands East Indies government in exile. He made heated protests to the Dutch and sent a strongly worded cable to The Hague, demanding the closure of the camp, even threatening that if the Dutch didn't free the prisoners then the Australians would take action remove the guards. Calwell's actions had the desired effect.

Tom Nelson saw the bans as a first major move for a peace movement, as it was the first decisive action against war in the post-war era. It was also the first success for the many anti-colonial independence movements that grew rapidly after World War II. The Burmese independence movement was one of these.

Lockwood saw the Indonesian Independence movement as lucky. Lucky that their move and the support for it such as the shipping bans was successful, as by the time the Hague Agreement was signed in 1949 US foreign policy towards any supposedly communist movements was set. The Korean War was the first example of the lengths they would go to, and Vietnam wasn't far behind. The US also refused to recognize the People's Republic of China. The attitude to Sukarno's nationalists was hostile from the start, and included support for various separatist movements. Sukarno mollified them a bit by crushing out some left-wing forces early on.

The UN, set up after the war and in which Evatt played a key role, was keen to support the rights of newly emerging nations. The US actions after the success of the Indonesian Independence Movement was the sign that dreams of real sovereignty and the end of colonialism were just that as far as the big powers were concerned.

The actions of the WWF fro 4 years spurred the Chifley government in its support for the Indonesian people, and played a big role in shifting the perceptions of Australia held by many people in South-East Asia.

Chifley's comments from opposition in 1949 were a belated summing up of the reasons the wharfies and seamen had instituted the bans in the first place:

"The Labor Government realized that 80 million Indonesians could not continue to be governed by 10 million Europeans whose sole interest in Indonesia was to extract from the country as much wealth as they could and give in return as little as possible."

Recording It All

The Wharfies, the Seamen and 13 other Australian unions sponsored a film, Indonesia Calling that played a role in defeating Dutch censorship and in informing Australians about the trade union campaign for Indonesian people. The Commonwealth Censor banned for export on the grounds that it might offend a friendly nation, The Dutch!! The film was smuggled into Indonesia aboard a repatriation ship and given a lot of publicity in the republican press. The filmmaker was a Dutchman, Joris Ivens who had been brought to Australia to film the Dutch re-occupation. Immediately the republic was proclaimed, he breached his contract with the Dutch, and, illegally using his equipment, filmed the Australian boycotts and demonstrations and the mutinies by the Indonesian and Indian seamen. Peter Finch did the commentary.

Further Reading

The most detail is in Rupert Lockwood Black Armada (Sydney: Australasian Book Society, 1975)

A summary is in Margo Beasley Wharfies The History of the Waterside Workers' Federation (Sydney: Halstead Press in association with the Australian National Maritime Museum, 1996)

Victor Williams The Years of Big Jim (Lone Hand Press, 1975)

Also Tom Nelson The Hungry Mile (1957) has a short section on the issue.


*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 106 contents

In this issue
*  Interview: In Exile
Burmese's government in exile's Minister for Justice U Thein Oo talks about a struggle for democracy that has become a test of international solidarity.
*  Politics: A National Disgrace
Labor's IR spokesman Arch Bevis gives his take on the workers entitlements issue and its mismanagement by the Howard Government.
*  E-Change: 2.2 The Information Organisation
Peter Lewis and Michael Gadiel look at how network technologies will change the way organizations operate in the Information Age.
*  Media: The Fine Print
Mark Hebblewhite looks at how the major dailies handled the Tri-Star dispute and finds that the story really does depend on the telling.
*  Human Rights: A People Besieged
Labor MLC Janelle Saffin, an active supporter of the pro-Democracy movement in Burma, sets out the issues behind the ILO sanctions.
*  International: Postcard From Brazil
The CFMEU’s Phil Davey reports on a rural movement that puts our National Farmers Federation to shame.
*  History: Indonesia Calling
They needed no resolutions. Soldiers and workers who did not know one another moved together, the black ban started to reach out across the harbour from the noisy, smoke-filled room.
*  Solidarity: On the Frontline
Australian trade unionists are providing practical help for the Burmese through projects funded by APHEDA-Union Aid Abroad.
*  Satire: Skase 'Too Ill' to Fly Home for Burial
Spanish authorities have deemed Christopher Skase too ill to return to Australia for his own funeral.
*  Review: Living Silence
In these extracts from her new book, Christina Fink goes inside Burma to find a world where military repression is slowly crushing a people.

»  Revealed: ABC Censors Industrial Reporting
»  WorkCover Revisited – Public Sector Laws Rammed Through
»  Bras First in Burma Boycotts
»  Tri Star Only the Start of Entitlements Push
»  New Spying Tactics Hit Work Cars
»  Howard’s Secret Anti-Worker Plans
»  Direct Action to Increase Nurses' Worth
»  High Court: Courier Was Employee
»  Victory for Academic Freedom
»  Put A Stop To Acoustic Shock
»  Builders' Bucks: Payroll Tax Evasion Rife
»  Tassie Workers Brew Up a Storm
»  HIH Collapse Hits Arts Industry
»  Labour for Hire Not Entitlements
»  Rail Inquiry Into Treatment of Homeless
»  ACTU Awards To Reward Union Excellence
»  Activist Notebook

»  The Soapbox
»  The Locker Room
»  Trades Hall
»  The Soapbox

Letters to the editor
»  Botsman Goes Crosby
»  Left Right Out
»  Belly's Shout
»  Ode to the New Serfs

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