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  Issue No 8 Official Organ of LaborNet 09 April 1999  





War on the Wharves

By Peter Lewis

Some of the most honest reporting of the waterfront dispute came from the pens of the nation's cartoonists.


As the spinners spun and the story became immersed in legal challenge, it was the cartoonists of the daily papers who best cut through the bull to the issues at the heart of the dispute.

Whether it was Reith denying knowledge of the Patrick conspiracy, putting the "Aussie battler" Corrigan on the back or Howard governing "for all us", these artists seemed best able to real story of power and betrayal that is today being justified in the light of increased Patrick share prices.

More importantly, they tapped into the emotion that many felt at the time as they watched the martitme Union be set up for the kill with a cynical press campaign, then hit in the lowest of all ways by the maze of shell companies.

"War on the Wharves", a collection of the best of these cartoons, is a must for anyone interested in remembering the feelings of last year's dispute. Launched during the federal election it stands as an important historical document of the time, one which no retrospective analysis can really match.

Sure we can talk today about the justification, the crane rates, the share prices and the winners and losers; but there is another story which shouldn't be forgotten: how a government worked with an employer to throw Australians out of work.

Some of the nations top cartoonists give the dispute the treatment, invoking all sorts of analgoies from Monty Python's Holy Grail to Toyota ads, from the JFK assassination and Stan Cross's iconoclastic "For Gorsake stop laughing this is serious".

There are some great gags. Like David Rowe's Rieth in the Mac truck about to run down a wharfie, saying "What do you mean un-Australia? That's what roo bars are for". Or Bill Leak's vision of Reith and Howard in paramilitary gear with salivating dogs pointing to the docks: "they're behaving like thugs again"

But for mine, the standout cartoons are from Jeff Pryor of the Canberra Times. From Reithy as Rambo to the fat, psycho wrestler whacking the unions with a pole marked "Workplace Relations Act", Pryor's twist is to transport the protagonists into other lives and show how ridiculous they look. Howard in guard uniform with a Reith-weiller in tow - "I only do this part time ... my main job is governing for all Australians, Or the look on General Howard's face when Sergeant Reith points to Plan D. And bookie Reith with his redundancy payouts telling the Cobar and Woodlawn workers to "Get Lost".

The book reminds you of how the Waterfront Dispute reasserted values like decency and fair-play back into the public debate. In seeking to crush a union, the government reasserted its relevence; in a way none of the pundits reviewing the first anniversary have quite grasped.

As such, War on the Wharves should be celebrated as an important document of union history.

War on the Wharves, edited by Christopher Shiel, Pluto Press and the Evatt Foundaiton, RRP $19.95.


*    Visit the Pluto Press bookshop

*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 8 contents

In this issue
*  Interview: John Coombs - The Mouse Who Roared
We talk to the man who stood firm in the face of the federal government’s all out assault on the waterfront 12 months ago.
*  Unions: The Waterfront One Year On
One year after what was arguably the biggest Australian industrial dispute in living memory and the Maritime Union of Australia is STILL Here to Stay.
*  History: Walsh Bay Wharves : Space and Place
For historians looking at a historic structure or site like the Walsh Bay wharves, there is a big difference between 'space' and 'place'.
*  International: Compo Search for UK Coal Miners
An international search is on for former coal miners who worked mines in England and Wales from 1954 and have since suffered from chest disease.
*  Review: War on the Wharves
Some of the most honest reporting of the waterfront dispute came from the pens of the nation's cartoonists.

»  Angry Geeks Down Mouses in Industry First
»  Patrick dispute commemorated
»  Costa Pushes Social Audit Plan
»  Currawong: Majority Support But Veto Rule the Hurdle
»  A Firey Call: Give Currawong Back To The Unions
»  ACTU Braces for Reith’s Second Wave
»  Gordonstone Miners Come to Town
»  Women Take the Fight to Rio’s Front Door
»  Sydney Solictor Appointed ICTUR Secretary

»  Guest Report
»  Sport
»  Trades Hall
»  Piers Watch

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