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Voices From The Ships – Australia’s Seafarers and their Union

By: Diane Kirkby (472/36060)
Publisher: University of NSW Press ISBN: 9780868409023

Australia’s seafarers claim a long and distinguished history of political activism and union organisation. Theirs is more than just a job. It is a way of life in which union membership is inseparable from their identity as world citizens.

For more than fifty years a commitment to a socialist vision of world peace and democracy, combined with strong and continuous leadership, made the Seamen’s Union a distinctive force in Australian industrial and political history. In their struggles to replace harsh conditions with safe and liveable workplaces, financial security and dignity, the SUA fought for principles of equality, democracy and social justice for all workers and all people.

SUA members took the lead with other maritime unions in the fight against apartheid in South Africa, the campaign to end the war in Vietnam, the struggle to empower Aboriginal Australians, and in supporting Australian athletes against the government’s boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games.

As the international shipping industry underwent technological transformation and globalisation and flag of convenience carriers increased, the SUA worked with shipowners and the Hawke government to reform and retain Australian shipping, to provide work for local crews, and defend the nation’s coast.

This was a turbulent history of Cold War battles between Communists and anti-communists, workers versus the bosses, the conservative establishment against the radical rank and file. In Voices from the Ships, seafarers tell their story of these events and the role that unionism played in changing their lives for the better.

March 2009


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