The purpose of this paper is to examine the capacity for trade unions to mobilise internationally by considering how stevedores in Australia successfully internationalised a major dispute.
The paper reports the findings of a single case study of the “waterfront dispute” of 1998, an industrial dispute in the Australian stevedoring industry which included the mobilisation of unions internationally. This case study is one of the four cases in a PhD research project, which examined international trade union activity in the mining, manufacturing, banking and stevedoring industries. The methodology included semi‐structured interviews with trade union leaders and activists, as well as document analysis, and involved comparative analysis across the four case studies.
Australian stevedores or “wharfies” were well placed to mobilise internationally due to a combination of internal and external factors. In particular, the Maritime Union of Australia's long‐standing support for international causes, largely due to its left‐wing, internationalist politics, resulted in the union gaining significant support from unions internationally. Important external factors included the nature of the stevedoring industry, with its organic link to other industry sectors, combined with the neo‐liberal approach adopted in Australia which also influenced the internationalisation of the union campaign.
The study provides the opportunity to consider capacity for international mobilisation in the stevedoring industry and the contingent nature of international campaigns, with wider implications for union strategies in other industry sectors.
The paper contains an in‐depth analysis of a major dispute in the Australian stevedoring industry and makes a significant contribution to the expanding literature on the internationalisation of union campaigns and union strategy.
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