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Brisbane 1946 - Workers Control on the Wharf

In 1946 Brisbane Waterside Workers were locked out of the wharves during the dispute over double dumped wool. Fresh fruit was in short supply by the people of Brisbane. Employers repeatedly refused offers by the workers to unload the fresh fruit cargo of the Murada. After a final delegation was rebuffed, over a thousand people marched to the wharf and proceeded to take the hatches off and unload the vessel.

This direct action was done in an orderly fashion without concern for payment. The cargo was unloaded, and taken to the markets for distribution. The lock-out by the employers was circumvented. The employers attempt to blame the Waterside Workers Federation for the shortage of fruit backfired, when the workers took direct action - not for themselves - but in the public interest.

Wharfies and the womens Auxilliary marching to the S.S. Murada - 1946

Demonstration of wharfies and women of the Womens Auxilliary of the T.L.C. (Trades and Labour Council) marching to the wharf to unload apples and pears during the double-dump lock-out in 1946. The Women's Auxilliary supplied smokoes to the wharfies while they worked.

The (Brisbane) Telegraph of Saturday May 11, 1946 reported:
Wharfies stream on to Fruit Ship.
Hatch Covers Flung Off in Dramatic Unloading Step.

Streaming aboard the fruit ship Murada, hundreds of waterside workers who had marched to the Mary Street wharf in military formation this morning, disregarded police appeals, heaved off the hatch covers, and began unloading the cargo, case by case.

This sensational step was the culmination of the hold-up of unloading of perishable apples and pears aboard, which had lasted since Wednesday.

Eight women who had been in the march helped to wheel the cases along the wharf as they were trundled over the side by hand to hand methods. In 1 hour 20 minutes approximately 1,000 cases were landed - "pretty good going" it was considered.

There was no violence, only an apparent determination to get on with the job; and the job went on this afternoon and will be continued tonight and, if need be, tomorrow.

Employees of the AUSN Company Ltd. this afternoon worked at the order of the company to assist the Apple and Pear Board to clear the fruit from the AUSN wharf, where the Murada is berthed.

Arrangements were made to specially open the markets this afternoon to receive the fruit and the public should be able to buy it on Monday morning.

The working of the ship was undertaken after a number of delegations to the Chairman of the Port Committee, Mr Hickey. Requests to unload the ship were refused. Wharfies had been locked out of work due to the double dumped wool dispute.
Led by Mr Rostron wearing war service ribbons, the procession was orderly, with one man marching ahead carrying a banner on which was inscribed: "Bosses starve the people".

The marchers, about 1,000 strong, swung through the wharf gates and assembled beside the Murada.

Amoung them were the eight women, who earlier had been a seperate deputation to Mr Hickey.


Only four members of the water police were standing by the vessel as the crowd edged to the gangway.

Senior-Sergeant Jordan, leader of the police, appealed to the men to be calm and do nothing until the proper authorities had been consulted.

Cries of: "They have been consulted. Tear off the hatches! The workers have been kicked around long enough," and "The people are starving for fruit. We'll do this job for nothing!" greeted the appeal.

Mr Englart, Secretary of the Waterside Workers' Federation, then appealed to the men to act quietly and give no trouble to the police. He said they had acted in the interests of the people as a whole and wanted no violence.

Before Mr Englart could finish his address, the men swarmed aboard the ship and commenced tearing off the hatch covers. In a few moments the first cases of pears were being manhandled from the holds and on to the wharf.

Demand for Steam

In 1 hour and 20 minutes three gangs had unloaded 1,000 cases of pears on a chain-handling system because there was no steam for the winches.

The men, after one hour's work in the holds sent a deputation to the Murada's master, Captain Little, asking that he provide steam for the winches.

Later, Captain Little was interviewed by Mr Casey, secretary of the Seamen's Union, who said it was likely the crew would walk off the ship if the wharfies were not provided with steam.

Captain Little said he could not answer the request immediately, but indicated that steam might be provided early tonight.

One member of the crew claimed that if steam was refused to speed up the unloading, the crew would help the watersiders with the job. By noon the unloading had been well organised and the cargo was being dealt with at a record rate from five improvised ramps from the ship.

"We are Peacful"

Police reinforcements, bringing the number to about 12, were rushed to the wharf soon after the marchers arrived.

Mr Englart assured Police Inspector Albright that the men had come to the ship in a peaceful and organised manner. They would work until 11 o'clock tonight and recommence at 9am tomorrow, and provide their own meals.

Mr Englart added: "We are peaceful. You can withdraw your men. There will be no incidents."

When Mr Arkell, Queensland superintendent of the Apple and Pear Board arrived at the wharf, he said he was pleased that the cargo was being unloaded.

Arrangements were made for the fruit to be received at the Brisbane markets this afternoon for sale on Monday.

He said he had interviewed Mr Logan, chairman of the joint committee of Waterside Employers. Mr Logan had asked him if he had any early knowledge of the demonstration and he replied that he had only heard rumours. Mr Logan then gave permission for Mr Arkell to bring trucks to the wharf to carry the fruit to the markets.

S.S. Murada under Workers Control - 1946

Wharfies unloading apple and pear boat S.S. Murada in spite of ship owner attempts to lock out workers who refused to handle double-dumped wool in 1946.

The wharfies appointed their own foremen and proved that they were not only concerned with the needs of the public but also that they could run the ships themselves.

They were eventually paid for their labour (although the wharfies worked the ship without concern for themselves).

Of course, the major media has always tended to be strongly biased towards the employers. The Brisbane Courier Mail is no exception, and in fact has a reputation for a strong anti-union bias and unfair reporting of industrial issues even to the present day. This was the case in their editorial on the actions of the wharfies in the double dumped wool dispute and in the lockout which stopped the unloading of the Murada before the workers took direct action.

Ted Englart, Secretary of the Brisbane Branch of the Waterside Workers Federation, drafted the following letter to the Editor of the Courier Mail:

The Courier-Mail editorial of Friday, 10th May was a desperate attempt to save the ship owners from being put "off-side" by the offer of the watersiders to unload fruit from the Murada.

You said "it is of vital importance that responsibility for this interference with the unloading of a food ship should be fixed."

The Courier-Mail and the whole of Queensland knew before your editorial appeared that the watersiders were prepared to unload this food.

The action of the watersiders in unloading this valuable cargo at the week-end has underlined where the responsibility lay and gives the lie to your statement that the offer to unload was "for the purpose of winning a point in a dispute that had nothing to do with the Murada and its cargo."

The Waterside Workers' Federation said all along that the wool dispute should not prevent the unloading of the Murada.

We have proved by our actions that we meant what we said. The fruit was unloaded and wool dispute was still unsettled.

The charge of "Blackmail on Food" does not then apply to the workers but to the Courier-Mail. Your whole approach to this question has been to play up the wastage of food etc. to inflame public opinion against the wharf labourers so as to force them to load the double dumped wool.

Only such an approach could construe the offer to handle the cargo as "The continuing effort to break down the authority of the Stevedoring Commission."

Your deliberate linking of the wool in dispute with the fruit showed that you were not concerned with the rapid unloading of the latter but rather with using the latter to defeat the struggle of the watersiders on the wool question.

Had you been seriously concerned with the food situation you would have welcomed the generous offer to unload the vessel. You sneered at the offer as "a change of mind or a change of tactics" - an obvious attempt to belittle beforehand any action the watersiders might take to provide fruit to people and save the farmers' produce.

You comment further "if this fruit rots in the ships holds there will be financial loss - shortage of apples and pears - ships voyage wasted etc."

That is exactly what the watersiders prevented; that is precisely why we did not allow the wool dispute to hold up the unloading of this cargo.

With regard to double dumped wool, you say - "Australian waterside workers have been handling double dumped wool for half a century."

This has never been the general practice and in any event fifty years is long enough.

No doubt similar arguments were used last century to show that little children should continue to work in the coal mines. You state that 4,500,000 bales of double dumped wool which "puts a bigger strain on wharf labourers" await quick shipment.

We are prepared to load this. All we ask is that the practice should then cease. Surely a fair enough offer.

The watersiders along with the meatworkers and workers generally have long ceased to have faith in the Courier-Mail in presenting an honest statement of fact on matters in dispute.

Experience has shown that, at every opportunity, your paper bitterly assails the efforts of the working class to secure a better standard of living. The fact that your attacks are camouflaged with a "law and order" screen weakens the respect for genuine law and order which can only be based on practical assistance to the struggles for a higher standard of living.

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Last modified: March 30, 2000

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