Labour History

Pursuing Trade Union Internationalism: Australia’s Waterside Workers and the International Transport Workers Federation, c. 1950–70

Labour History (2016), 110, (1), 57–75.


When the Australian Waterside Workers Federation (WWF) decided in 1971 to join the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) it overturned decades of antipathy to the ITF. We ask why union officials held this view and why the union now changed its mind at this particular moment. We argue that while union power was strong in the immediate postwar decades, the WWF was able to pursue its economic goals locally and join international actions for reasons of solidarity. In the following decade, however, union archives reveal that a confluence of technological change and diminishing union strength under a conservative government made international organising a logical and necessary strategy. Under the guidance of General Secretary Charlie Fitzgibbon, the WWF overcame its opposition to the ITF, by then an organisation representing millions of workers worldwide. We concentrate on Fitzgibbon’s leadership as a crucial factor in the timing of this historic change.

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*Research for this article was funded by an Australian Research Council Linkage Project with the Maritime Union of Australia. We wish to thank the ARC, the MUA and theLabour History’sthree anonymous referees for their help. Google Scholar

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Author details

Kirkby, Diane

Ostapenko, Dmytro