Twenty years ago, the beginnings of Australia's most significant industrial dispute of recent times began, as the Howard Government and Patrick Corporation sought to break the Maritime Union of Australia.
Part of the campaign against the union involved the 'Dubai Operation'
"One Australian stevedoring company, Fynwest Pty Ltd, sought to recruit former and current Australian Defence Force members to counter the MUA. In particular, from December 1997, Fynwest began a campaign to recruit former and current members of the Special Air Service (SAS), paratroopers from 3RAR, commandos from 4RAR and other military specialists, to become stevedores. Others were recruited from controversial private military and security consulting companies, such as Sandline International and the Control Risks Group. This led to use of terms like 'industrial mercenaries' in political and media circles.
Fynwest planned to send these recruits to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, where international standard training could be provided. The newly trained stevedores would then take part in an Australian non-union dock workers training program.
The MUA was "tipped off" about the planned Fynwest operation and took the matter to the media who met the departing Fynwest employees as they boarded a flight to Dubai and questioned their "tourist" status. Intense criticism and the threat of international industrial retaliation forced the Dubai Government to cancel visas for the Fynwest company employees."
Unionists had set up a blockade at Patricks, which lasted months. Ultimately the strike was broken, heralding a new age of industrial relations in Australia.
Below are images taken in 1998 at Melbourne's Swanson Dock, where participating strikers and community members gathered to practice their defence skills against line breakers.
Black and White, Kodak Tri-x film, Colour Kodak film, black and white prints.
*Click on images for full screen view.