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Unions & IR

IRONWORKERS: One hundred years on, freedom recalls its sweetest victories

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The Australian Workers Union gathered more than 250 people at NSW Parliament House last week to pay tribute to the Federated Ironworkers’ Association and to salute its iconic former leader Laurie Short – now 92 years young.

The occasion was the centenary of the union credited with holding the Australian Labor Party together during the turbulent 1950s. It amalgamated with the Australian Workers Union in 1991.

BUILDING A NATION

The role of the Ironworkers in the development of our major heavy industrial regional centres like Wollongong, Newcastle, Gladstone, Geelong, Lithgow, Whyalla and Launceston is still felt today. The local FIA sub-branches were the centres of the social fabric and daily life of old the inner-city industrial centres like Balmain in Sydney and Maribyrnong in Melbourne.

FIGHTING FOR FREEDOM

Activists in the FIA, throughout the 40s and early 50s, were at the centre of a bitter, and sometimes violent struggle, for control of the union. The struggle between communists and anti-communists was acrimonious because of the critical role the union’s numbers would play in the way the Labor Party eventually evolved – especially in NSW.

Laurie Short, headed the anti-communist faction which wrested control of the union from the hardline Stalinist leadership. The extraordinary legal, and often physical, battles ensured the FIA was fodder for almost daily screaming newspaper headlines throughout the late 40s and early 50s.

DEFEATING COMMUNISM AND SECTARIANISM

Laurie Short and the FIA are credited with finding, supporting and promoting a young Englishman, John Ducker, through the labour movement leading him to become the strong man of the NSW union movement and the NSW Labor Party.

In turn Ducker, with Short always nearby, steered that state’s labour movement away from the fracturing along sectarian lines that – as the result of The Split of 1955 – was the hallmark of industrial and political labour in other Australian states.

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