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Australia's Own Cold War
From the national maritime strike of 1890 to the violent dockside clashes of 1998, the waterfront has loomed large as a key battle site in Australian industrial relations. After Robert Menzies was swept to power on a wave of anti-communist sentiment in 1949, it emerged as the nation's own Cold War frontline.
By 1950, Australia's wharves were plagued by problems, including inefficient management, backward methods and archaic equipment. As on-going hostility between waterside workers and employers erupted in conflicts over pay and conditions, the government did not hesitate to play on public paranoia. All problems, it claimed, were caused by Kremlin-controlled union leaders intent on crippling the Australian economy. Allegations abounded that wharfies were involved in a communist take-over plot, that their overtime bans were planned in Moscow, that they might plant atomic bombs in Australian ports. But what were the real issues?