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Category: Interviews »

Subject: Cultural Studies »

Trade unions and migrant workers

Joe Caputo.

Joe Caputo discusses the complex relationship between trade unions and migrant workers



Date Added:

17 February 2009


source not available


mov (Quicktime);

File size:

11.3 MB




During the time that I was a union official with the clothing trade union together with many other activists we decided the time to bring to the fore the issues of multiculturalism, of diversity etcetera and so in the early ‘70s, 1973, we organised in Melbourne the first migrant workers conference and together with people like George Zangalis and others – George was a trade union official with the railways union – and then we had the follow up with the second migrant workers conference, also in Melbourne in 1975.
The trade unions were very much assimilationist. They –well most trade union leaders believed that our – at the very, very best they believed that most workers would be assimilated, you know, they’re very good conditions Australia compared to where they came from. From backgrounds of very hardship, non-union conditions etcetera so coming to this country they would eventually assimilate, become like us and – and they would have been okay. Others were very resentful, you know, because there were many trade union leaders felt that migrant workers were really ruining the conditions that Australians had fought very hard for decades.
And that was partly true, you know, because in many industries, migrant workers because of arriving here with lack of understanding, languages and what have you, often were used for – by unscrupulous employers to break down conditions that Australian workers had fought very hard for and gained.
We then felt it was very important for the trade union movement to – not only to understand migrant workers’ background and where they’re coming from and what have you, but rather to try to be more inclusive of migrant workers because in many respects, migrant – in – migrant workers got many areas could have added if I can use a cliché, modern terms, we’ve added value – but it could have added to the struggles of local you know, trade unions because they came from areas where they had far more advanced understanding of struggles and they could have enriched, if you like, the strategies that unions could have used in these countries.
But there was that persistence if you like, you know, in terms of including migrant workers, just my own personal feeling, sort of looking back as a reflection thus far is that – if the trade unions were – the way that they were run they were very – run in a very autocratic manner, so there was very little participation, very little participation of what Australian workers and migrant workers – so there was – there was a structural problems that the trade unions had that I – don’t know even to this day whether that has been resolved, you know…... So one way for us really to bring to the fore was to organise those conferences, you know, those – the first migrant workers conference then following migrant workers conference in ’75, we even encouraged you know, trade unions in other states, not only Victoria, because they were –primarily Victoria but we also encouraged, you know, those conferences to be held in other states and the two other states that really took them up was New South Wales, with a migrant workers conference in Sydney and then one in Wollongong, you know, sort of – and then there was a couple of conferences also held in Adelaide and South Australia. They were the three states where we really had a great impact.
End transcript