Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union

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AMIEU logo.jpg
Full name Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union
Founded 1906
Affiliation ACTU
Key people Brian Crawford, Federal Secretary
Grant Courtney, Federal President
Office location Brisbane, Queensland
Country Australia

The Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union, better known as the Meatworkers Union, is an Australian trade union, registered with the AIRC and affiliated to the Australian Council of Trade Unions. The AMIEU was formed in 1906 as the Federated Butchers Union, and changed its name to the AMIEU in 1912. Its registered industrial coverage (per the 1906 registration) is "Butchering Meat Refrigerating and kindred industries." (1906 AMIEU registration) The AMIEU elects all officials from the rank and file for four year terms, excepting the Federal President and Secretary who are elected by a collegiate system.

Early history: the AMIEU and the Australian IWW[edit]

The AMIEU was organised between 1906 and 1920, particularly in Queensland, by the revolutionary union the Industrial Workers of the World. The IWW, or Wobblies, encouraged Meatworkers to set up boards of control on job sites. These boards functioned, effectively, as works councils in the Meat industry. The boards were particularly strong in North Queensland where, under the direction of state organiser Walter Russell Crampton,[1] they controlled production levels through direct action. Meat industry sheds in North Queensland were so effectively organised that the sheds became closed shops. This was known in the day as Preference of Employment. (1911 AMIEU Preference of Employment contract, AMEIU history, page 2)

The AMEIU used the skilled portion of the workforce, the slaughtering gang, to infiltrate non-union towns in North Queensland. These towns were essentially company towns. The slaughtering gang was irreplaceable due to their skill, they were mobile as their skill was in demand across multiple shops, and they were militant. The AMIEU considered itself an industrial union and enrolled all workers in a particular workplace regardless of their trade—the meatworkers represented boilermakers, engine drivers and maintenance workers who worked in the meat industry.

The Queensland organising techniques spread to southern states. Shop committees (workers councils) were established at the Melbourne and Corio works in Victoria in 1917, on the initiative of C. Coupe. Coupe believed shop committees would, "ultimately form part of the machinery of government for the workers when they are prepared to take control of the industries, to be run in the interests of the working class." (quoted in AMIEU history, page 4)

In South Australia councils were also established, and in 1919 the South Australian branch of the AMIEU reported to the federal council, "No dispute along the old lines of a cessation of work has taken place within the past two years. Job control and scientific organisation has rendered obsolete this medieval method of fighting. The arbitration method of securing our rights has often been discussed, and has been submitted to most adverse criticism; and, so far as this branch is concerned, unless the whole aim and present methods of the arbitration system are speedily altered, we will have none of it." (quotes in AMIEU history, page 5)

The councils actively organised go-slows and sabotage, as replacements for strike action. Revolutionary unionism is unusual in Australian history, and the 1908–1923 period was particularly militant. In the same period the AMIEU was organising workers councils; the IWW was organising general strikes, forgery scandals and arson attacks in New South Wales to prevent continued Australian involvement in the First World War, and to protect workers rights. The IWW was a large force behind these upheavals in NSW, and when the IWW was persecuted nationally after 1916, the AMIEU supported them.

Recent history[edit]

IN 1983, the AMIEU was involved in a major industrial dispute at the Mudginberri abattoir in the Northern Territory. The AMIEU served a log of claims on Mudginberri and on all other abattoirs in the Northern Territory, seeking a unit tally system to be set up. Mudginberri chose to fight the claim, with the backing of the National Farmers' Federation.

See also[edit]