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Category: Interviews »

Subject: Cultural Studies »

Migrant Workers' Centres in multiculturalism

Joe Caputo.

Joe Caputo locates the key role of Migrant Workers' Centres in the development of multiculturalism



Date Added:

17 February 2009


source not available


mov (Quicktime);

File size:

14.9 MB




Well the main struggles that were involved was the – you know, between – to ensure that trade unions were – originally were the trade unions to be more responsive to the needs of the migrant members and so for example, in Melbourne, we set up the Trade Union Migrant Workers Centre which was based in the – with the AMWU, the – you know the Metal Workers Union in Victoria Parade and Trades Hall was still very reluctant to take these issues up because it – at the time it felt that there were radical elements.

You know, they didn’t want to have too many radicals in the trade union. But then a few years later, Trades Hal accepted that the same that would be based, at the Trades Hall Council.

Q: And so what did the centre do? What –

Caputo: The centre – I think that the centre was new – was probably not as used as – as wisely as it could have been used in other words, in terms of ensuring that policies, programs, changes within trade unions, but was used – 90% was used for translating, interpreting for union officials. Translating documents for union journals and the like. But even that was a step forward, at least there was a recognition that you had people from different backgrounds and they needed to be – you know, you needed to communicate to those people in their languages –

- the Ford strike that really put the struggle of migrant workers on the agenda.

The 1973 Ford strike was very interesting because what – the trade unions usually, you know, they’ve got a lot of plans and does a lot of plans generally around monetary gains and stuff and so the metal workers, which was leading the struggle together with the other workers, the leadership sort of, went through the log of claims and they even gained quite significant sort of pay increases and the like. And then they went to the workforce and they said, “Look we got you this – X amount of money increased and what have you.” And then the workers refused to accept that. Because – and the leadership of the day probably didn’t get enough money, monetary increase. But the workers, you know, that struggle was, if you like, got totally out of hand, so there was a spontaneous walking out by the workers, they didn’t want to return to work because it was all about traditions.

You have to understand that if you worked on the assembly line, until that particular strike, you could not even leave to go to the toilet, have a toilet break until the various, unless it was morning tea time or lunch time. It was very degrading and some of the workers used to have those big milk bottles along the assembly line so they could urinate whilst they’re still working. So that – that is just to give you an example about in terms of what the conditions were like.

So then the – the union leadership had to listen to the workers, that they were not just about sort of wanting a few bob, a few dollars in their pay packet but they wanted the – they wanted to treat the workers – migrant workers wanted to be treated with more dignity and as human beings. In some areas, almost all the workers were non-English speaking background. So there was – so if you were say, a Greek worker, would have been far easier for you to have learned Italian on the assembly line than to learn English. Because you’re probably likely to have been working next to half a dozen Italians or even vice versa if you were any other person from any other language background. And of course once you – on an assembly line situation you don’t even – people don’t even have – can’t even speak, because the noises and the –

And the conditions in those days in terms of occupational health and safety were non-existent in terms of safety – worker’s safety. So very noisy, was very repetitive jobs, very dangerous jobs, you know, I mean, if you worked at Motor GM or Ford inside the body shop, the people would have been every day there would have been major accidents in terms of people injuring themselves not just in terms of repetitive work but also in terms of non- you know, there was no protections, there were no – and it was only in the ‘80s, about 10 years after that major strike, that various state government have introduced major legislation in terms of occupational health and safety in the workplace.

Prior to that it was free for all, you went to work in the morning, but you didn’t – were not so sure whether you would get home in one piece at the end of the day. So that’s not exaggerating. So all of that – talk about a lot of changes, the changes that were about well, things like the occupational health and safety laws in the ‘80s –

End transcript