How the Whittaker memorial events started

Speech to the annual Port Melbourne 1928 Dock Strike memorial event October 28 2016

Some years ago the former Port Melbourne Mayor, Perce White called me to talk about Alan Whittaker and the 1928 Dock Strike

He reminded me of an article I had written in the local paper, The Record, most of which I actually wrote every week as well as subbing my own copy and laying out the pages. The article was about Port’s maritime workers and in particular the 1928 dock strike.

His idea was to establish some sort of memorial or commemorative event. With the support of the MUA’s Kevin Bracken, local historical society doyenne Pat Grainger, the academic Chris McConville, locals Bob Ditton and David Thompson, and a remarkable activist Paddy Garrity we organised an event on Princes Pier to mark the anniversary of the strike.

Our aim was always to commemorate the events of 1928 and the maritime industrial history of Port Melbourne including the events of 1998. But we were always conscious that we were not just commemorating the past but also making a statement about the present.

Indeed, the lessons of 1928 and 1998 have never been more pressing.

The Federal Government is introducing legislation (with the support of a failed businessman who siphoned off millions of dollars for his right wing party) reminiscent of the Star Chamber. It involves retrospective provisions and the denial of the right to silence.

We have youth unemployment of more than 40% in some areas of Australia. Inequality is growing in Australia while large companies and millionaires use various dodges to avoid paying tax. Every day we read new evidence of workers – including many of the 600,000 people here on temporary visas – being ripped off with low wages and appalling conditions.

Time after time privatised or commercialised services – from education to child care – have become opportunities for rip offs by lurk merchants.

There are many other examples we can all think of.

That’s why our annual commemoration is not just a commemoration of 1928 and a memorial for Alan Whittaker.

It is also a reminder that the values the waterside workers and the Port community stood for in 1928 are still relevant today.