AWU History

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Key dates in the history of The Australian Workers' Union

Here you can view the chronology of the major unions which form the modern AWU - the "old" AWU, and FIMEE. These two unions amalgamated in 1993. The AWU timeline below continues after 1993. The FIMEE timeline finishes with the amalgamation in 1993.


1886William Guthrie Spence and David Temple begin organising shearers; establishment of Australasian Shearers Union on 16 June 1886 at Fern's Hotel in Ballarat. The new union is headquartered in the town of Creswick near Ballarat in Victoria.
1887Creswick, Bourke and Wagga Wagga unions form Amalgamated Shearers Union of Australia; Creswick dominates. Spence, President, Temple Secretary. Formation of Queensland Shearers Union. Biggest Queensland union by 1889.
1888-90ASU grows interstate (NSW Vic. & SA); Membership claimed: 20,000 shearers.
1890Establishment of Brisbane Worker. ASU conference: decision to enforce closed shop/blockade; affiliation with Trades Halls in New South Wales and Victoria. QSU affiliates with Australian Labour Federation. Maritime Strike (August-November).
1891ASU organises General Labourers Union February on behalf of shed-hands; QSU and Queensland Workers Union (shed-hands) form AWUQ. Queensland pastoral strike. July: ASU Executive Council concedes freedom of contract. Wagga Branch publishes The Hummer.
1894Macdonell successfully pushes for ASU/GLU amalgamation New South Wales to form the Australian Workers Union, David Temple walks out of conference; William Spence replaces him as General Secretary. Pastoral strike.
1895Impact of economic depression and drought prompts membership fall from estimated 17,000 to 7,000; continues falling throughout 1890s; AWU closes branches; AWU head office shifts to Sydney.
1899AWU first union to gain representation at Political Labor League conferences; PLL asks AWU to organise country New South Wales.
1900Donald Macdonell becomes General Secretary.
1902AWU membership estimated at 14,000; pastoral strike; pressure from Machine Shearers Union.
1904AWU and AWUQ amalgamate: total membership 30,000, 'largest and wealthiest union in Australia'.
1907MSU collapses; first Federal Pastoral Industry Award. 
1911Macdonell dies; replaced as General Secretary by Tom White.
1912White dies; Edward Grayndler becomes General Secretary.
1913Amalgamation with the AWA (Qld); Sydney Worker becomes Australian Worker.
1916-17Conscription referendums; 1917 strike in New South Wales.
1917Amalgamation with the FMEA (metal mining). AWU Membership est. 86,000.
1917-23One Big Union movement rises and collapses.
1927Formation of the Australian Council of Trade Unions.
1931-32Great Depression. Federal Labor split; the World revives and collapses. Pastoral Workers Industrial Union active in New South Wales and Victoria.
1931-32Clarrie Fallon becomes Queensland Branch secretary. Queensland largest AWU branch with estimated 53,000 members.
1936The 50th Anniversary since the foundation of the AWU celebrated at the Union's Birthplace in Ballarat.
1941Grayndler retires. Clarrie Fallon General Secretary.
1942AWU dissents from Curtin Government decision to send conscripts to the South-West Pacific theatre of operations.
1943Beecher Hay General Secretary
1944Hay deposed as General Secretary. Tom Dougherty becomes General Secretary.
1949Coal strike. Henry Boote, Australian Worker editor (1916-43), dies. Snowy Mountains Scheme begins.
1954-55AWU denounces groupers; ALP splits.
1956Shearers' strike.
1957Queensland ALP splits.
1959Clyde Cameron forms Council for Membership Control.
1964-65Mount Isa dispute.
1966AWU affiliates with the ACTU. 
1972Tom Dougherty dies; Frank Mitchell becomes General Secretary. AWU abandons White Australia policy.
1974Merger of Brisbane Worker and Australian Worker; New South Wales AWU announces amalgamation with Shop Assistants Union.
1977Proposed amalgamation between BWIU and AWU in New South Wales revealed; AWU-SAU amalgamation collapses.
1986The 100th Anniversary since the foundation of the AWU celebrated at the Union's Birthplace in Ballarat.
1987Gill Barr General Secretary.
1983Wide comb dispute; first 'incapacity to pay' application by NFF.
1985Charlie Oliver retires as New South Wales AWU president.
1986Robe River dispute.
1987Errol Hodder General Secretary.
1991Mike Forshaw General Secretary.
1993AWU amalgamates with FIMEE. Combined membership estimated at 160,000. Name of the new union The AWU-FIMEE Amalgamated Union. Joint National Secretaries were Michael Forshaw (AWU) and Steve Harrison (FIMEE), Joint National Presidents were Bob Redmond (FIMEE) and Bill Ludwig (AWU).
1994NFF-AWU 'peace deal'.
1994Michael Forshaw resigns, Ian Cambridge new Joint National Secretary.
1995AWU-FIMEE Amalgamated Union changes it's name to The Australian Workers' Union.
1996Rules changed to only have one National Secretary and one National President with Steve Harrison and Bill Ludwig filling those positions.
1997Steve Harrison resigns, Vern Falconer new National Secretary.
1997BHP Steel announces that the Newcastle Steelworks to close in 1999.
1997Terry Muscat elected National Secretary. Graham Roberts elected National President.
2001Bill Shorten elected National Secretary, Bill Ludwig elected National President and Graham Roberts elected Assistant National Secretary all unopposed.
2001Ansett Australia collapses leaving over 15,000 employees out of working including several thousand AWU members. AWU joins with other unions in a long campaign to ensure former Ansett workers recieve their full entitlements.
2001AWU National Office moves to Melbourne from Sydney where it had been since 1895, however an annex of the National Office remains in Sydney.
2003AWU Rio Tinto dispute debated at ACTU Congress.
2004The Australian Worker is re-launched in a joint effort between the AWU and Australian Consolidated Press.
2005Bill Shorten re-elected National Secretary, Bill Ludwig re-elected National President and Graham Roberts re-elected Assistant National Secretary all unopposed.
2005Boeing Williamtown Dispute.
2006The 120th Anniversary since the foundation of the AWU celebrated at the Union's Birthplace in Ballarat.
2007John Howard's WorkChoice Laws defeated at the 2007 Federal Election, National Secretary Bill Shorten elected to Federal Parliament.
2007Paul Howes is elected National Secretary of the Union becoming the Union's youngest ever National Secretary. Ben Swan elected as Assistant National Secretary following resignation of Graham Roberts. The National Office returns to Sydney.


Paul Howes is elected as ACTU Vice President, the first AWU official to hold an elected position in the ACTU for over 30 years.
2010The Federal Election results in the re-election of the Labor Government under Prime Minister Julia Gillard, in the first minority Government since the Second World War.
2011Launch of the Rio Tinto Bell Bay campaign.
2013Paul Howes re-elected National Secretary, Bill Ludwig re-elected National President and Scott McDine re-elected Assistant National Secretary all unopposed. Bill Ludwig stands down as Queensland Branch Secretary after 25 years in the job - Ben Swan is elected unopposed as Branch Secretary.
2013After a 2 year campaign the AWU secures the re-unionisation of the Rio Tinto Bell Bay Aluminium Smelter, the first workplace to be re-unionised by a union in Australia that was ever deunionised.
2014Scott McDine is elected National Secretary. Daniel Walton is elected Assistant National Secretary.
2014'Reserve Our Gas' campaign is launched.