Key dates in the history of the Federation of Industrial, Manufacturing and Engineering Employees

Chronology of the Federation of Industrial, Manufacturing and Engineering Employees (FIMEE) 1911 - 1993. 

YearEvent
1911The Federated Ironworkers Association of Australia, an amalgamation of smaller iron and steel industry unions, registered under the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act. Membership app. 5,000.  
1911-12Major strike of ironworkers at Hoskins Works at Lithgow prompts a call for nationalisation of the iron and steel industry. Holman Labor Government baulks at high cost of establishing a new government-owned industry.  
1915Birth of the modern Australian steel industry with the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited (BHP) beginning steel making operations at the Newcastle Steelworks.  
1916-17Poor working conditions and wage cuts prompted by the continuing home-front demands of the First World War lead to a wave of strikes in the steel industry, culminating in the Great Strike of 1917. FIA joins most other NSW unions in strike action. BHP dismisses strikers, employs non-union labour and organises a 'company union'. FIA de-registered as an industrial union.  
19171917 - Formation of the FIA's Balmain Branch, covering the ship repair industry at Mort's Dock and nearby Cockatoo Island. 
1919-27A weakened FIA re-registered, and holds amalgamation talks with the Australian Workers Union. Rivalry between the unions and job cuts at BHP (prompted, BHP said, by high pay increases and a collapse in international steel prices) leads to a collapse in union membership. FIA revives as a more militant organisation. 
1927Australian Iron and Steel begin operations at Port Kembla. 
1929-33Great Depression. Australian steel production collapses to 1901 levels. FIA membership of 16,000 in 1929 halved. 
1932Construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge completed. Several hundred ironworkers were employed on its construction: eight ironworkers lost their lives.  
1935BHP takes over Australian Iron and Steel, and expands into pipe and tube manufacture.  
1936Ernest Thornton, a communist activist, elected as the first full-time National Secretary of the FIA. The FIA Federal Council also authorised Thornton to engage an office secretary and buy furniture. In 1938 Thornton was also elected Victorian Branch Secretary. 
1938FIA members at Port Kembla strike in support of the campaign to stop exports of pig iron to the aggresively militarist Japan. Prime Minister Robert Menzies, who insisted that the exports continue, was dubbed "Pig Iron Bob". 
1938BHP begin operations at Whyalla in South Australia.  
1939The first issue of the national FIA newspaper, The Ironworker, is published, and the FIA national office moves to Sydney. Communist candidates win control of the Newcastle and South Australian branches.  
1939-45Second World War. Steel production and employment boosted. FIA membership rises to 48,000 by 1942. 
1943The Ironworker becomes Labor News, reflecting the FIA's amalgamation with the munition workers union. 
1945FIA faction fighting intensifies, focused on tension between the national union and the Balmain branch, the only branch of the FIA not controlled by communists who supported the Soviet Union and its leader, Joseph Stalin. 
1945-46Major steel strike begins in Port Kembla and spreads to other centres, over victimisation of workers and other issues. The strike was only partly successful. 
1948-49FIA elections reveal bitter internal disputes over "Cold War" issues - many ironworkers refuse to endorse the Thornton leadership's support for Russia, and opposition to the Australian Labor Party. FIA official Cecil Sharpley defects from the Communist Party, and alleges that communist-controlled unions had rigged union ballots. Laurie Short, a boilermaker's assistant at Cockatoo Island, emerges as the leader of the pro-ALP forces within the FIA. 
1949-51Short initiates a legal challenge to Thornton's re-election as National Secretary in 1949. In 1951, the Commonwealth Arbitration Court ordered that Short should be appointed National Secretary, finding that Thornton's election had benefited from 1,800 forged ballot papers. Short's victory was a major setback for Communist Party control of Australian unions.
1952Short entrenches his control of the FIA with election defeats for communist officials in every FIA branch. 
1954The FIA affiliates with the International Metalworkers Federation, reflecting the influence of American unionism on the new FIA leadership. Short was impressed by the organisation of the United Steelworkers Union, and borrowed its strategy of campaigning for employer-financed pension schemes, an idea virtually unheard of in Australia.
1958A new Steel Award significantly improved steelworkers pay and conditions. The FIA also embarked upon a vigorous campaign to improve occupational health and safety in the steel industry.
1960BHP completes construction of the Whyalla steelworks in the early 1960s, and in 1961 Comalco constructed Australia's first aluminium smelter at Bell Bay in Tasmania. Later in the decade Alcoa commenced operations at Point Henry in Victoria and Alcan established another aluminium smelter at Kurri Kurri in New South Wales. The FIA recruited thousands of new members in this new non-ferrous metal industry.
1965The FIA successfully negotiates Australia's first superannuation scheme for manual workers. Some 30,000 BHP wage employees were eligible to join the retirement scheme.
1972Nando Lelli, an italian immigrant and steelworker, is elected Secretary of the FIA's Port Kembla branch. Lelli was a militant who at times clashed with the national officials. Post-war immigration had a significant impact at the Port Kembla steelworks: by the late 1970s its workforce consisted of Macedonians, Italians, Portugese, Greeks and Vietnamese. This was a common pattern in FIA workplaces.
1974FIA membership reaches a high of 72,500. Following an economic downturn which began that year, thousands of manufacturing industry jobs are gradually lost. FIA membership declines.
1975FIA amalgamates with the Artificial Fertilisers and Chemical Workers Union.
1980The FIA computerises its national membership records and its industrial research operations, one of the first Australian unions to do so.
1982Laurie Short retires as FIA National Secretary. He is replaced by Harry Hurrell, the long-serving Assistant National Secretary.
1988Harry Hurrell dies. He is replaced as National Secretary by Steve Harrison.
1991The FIA amalgamates with the Australasian Society of Engineers, a union of metal industry tradesmen, to form the Federation of Industrial, Manufacturing and Engineering Employees (FIMEE). The Australian Glassworkers Union and the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners amalgamate with FIMEE in 1992.
1993FIMEE amalgamates with the Australian Workers Union.

Timeline continues from 1993 onwards on the AWU Timeline.