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Friday, May 16, 2014

Mike Donaldson and Nick Southall Against Fascism and War: Pig Iron Bob and the Dalfram Dispute, Port Kembla, 1938 (Wollongong Free University Press, Wollongong, 2014) 19 pages

In these dire times in Australia when welfare is callously slashed in favour of building more privately-owned toll roads and 58 new F-35 Joint Strike Fighters at a cost of a staggering $12.4 billion, it is refreshing to read in this short pamphlet how a committed band of unionists in the lead up to World War 2 were able to challenge conservative governments of the time.

If you are unfamiliar with the story, Australia in the 1930s shipped off hundreds of thousands of tons of crudely manufactured wrought iron, known as 'pig iron' to imperialist Japan who converted the stuff into bombs to flatten China, including in its horrific Rape of Nanking in December 1937 in which 600,000 people were slaughtered. There was a fear within the Australian community that further shipments of iron might be used against Australians and several branches of the Waterside Workers' Union in Australia and New Zealand began to refuse to load ships with potential war materials for aggressor nations, such as Nazi Germany and Japan.

The authors Donaldson & Southall's main focus in this pamphlet is on documenting the South Coast Branch of the Waterside Workers Federation's  (WWF) struggle to dismantle the unjust 'bull system' operating in Australian ports and its confrontation with the nasty and inflexible, political hard-heads in Canberra who sought to stupidly export pig iron to Japan as the war inevitably approached. In 1938, the WWF, led by Ted Roach, and with widespread community support in Wollongong, refused to load the Dalfram, a British-flagged ship bound to Japan with iron. The best & most interesting parts of this book are the incredible & disgraceful lengths to which the authorities, quick to appease the Japanese & make a quick buck, physically intimidated and drew up draconian legal means to restrict the rights and actions of the maritime workers.

The writing in Against Fascism and War is concise and often largely factual in a dry Marxist-Leninist style- although the photos and interviews with activists, especially of Ted Roach, add considerable interest and variety. This story has all the hallmarks of an epic tale- of the underdog facing a goliath brute- and is perhaps worthy of a full-length feature film.

Copies of this book are available from Other Words Bookshop, 17/157 Crown Street, Wollongong, 02 4226 2010 , or

Find more about Nick Southall on Revolts Now: A multiple of possibilities. His blog includes his PhD thesis on Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt and his socialistic take on many issues:

A film about community direct action in Wollongong over the years, including the Dalfram Dispute will shortly premiere in Wollongong at the Gala Cinema at Warrawong on Sunday on May 18 at 4 pm. Find more information here: and here: