The hearts of trade unionists across Australia are heavy today as we mourn the passing of John Coombs, MUA National Secretary from 1993 until his retirement in 2000.
Every active union member from the 1990s will remember John as the leader of the MUA during the notorious “Patricks Dispute” where an employer conspired with the Howard Government and locked out MUA members at ports across the country in 1998.
John led his union through its most difficult days with courage, humility and strategic brilliance. The MUA maintained 100% unity whilst the company attempted to starve and bribe wharifes to break ranks. Not one single member did. John and his union endured intense pressure with all the forces of the State, most of the media and employers lined up against them. Yet they prevailed. John worked closely with the ACTU leadership at the time uniting the whole movement behind the MUA.
John’s role as the national leader of his union during this dispute put him forever in the hearts of union activists who staffed picket lines across the country as for a while, he was the leader for us all. Twenty-three years later generations of union members still defiantly shout “MUA – Here to stay!” as it is the rallying cry we will never forget. And we will never forget John.
The ACTU, officials past and present, and the broader trade union family pass on our deepest condolences to John’s partner Gwen, his family and the MUA.