In the decades following the end of the Second World War, Australia witnessed the biggest wave of migration in its history. Millions of people from Asia, Europe and the Middle East immigrated to Australia and changed the demographic makeup of the country forever.
Postwar migrants from non-English-speaking backgrounds were overwhelmingly consigned to the worst, most dangerous, and lowest-paid jobs. No single workplace encapsulated this whole experience more than the Ford Motor Company’s factory in Broadmeadows, Melbourne, where workers from over 60 nationalities toiled in almost unbearable conditions.
In summer, temperatures inside the factory soared above 40 degrees celsius, while in winter workers froze through almost unbearable cold, surrounded by poisonous fumes, heavy machinery, defeaning noise, and a complete lack of basic safety measures. Wages were incredibly low and the pace of work brutal, and workers were presided over by racist foremen who treated them, in the words of one, ‘like slaves’.
In 1973, the workforce exploded. Workers went out on strike, and when their own union officials attempted to rig a vote to force them back to work, they rioted – pelting police with rocks, fruit and vegetables, smashing the factory’s windows, knocking over walls, and using metal poles as battering rams. In the process, they won substantial pay increases and forced management to treat them with basic respect.
In this episode we speak with Frank Argondizzo, who immigrated to Australia from Italy at age 18 and worked in the Ford Broadmeadows factory between 1970 and 1995. Frank talks about his experience moving to Australia, the horrifying conditions that workers at Ford endured, and the 1973 strike and riot.
You can watch footage of the riot below.