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Ian Cuttler, a stalwart of the Australian Workers’ Union Victoria

May 2, 2024

Ian Cuttler, a stalwart of the Australian Workers’ Union Victoria and a true gentleman, passed away on April 29, 2024, at the age of 83. Born on the 28th of November, 1940, Ian’s life was a testament to dedication, integrity, and service to others.

Ian Cuttler, AWU Victorian Branch Secretary: 1978-1990

AWU members and officials considered Ian as the epitome of kindness and approachability, a man who effortlessly forged connections and left a lasting impact on everyone he encountered. His ability to cultivate meaningful relationships knew no bounds, transcending barriers of status or background. It was a rare quality that Ian never found himself at odds with anyone, demonstrating his nature and innate ability to foster understanding and goodwill with members, delegates and officials.

 

Ian’s journey with the AWU was deeply intertwined with the shearing industry – a sector that he not only dedicated himself to, but helped shape and strengthen through his leadership. Rising through the ranks, Ian served as the Secretary of the Shearing Competition SCA Australia, overseeing more than 100 competitions along the eastern seaboard.

 

Recognising the importance of grassroots organising, Ian established local committees for the shearing industry in Victoria to build camaraderie and solidarity among workers. These committees, which met regularly, became a cornerstone of the union’s growth.

 

Ian’s contributions to the AWU extended beyond his role as a leader; he was a unifying force within the union, capable of bringing people together and sparking meaningful conversations. His charismatic personality and ability to articulate his points with grace and conviction made him a respected figure within the union and across the labour movement.

 

As a shearer himself, Ian understood the challenges and hardships faced by workers in the industry. He was a champion for fair treatment, advocating for a 38-hour work week and rostered days off, ensuring that workers received the respect and dignity they deserved.

 

Ian Cuttler’s involvement in the AWU reflected a broader historical context, notably exemplified by the tumultuous ‘wide comb dispute’ that shook the Australian shearing industry in the early 1980s. Lasting over four years, Cuttler staunchly opposed the adoption of wide combs, representing the AWU’s resistance to changes in shearing practices. However, the Australian Wool Corporation countered, citing the increasing unofficial use of wider combs, particularly in Western Australia. Faced with these evolving industry dynamics, the National Farmers Federation and its affiliates opted to confront the AWU on the issue. Despite initial resistance, the dispute ultimately led to the acceptance and widespread adoption of wide combs, signalling a significant shift in labor practices within the Australian shearing industry.

 

Ian’s passion for the union and the people it represented was unmatched. He learned the art of shearing from his father, Bob Cuttler, the longest-serving AWU member at the time of the union’s centenary in 1986. It was a legacy that Ian carried with pride, embodying the AWU’s values of hard work, solidarity, and community.

 

In 1986, Ian organised a grand celebration to mark the AWU’s centenary, in dedication to the union and its members. The event brought together thousands of people, reflecting Ian’s ability to unite and inspire those around him.

 

Ian Cuttler will be remembered not only for his contributions to the AWU and the shearing industry but also for his warmth, generosity, and commitment to making the the union a better place for all members. His legacy will live on in the hearts of those who knew him, and his spirit will continue to inspire generations to come. Rest in peace, Ian Cuttler, a true champion of the union movement.

 

Ian Cuttler pictured with Bob Hawke (right) and WA Branch Secretary Joe Keenan (middle) at the 1989 AWU Convention.

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