NOT since the waterfront dispute of 1998 has a company turned to such shock tactics in a bid to force change upon its workforce.
Qantas's decision to ground its entire fleet to bring its unionised workforce to heel could well be as spectacular, disruptive and as divisive within the Australian community as the notorious dispute that rocked the nation in that year.
Chris Corrigan, the major shareholder and boss of Patrick stevedores, was facing business pressures not dissimilar to those of Qantas. He was losing money and he was unable to get workplace changes from the powerful Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) that he believed were necessary to drag Australian ports up to world's best practice.
He had tried via talks and via a reform process sponsored by the ACTU and the previous Labor government.
But it was not fast enough for Corrigan. By the time the Howard government had been elected in 1996, Corrigan was so desperate that he was prepared to consider a radical plan to secretly train an entire new workforce in Dubai and then move to sack his unionised workforce.
What followed was one of the most protracted and fiery industrial disputes in Australia.
The wharves around the nation stopped. MUA workers were turfed out of their cranes and forklifts by the new ''waterfront mercenaries'' trained in Dubai, accompanied by snarling guard dogs.
For a month, unionists, joined by sympathetic members of the public, picketed the docks around the nation as lawyers slugged it out in the Federal Court and later the High Court.
Daily there were confrontations as minibuses of the new workers drove through angry, shouting protesters. A trickle of cargo made its way out.
Over dinner tables around the nation, families debated the rights and wrongs of Corrigan's actions and the union response.
The Qantas dispute is shaping as our next watershed moment in industrial relations. On the one hand Alan Joyce claims the very future of the airline is at stake - it will lose $2 million a day if the disputes continue - and it will become unviable if he cannot move more of its operations offshore.
Yet many Australians feel uncomfortable with the idea of Australian jobs inexorably being lost. Like the waterfront dispute, this will become a battle for the hearts and minds of the Australian public. But the big difference between this dispute and the waterfront is that Corrigan not only had the Howard government's support but arguably members of the government in concert with operatives with roots in the right-wing HR Nicholls Society, which actually drafted Corrigan in their quest to crush the MUA.
Joyce and Qantas will have a far more equivocal government to deal with in Julia Gillard's Labor Party.
Joyce will need to convince the government his claims for future flexibility are essential to the airline's future. But the Transport Workers Union has friends at court as well. The only sure thing is this dispute will again divide the public.
Anne Davies covered the 1998 waterfront dispute for The Sydney Morning Herald and co-authored with Helen Trinca Waterfront: The Battle That Changed Australia. It was later turned into a television series on the ABC.