The event was the retirement dinner for two long-time leaders of the US International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), Tommy Dufresne and Al Le Monnier.
In a 25th September letter to Mark Gordienko, President of ILWU Canada, MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin thanked Gordienko for paying his respects to Jim Tannock, the MUA's former Deputy National Secretary who recently passed away, and, then, went on to praise the work of Dufresne and Le Monnier. The letter read:
Thank you very much for coming to Australia to convey your, and your union's, sympathies and respects at the funeral for our retired Deputy National Secretary Jim Tannock. It was deeply appreciated by Jim's wife Vicki and the family, and also our union. Your attendance, together with the presence of International Secretary Willie Adams, reflects the great friendship and loyalty we have between our two great unions, something that has existed since the ILWU was formed by Harry Bridges and his brothers. We look forward to many more years of that solidarity and friendship going forward in the protection of our members rights and just entitlements.
On that note, I'd like to extend, on behalf of the MUA' s officers, staff and members and the ITF's officers, staff and affiliates, our great appreciation for the long, distinguished and militant service and commitment of Tommy Dufresne and Al Le Monnier on the occasion of their retirement function. Tom has been a close comrade and brother for many years in our international work. He helped strengthen and develop the dockworkers union alliances and network to meet the constant attacks and challenges from commercial and political elites contemptuous of workers and our labour movement. Tough Tom was always there punching from the front in both the internal battles in the ITF that were needed to secure greater Dockworker Section resources, as well as out on the pickets and campaigns where we've been fighting the union busting, union raiding and deregulation and outsourcing of our jobs. With his gravelly voice and habit of not mincing words, everyone knew where Tom was coming from and he left no one in any doubt where he was going. His honest and forthright approach won many debates and, more importantly, the outcomes of those debates turned into wins on the ground for dockworkers seafarers and other transport workers not only in Canada but all over the world. I knew when he jumps on to his Harley or into his Winnebago with his wife Liz, he'd always be keeping a weather eye out for any opportunity to build a fairer safer and more just world
Al had similar service and commitment to our movement and specifically in the fundamental area of workers' safety and, particularly, standard setting. Like a dog with a bone, Al prosecuted his case at the IMO and ILO to ensure dockworkers Occupational Health and Safety remained at the forefront of the agenda in an international industry dominated by tax evasion, corporate skullduggery and avoidance of responsibility or liability. It is dockworkers, as much as seafarers, who are damaged and injured by the avoidance of accountabilities under the Flag of Convenience mechanism of flag registration. Al's work, and the union's overall commitment, won respect in the highest international regulatory forums and greatly enhanced the respect the ITF had . This of course translated into a more authoritative voice and hand in the setting of standards. While much is still to do in this area, Al's leadership and determination sets our course for many years to come. Most importantly, Al has saved many lives and spared many from serious injury, a fine legacy which will remain in place.
Again, on a personal note, I wish I could be there with my great mates and comrades sinking a few beers and embellishing a few stories, but a change in government here in Australia has put the neo-conservative, anti-union agenda back into the workplaces and lives of Australian working men and women. So the struggle continues. But, we are eased in the knowledge that these two great internationalists, dockworkers and unionists, are entering a better and well-deserved period of their lives with their families and friends. Congratulations, Tom and Al. Solidarity forever."
The retirement dinner coincided with 2013 ILWU Young Workers Conference, which was attended by MUA delegates Jason Miners, Luke Murray and Sarah Maguire. Maguire, who is also co-chair of the MUA youth committee, was asked to read Crumlin's letter. At that moment, on display, was the MUA's commitment to international solidarity, and the important role youth and women play in the union's work and future vision.
Clearly, Crumlin's letter touched a chord with the two retiring union leaders. Le Monnier dispatched the following letter in response, a letter which emphasies the global links and struggle between all maritime workers:
"Dear Paddy, I hope this letter finds you well.
I don't want to take too much of your busy schedule but I just want to thank you for your acknowledgement of my work for the ITF in health & safety matters at the ISP, IMO and ILO. Your letter you wrote on behalf of Tom Dufresne and myself was read out brilliantly last Saturday night at our retirement dinner party by one of your youth volunteer.
You, more than anyone else, know how difficult and frustrating it may be to make any improvements in standards. However, if we stick with it patiently, we can make eventual progress. We improved the ILO Code of Practice in Dock Work. We reopened parts of the Convention for Safe Containers to improved better examination schemes of containers standards and we were instrumental in the development of Annex 14 of the CSS Code regarding safer container lashing designs. ITF was front and center in pressing for verification of container weights through an amendment in SOLAS that will now require a certificate of verification before a container is loaded aboard a vessel. We are working on an improved container packing code in Geneva.
Paddy, I will continue to assist the ITF in forthcoming projects at ILO and IMO for the foreseeable future but as I mentioned to Sharon James, it is important for the ITF to establish a strong, well structured safety committee or panel led by a knowledgeable and motivated leader dedicated to the safety cause of dock workers. Safety has no beginning or end. It is an ongoing process. As such, continuity in this file is essential because of the many subject matters and aspects port safety entails. Sharon tells me she is in the process of developing such a committee and that's good. I hope it remains a focal agenda item.
Again thank you very much for your kind words and best regards,
Al Le Monnier"