Aussies Take Centre Stage in Berlin

By Andrew Casey Asia/Pacific Editor for LabourStart
BERLIN – The results of two important votes at the International Trade Union Confederation World Congress should become known on Thursday.

There is some expectation that we will find out Australia wins both votes.

In Germany, the results will come out after lunch – in Australia, that translates to late evening.

The first vote is something most Australian unionists will be happy to hear.

The re-election, for a second term, of Sharan Burrow, formerly ACTU President, as ITUC General Secretary.

She is of course a favourite daughter of the land Down Under. So none of the Australian delegation at the ITUC Congress has tried to hide their partisanship.

The second vote is a win we prefer not to hear —  that a rogue Aussie has won the vote for the World’s Worst Boss.

Rupert Murdoch is in the hunt for this prize. But there is a lot of competition, and the smart money reckons Murdoch might just get pipped at the post by some other bastard boss.

If he wins, I think I will remind myself (and others) that actually he’s not an Aussie anymore. He’s taken out US citizenship.

First contest in decades

The vote for a four-year term as ITUC General Secretary began on Wednesday afternoon. It is the first time in many decades that there is a contest (actually I couldn’t find a single person who knew if there had ever been a vote for this job before – the winner is usually a consensus candidate).

Straight after both candidates made their pitch to the 1500 plus delegates the vote began. Sharan is facing a challenge from Jim Baker, a US veteran of the global union circuit

The ACTU Secretary, Dave Oliver, was up near the front of the queue to register his support for the Aussie candidate. He tweeted a picture as he cast his vote for Sharan.

That tweet quickly started a trend. Other delegates started posting selfies, registering their vote for Sharan.

Though the result won’t be formally announced until Friday morning Berlin time, it’s understood most of the Congress expects to know today who won.

The Australians at the Congress all spent the first few days cornering delegates, asking them to pin ‘Sharan Burrow’ badges on their clothes.

The ANMF National Secretary, Lee Thomas, had Sharan Burrow badges overflowing – they were falling out of her pockets and her bag.

“I’d just go up and ask. I expected I might have to make an argument, but that wasn’t the case. I don’t think I got one rejection,” Lee Thomas said.

Ben Kruse of the Australian Services Union NSW Branch spent the first few days of Congress co-ordinating the Australians. He was the badge man, making sure the Aussies didn’t run out, and they were all asking the right question.

“Ninety-nine per cent of those I approached were delighted that they have an opportunity to vote, to make a small political contribution by wearing a badge,” Ben Kruse said.

“In the absence of common language, it was a fairly tactile approach: Focus on keywords ‘Campaign’ and ‘Sharan’, and then just pin them on! “The South American nations couldn’t get enough of it; there seem to be hundreds of Brazilians here.”

All the Australians have been active across the ITUC Congress.

During the debate on Women in Work and Unions, Judith Wright, from the Australian Services Union outlined her union’s extremely successful Equal Pay case.

There were a few ‘wows’ when she explained 200,000 social and community services workers won a massive pay increase. A rise of up to 45%, on the grounds their work has been historically undervalued.

Dave Noonan of the CFMEU gave a spirited address on Tuesday morning on behalf of the ACTU delegation, highlighting the imposition of austerity policies in Australia under the Abbott government  - notwithstanding the complete absence of any economic crisis in the country.

Dave Oliver and ACTU International Officer Grant Belchamber attended and spoke at a breakfast meeting on trade agreements. The two of them told the meeting the big global tobacco giant Phillip Morris was chasing the Australian government for compensation over our plain packaging laws.

The giant American corporation was trying to sidestep an earlier High Court  ruling which gave the same claim a thumbs down.

Paddy Crumlin, the global President of the International Transport Workers Federation and National Secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia, in usual style, put a strong argument for the use of workers’ capital to invest in road, rail and ports. Crumlin argued that investments in these key big infrastructure projects will bolster sagging economies and create good jobs for working people.

Another prominent MUA official Mick Doleman participated in a panel on violence against women in the home, and in the work place.

“Violence against women is not a women’s issue but a man’s issue,” he said as he explained ever male official and employee of the MUA is a White Ribbon Ambassador.

“Men perpetrate violence against women. This is a social issue which fits squarely into union movement values.”

Mick explained that the ACTU has endorsed a model clause for collective agreements which provided greater protections for women workers who are experiencing domestic violence, including paid leave and privacy.

And Susan Hopgood, the Federal Secretary of the Australian Education Union took centre stage at the Congress as she moved an important amendment to ensure the global union movement adopted specific Millenium Development goals for post-2015.

In the next two days, some controversial debate and discussion is expected over the crisis in Ukraine, where trade union buildings have been attacked, and the varying responses of the global union movement to working with the Chinese state-run workers’ organisation, the ACFTU.

Unionists from everywhere are discovering and discussing their common interests – and building sold alliances and friendships – over some good German beer and bratwurst.