International Panel Highlights Value of Solidarity Across Borders

There are more than 100 international guests this week attending the MUA Quadrennial Conference on the Gold Coast and a handful of them spoke on a panel about International co-operation and solidarity.

MUA WA Branch Assistant Secretary Danny Cain opened the session and welcomed the panel.

“We will do whatever it takes to improve lives of working people around the world,” Cain said. “You have seen the importance of international solidarity in our disputes and campaigns. We have to build the ITF, and build the ITF youth movement. We need to be able to look back in five years and be able to say that we did everything we could.”

Marc Loridan, Federal Secretary Ports of Belgium in the BTB told delegates it was an honour to attend the Conference on behalf of the 10,000 dockworkers in Belgium. 

"Antwerp is the 2nd largest port in Europe. In all Belgian ports, only recognised port workers can perform port work in recognised port areas, and there is a union hiring hall. However, this law has been under attack from the European Commission for the past 12 years through Ports Package 1 and 2, which were defeated,” Loridan said. 

"Now they are taking us on one by one, starting with Spain. They say our hiring hall is a closed shop, and they want to take us to the European Court of Justice. They want to destroy our working conditions and our strong unions."

Loridan explained that the union is facing three bad options and it is likely there will be industrial action in the near future. 

“We will need your solidarity again,” he told Conference Delegates.

Canjeevaram Rajisridhar, Secretary of the All-Indian Railway Union, gave his greetings to the conference on behalf of millions of Indian workers. He said that there is a global attack on workers and our right to strike, including through free trade agreements.

“The Indian government is currently amending labour laws to suit corporations. In response, unions held a national strike of 150 million workers. The government says unions are a hindrance to doing business, they want to restrict the right to strike and ability of unions to organise themselves as they determine. The government is still moving ahead with the labour reforms, so there will be a massive demonstration on 10 March and an indefinite strike from 11 March.

“Workers united can never be defeated,” Rajisridhar concluded. “Long live the MUA!”

Severino Almeida, General Secretary of CONTTMAF in Brazil described the struggle to save national shipping fleets in Brazil and elsewhere in the world. 

"The Brazilian national fleet has been under attack for 20 years but we have survived and I believe you can save the merchant navy in Australia. MUA here to stay!”

Ken Riley led the Charleston dockworkers through the many attacks and struggles of the Charleston 5. He is now vice-president of International Longshore Association, which represents dockworkers on the east coast of the USA and Canada. 

He brought greetings from the ILA and its President Harold Daggett, and from Jordi Aragunde, General Coordinator of the International Dockworkers’ Council.

“The reason there is a war on maritime workers is because they are the most strategic and powerful group of workers in the world, and are the biggest obstacle for globe-trotting capitalists looking for a profit,” he said.

“We stand on the side of justice, and that is why we are at war. This war will last all our lives. We are talking in military terms. This is not a game. This is real and serious.”

But Riley said it was not good enough just to survive this war, but that we needed to get stronger. International solidarity should be a top priority for the labour movement. 

Riley encouraged delegates, saying that “when we fight we win. When we win and win decisively, we have fewer fights because our strength will deter them from attacking us. We must fight while we have an army. MUA, I am happy that you are here to stay!”

Joe Fleetwood, General Secretary of the Maritime Union of New Zealand gave a sobering address to delegates on the attacks on workers in New Zealand. 

“Globally, employers are on an offensive because they believe they can beat us,” he said. 

"In New Zealand, employers are bringing in zero-hour contracts, copied from the UK. Many workers are subject to a 90-day trial period, where they can work for 89 days, but can then be dismissed with no rights. Over the course of a year, 4 people can be in one job, for 90 days each, and this all comes off the unemployment statistics. 

"Some young people even have a 3-hour notice period in their contracts. Outrageously, the outcome of the Pike River mine disaster inquiry may water down health and safety legislation. 29 people died in that disaster, and there have still been no convictions of the mine operators.

"In New Zealand we have a Tory government now going for its 4th term. Maritime New Zealand is the safety regulator, but they refuse to regulate unless employers tick off on it. Safe work codes are not signed off unless the employers approve of them. As a result, there is no mention of a hatchman anywhere in safety regulations, only in our union agreements.

“We are all fighting the same struggle,” Fleetwood concluded, “and we must fight it together”.

Willie Adams, Secretary Treasurer of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union brought greetings on behalf of 40,000 working men and women of ILWU in Canada, the US and Panama. 

He discussed the meaning of solidarity. “If you are not leading you are just walking,” Adams said. “Solidarity means telling your friends they are not doing quite enough. Solidarity means going to Fremantle for a week to campaign for Adrian Evans’ election campaign. I donated $1000 because I wanted to see my friends step up.”

“Solidarity is Harry Bridges,” continued Adams, talking about the longstanding Secretary of the ILWU. “In the 1930s, when the ILWU was an all-white union, the bosses started to send black workers from the south to scab. Harry Bridges went to the black churches and promised to integrate the union if they did not scab. He got called all kinds of names by people in the union who did not want to see that happen. But he did it, and he made our union into the great union it is today. Unions are for every worker, no matter what their colour or sexual orientation is.”

Adams acknowledged the attacks that workers are facing around the world, but argued that “workers have something the bosses don’t have. We are willing to die for our jobs. And they cannot buy our courage, integrity, principles. An injury to one is an injury to all!”