Internationalism and Solidarity: Taking the WA Branch Forward

The Biennial WA Branch conference has drawn to a close after a five-day extravaganza that saw thousands of people from all over the country and world descend on the port town of Fremantle.

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Monday, February 23 was dedicated to Women and Youth committees and the day closed with a rally outside of Michaelia Cash’s, Assistant Minister for Immigration, office. Read more about it here.

The Tuesday and the opening day was drama-filled but productive nonetheless. Read more about the day here.

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In addition to domestic issues, WA Branch Secretary Christy Cain was keen to spruik the virtues of solidarity and internationalism. He used the Maritime International Federation as an example of how working together with international unions was mutually beneficial. He called on Hanafi Rustandi, Indonesia’s KPI Executive President, who had helped lock in an agreement that would ensure Australians would work on the Northern Territory’s Inpex project.

“We sat in a room with executives in an office Perth and it wasn’t me or Paddy who had them scared, it was the little fella from Indonesia who had them worried,” he said.

Rustandi was just one of many international guests who graced the stage of the Bulldog’s Football Club at South Fremantle Oval.

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Other guests came from a whole host of different Australian unions with one of the more heated sessions coming when AWU National Secretary Scott McDine was up the front. A number of questions came from the floor regarding an AWU agreement on the Barrow Island Floatel, the Europa.

Members were obviously frustrated that the agreement had seen an undermining of accepted marine wages and conditions.

McDine apologised and said it was a mistake, not a deliberate attempt to push coverage boundaries and that he said he had written to the ITF explaining that the AWU would not be covering the catering work aboard the vessel.

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Deputy National Secretary Mick Doleman who was chairing the session said the MUA would learn from the Europa. “Don’t forget the company that’s strong-arming companies into agreeing to these attacks – it’s Chevron,” Doleman said.

Chevron was a hot topic of conversation throughout the week and Assistant Branch Secretary Will Tracey invited others such as the AMWU’s Steve McCartney, Californian United Steelworks official Mike Smith, and ITF Regional Campaigns Director Shannon O’Keeffe to talk about campaigning against the oil and gas giant.

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It was a difficult campaign, O’Keeffe explained, but insisted there was a need to get it right and win. She reported that Chevron was active throughout the region – in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Burma and that if the union could not get a result for workers in the face of Chevron’s opposition. In WA, it would be impossible to secure anything for workers in the developing, less organised world.

Tracey praised the youth for their Wednesday action whereby little bars of soap with the words “something stinks at Chevron” emblazoned on them were handed to morning commuters at train stations in Fremantle and in Perth city.

He also mentioned the special relationship the union had made with the USW during the Chevron campaign.

“Mike Smith from the Richmond refinery in San Francisco hit the nail on the head when he spoke of the need for labour to form global relationships if we are to defeat global capital,” Tracey said.

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The Australian Labor Party was also a recurring theme.

Deputy Branch Secretary Adrian Evans talked about how the campaign to get MUA members to become ALP members had progressed since the last conference.

“No matter your frustrations with the ALP, it is the only party in the country where we can agitate for change. No more have we proven that than over here in WA, where the maritime branch is now the biggest branch in the State” Evans said.

“They might not like to, but now they have to take notice of us.”

Evan’s words were echoed by the CFMEU’s Dave Noonan who spoke extensively on the matter on the final day. The CFMEU had a strong showing at the conference with National Secretary Michael O’Connor and Victorian Branch Secretary John Setka also making the trip to join their WA comrades in Joe McDoland and Mick Buchan.

On the Thursday it was a day for the rank-and-file with delegates taking to the stage to deliver their individual reports from their respective worksites. A representative from almost every MUA site and port in Australia was covered.

A general sentiment of being under constant attack by bosses and Government was prevalent. Increased casualisation, reduction in work and an increase in safety issues were common themes.

There was a lot of praise, from both the floor and the stage, for outgoing official Doug Heath. Despite Heath’s obvious embarrassment he was forced to accept a large leaving ceremony after it was moved from the floor. In doubling his luck he won the major raffle prize on the final day.

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The week was wrapped up with the spectacular Gala Ball at Crown Grand Ballroom, where delegates were unrecognisable in their tuxedos and gowns.

A magic show was accompanied by an inspirational closing speech by Christy Cain who had the crowd chanting “MUA, here to stay” before the dance floor was taken over.

For all of the photos from the conference, click here. Ball photos to come.