ITF Congress

Paddy Crumlin, MUA National Secretary, was elected president of the world’s 4.7 million maritime, road, rail and aviation
workers’ unions at the International Transport Workers’ Federation world congress in Mexico City in August.

The MUA’s Paul McAleer, Sydney Branch Secretary, steps up as co-chair of ITF youth, and Mich-Elle Myers, MUA women’s liaison officer, now represents women transport workers of the Asia Pacific on the ITF women’s committee. Paddy Crumlin was also re-elected chair of the ITF dockers section by the world’s dockworkers. That makes a trifecta.

Paddy Crumlin’s election as president of the global union is a first for Australia and follows hot on the heels of former ACTU Secretary Sharan Burrow’s move to the top job of general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation. “To have a trifecta from Australia on the global stage is such a significant development,” she said. “This is a union that in global terms is of incredible significance. Having Paddy elected as ITF president is a magnificent achievement.” The Federation’s executive board recommendation was unanimously endorsed by the congress’s 1500 delegates following 10 days of deliberations, regional and sectional meetings, but followed a close contest behind the scenes.

So what does this all mean to Australian maritime and transport workers? “The election of Comrade Crumlin to the ITF presidency will again further develop the strength and standing of the Australian transport unions – particularly the MUA – as important players on the international stage,” said Warren Smith, Assistant National Secretary. “It’s a great result for Australia, the MUA and the shipping industry,” said Peter Morris, former transport minister in the Hawke government and author of the ‘Ships of Shame’ and ITF ICONS reports.

“When Paddy was elected and he came out to speak he said the reason we had a 70-strong MUA delegation there was to show members and also other international unions what a small union of 12,000 comrades can achieve with commitment, pride and hard work,” said Henry Solley, MUA life member Tasmania. “I will never forget the Patrick dispute. How it became worldwide news. There may not be power in amalgamation, but there’s strength in numbers.” “Paddy’s election result is a ringing endorsement of what he’s been doing through the MUA, the ITF dockers’ section and as vice president; what we have been doing through the Australian Transport Workers’ Federation and what Australian unions have been doing more broadly nationally and abroad,” said Bob Nanva, RTBU National Organiser.

“Paddy is a great representative and advocate for his members and his union; the MUA is the heart and soul of the Australian labour movement,” said Ged Kearney, President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. “I believe that Paddy will be able to galvanise the ITF into a cohesive and truly inclusive organisation. This is a win for all transport workers around the world,” said Margie Dale, Branch Secretary, ASU North Qld Clerical & Administrative Branch.

“Paddy Crumlin” has worked hard for transport workers support during his candidacy as president of the ITF, and that includes road, rail air and sea,” said Tony Sheldon, National Secretary Transport Workers Union. “For many, the Port of Convenience campaign stops on the docks. Through working together with the TWU, the MUA RTBU in the ATUF, Paddy understands that it can’t stop there and organisation needs to use its influence on the waterfront, in rail and on the road to help the entire supply chain.”


The MUA was part of an extended delegation including Australian Transport Union Federation affiliates, the TWU, RTBU, ASU and New Zealand and South Pacific transport unions. “We’re becoming an organised group of unions with a common agenda to strengthen the alliance between Australia and New Zealand because we are in essence becoming one labour market more and more,” said Wayne Butson, National Secretary of the Rail and Maritime Transport Union of New Zealand. “Paddy’s got the strong focus and dogged determination to better the life of transport workers throughout the world by making sure the ITF is an effective organisation to deliver those sorts of values.”

“Transport unions are at the heart of the globalised economy and we must use our collective strength for the benefit of members and the wider working class. Kia Kaha Ta Tau Ta Tau (Be strong we are all one),” wrote Joe Fleetwood, General Secretary, Maritime Union of NZ.


Paddy Crumlin stays MUA National Secretary and continues to lead the union’s shipping agenda and the push for a national set of safety standards to better protect waterside workers on the job. “I have a full time job, MUA National Secretary, and I’m not looking for another one,” he said. “This is an international ex officio position, but at the highest level – just as Sharan Burrow’s job as president of the World Trade Union movement before she moved to general secretary did not interfere with her work as ACTU president. “The national work is not separate from our responsibility to build a strong international movement,” he said. “The two things sit very comfortably together.

“We can’t have cabotage here and not have it in other countries. We’d be the last domino. We can’t have a worker killed on a ship in LA and not know about it when it comes into Melbourne. If we don’t apply the same standards internationally, if transport workers don’t reach out, it won’t solve anything,” he said. “By the same token if we’re to build strong union alliances with other transport unions in Australia, we also need to do it internationally. Just like the employers do with each other.” The presidency will be based in Sydney alongside the Oceania sub regional ITF office. The national secretary also retains his position as chair of the ITF dockers’ section and on the International Bargaining Forum. The IBF negotiates crew wages with ship owners on behalf of the world’s seafarers, and is important in protecting international dockworkers’ rights, particularly from seafarers on FOC vessels doing their work.


So what does the election mean to the global union movement? Barista Uno – the Philippines-based marine café blog –describes Paddy Crumlin as a dynamic and tough-talking Aussie. “Whether this will see a more belligerent ITF remains to be seen,” he writes. “We have no doubts, however, that Mr Crumlin will add more vigour to the organisation, which represents 760 trade unions worldwide.”

Messages of congratulations like “Rattle cages, go for it” came in from around the world. “I’m happy for you, but happier for me and all labour militants worldwide to have you as our ship’s captain and, I shall be there to follow the course you will set,” wrote Michel Desjardins, President, Seafarers’ International Union of Canada.

“I’m stoked to see the right man in the right job at the right time,” wrote Dean Corgey, Port of Houston. “I proudly wore my MUA “Fighting For Our Rights” shirt on the waterfront today — seems to fire up the troops. I look forward to working with you on cabotage and maybe we can figure out a way to organise the Gulf of Mexico.”

“All Arab affiliates asked me to extend their congratulations to yourself and the whole transport family. I am sure that the ITF will move forward with your support and leadership,” wrote Bilal Malkawi , the ITF’s Arab World representative in Amman, Jordan.

“We do believe that you would contribute much to the fight against poverty, to the strengthening of the unity of transport workers everywhere in the world,” wrote Georgy Stoliarenko, President of the ICWTWU, Russia.

“Now the entire ITF family can benefit from your qualities,” wrote Myriam Chaffart, Political Secretary for Logistics and Inland Waterways , European Transport Workers’ Federation. “From your daily struggles and solidarity work internationally I can confidently say you are the best comrade for the position. Thanks comrade for availing yourself to lead transport workers,” wrote Y K Manene, Cape Town Container Terminal, South Africa.

“Your commitment to move the ITF forward to another level is a task that I know you will accomplish. Thank you for all the working men and women around the world,” wrote Big Bob McEllrath, International President of the ILWU. “Your victory in the election is a great tribute to your colleagues and the trade union movement in Australia,” wrote S.R.Kulkarni, President All India Port & Dock Workers Federation, Transport & Dock Workers Union, Mumbai, India.

“Paddy is prepared to tackle some of the bureaucracy in the ITF even if he rocks some boats and ruffles some feathers,” said Martin Mayer, Sheffield bus driver, Unite and ITF road transport section head. “He’ll roll up his sleeves and get some work done for us.”

“What’s most important is he has experience internationally and is a person with national experience – fighting experience,” said Oystein Aslaksen of the Norwegian Locomotive Drivers Union and Chair of ITF Railway Workers’ Section. “The MUA is a fighting union. The dockers’ fight in Australia is well known worldwide.”

“Having someone from the Flag of Convenience shipping campaign is a chance for ITF to transfer this experience into other sectors,” said Harald Voitl in Vida, Austria. “We hope Paddy can bring an even closer strategic approach and integrate the unions more – from the bottom up.”

“Paddy Crumlin will bring positive change to the ITF – I think that we’ll all benefit, move forward and be more united,” said Zenzo Mahlangu, SATAWU General Secretary.

“ I think he’s going to be an active president, someone who’s going to get more involved. A lot of people make promises. Paddy is one individual who’ll deliver,” said Sito Pantoja, Chair, ITF Civil Aviation Section Airline Coordinator, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.


The theme for the 1500-strong congress was “Strong Unions – Sustainable Transport”. Congress adopted a document of the same name. Nearly 370 trade unions from 112 countries participated, Warren Smith reports. “Congress took place over 12 days as delegates plotted the course for international transport unions for the next four years,” he said. “They adopted a militant and progressive agenda against the onslaught of global capital and its race to the bottom inflicted upon working men and women across the planet.”