National Secretary Paddy Crumlin has opened the MUA National Council, talking up the benefits of the proposed union merger with the CFMEU and TCFUA.
MUA National President Christy Cain welcomed international guests including Carl Findlay, National President of the Maritime Union of New Zealand and Reg McAllister, National Secretary of the Papua New Guinea Maritime and Transport Union.
Joined by Dave Noonan, National Secretary of the Construction Division of CFMEU and Michele O’Neil, National Secretary of the TCFUA, Crumlin said it was an exciting time for the unions involved despite constant political attacks.
"The Turnbull Government wants to see shipping destroyed, they've already killed off the Australian car industry and refining, they’ve destroyed the NBN and squandered our national wealth,” Crumlin said.
“The conservatives are bad economic managers - if they can’t redistribute it their way they squander it.
“The question for us is how do we position ourselves going forward?
“Throughout our history, in long political struggles we’ve put aside differences to build a strong defence and certainly, with this merger, we’ll be able to achieve that.”
Crumlin said the new Labour Government in New Zealand – led by Jacinda Ardern – was a breath of fresh air.
"On the upside, New Zealanders have shown a preference for diversity and a different type of leadership for New Zealand.
“The new prime minister has done a great job to reinvigorate the labour brand."
Crumlin spoke of the so-called Ensuring Integrity Bill - the Turnbull Government’s anti-worker bill that would allow them to sack union leaders, shut down unions and introduce a public interest test for union mergers.
The Government used its numbers to pass the Bill through the lower house last week despite opposition from the ALP, Greens and entire lower house cross bench.
The campaign to stop this attack on Australian democracy now moves to the Senate, and Australian unions are mobilising all available campaign resources to protect the rights of members to decide who leads their unions, and how those unions are run.
The Nick Xenophon Team and Senator David Leyonhjelm have expressed concerns over the Bill but other members of the cross bench haven’t yet made clear their intentions.
"The Ensuring Integrity Bill further attempts to attack trade unions – particularly our trade union and those we want to merge with,” Crumlin said.
“The Turnbull Government is trying to stop the MUA joining forces with the CFMEU and TCFUA, coming together in the same way we have throughout our history.
“We’ve certainly achieved something in our past if the Government has gone to so much trouble to tell workers in this country what they can and can’t do now."
Crumlin paid his respects to former union leaders Jim Steele and Taffy Sweetensen.
“Taffy and Jim embodied courage, determination and consistency,” Crumlin said.
"They lived a good life, not a very affluent life but it was never about money, personal or political power for them.
"It was about empowering members - they were great representatives of the working class at both a domestic and international level.
"They were supporters of the merger but it wasn’t their way to be out in front of the debate, trying run the union.
“They were dedicated working class socialists who believed the union was the best way to protect the interests of members."
A minute’s silence was held for MUA members who have passed away since the last national council.