MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin has given a rousing speech to open the 2016 Quadrennial Conference on the Gold Coast.
Crumlin opened the conference reflecting on the Welcome to Country and paying tribute to the MUA’s elders: Kevin Cooke, Terry O’Shane, and Kevin Torrey.
“Theirs is an incredible civilisation. We need more of their generosity and spirituality,” he said.
Crumlin paid tribute to the MUA’s national council and their leadership in circumstances where the union is under great attack. “They are scared of us and the power in this room,” he said. “They think it is their world. It is not their world, it is our world.”
He also thanked the Queensland branch for hosting the Conference, explaining that it was time to move from Sydney after only being held there for many years.
There is a who’s who of international labour at the conference, and not just maritime unions. The US Steelworkers sent delegates, and they are supporting us in our campaigns against Rio Tinto and Alcoa. It is links like these that the rulers of this country are worried about, and that is why they are chasing us,” he said.
“Kevin is here from the Liverpool dockers. They go after us from the centres of our strength. That is why they went after the Liverpool dockers, that is why they are going after us. They want to send a message. After the Liverpool dockers they went after the rest of the strong maritime unions of the world, one after the other.
“We then made a determination that we had to get seriously involved in the structures of international unionism, to reclaim our institutions, or we would not survive. That’s why I sought the Presidency of the ITF. It was difficult. We want to be fighting the big multinationals, not each other.
“But the time had come to make a political change. It was not about personalities and now we have a fantastic new general secretary of the ITF, Steve Cotton.”
Crumlin told Conference delegates that members own the union, and that is the reason for this conference. “You are at the forefront of working class struggle in Australia and in the world,” he said, “and that is because you want to be there.”
Crumlin lead the room in a moment of silence for all those who have gone before us.
He then described the importance of unity in the struggle to for broader social benefits, such as health, education, and pensions for all: “They think it should only be for the rich. We can’t be divided, it is too important.”
“Chevron is going after us,” Crumlin continued. “They are a bunch of tax-avoiding no-go exploiters. We’ve got them on the run just like we will have Alcoa on the run. We will secure the right for Australians to work on ships, and carry cargoes around this coast. But that takes resources.”
Crumlin then went on to pay tribute to the many international guests in attendance at the conference or who have sent solidarity greetings. “We have our Cuban comrades here today,” he said.
“We have Sharan Burrow providing great global leadership at the ITUC,” he continued. “So is Steve Cotton at the ITF. And Jacqui Smith, ITF Maritime Coordinator. She won leadership of Norwegian Seafarers’ Union at the age of 35. A woman has to be three times more talented than a man to win that position, that is the reality of it.”
Crumlin went on to introduce Abdulgani, from the National Seafarers Union of India: “He stood up in the ILO to say that the company that was trying to replace MUA members bullied and harassed his members, and they never would have done it if we had known the reality of the situation.”
Crumlin also introduced Hanafi, from the KPI seafarers’ union in Indonesia, and Shwe, “who was bounced out of Burma for his work advocating for the rights of Burmese seafarers, and who now works as an ITF inspector for the Seafarers’ International Union in Texas.”
Crumlin concluded: “We are building an international union that will protect all, young, old, men, women. That is our vision. MUA! Here to stay.”
Conference delegates were then shown a TV ad that will be played around the country this week, featuring the Portland crew and their eviction from their ship.
Earlier, WA Branch Secretary Chris Cain opened the conference, emphasising the serious questions facing the union and the obligation of all delegates to participate. Where do we want the union to be in 5 years? 10 years? 15 years? He paid tribute to Bob Crow, who attended the last Quadrennial National Conference, and who sadly passed away in 2014.
Cain urged delegates to get excited about the conference and the task ahead: to fight on behalf of maritime workers and all Australian workers, and led the hundreds of delegates in the chant of ‘MUA! Here to stay! They don’t like us! We don’t care!’
Uncle Graham Dillon welcomed Conference delegates to Country on behalf of the Kombumerri people. He told delegates the energy in room made him tingle and that there was great strength in their unity.
Cain paid tribute to the MUA veterans at the conference, including John Coombes and Pat Geraty who could not attend due to illness.
Delegates then watched a video of solidarity greetings from Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the ITUC, and from Lars Lindgren, Secretary of the European Transport Workers Federation.
Finally, Chris Cain told Conference about the tragic death of seafarer Nevada Jones, a 38 year old woman from the Northern Territory with two small children, who recently suffered a massive stroke and died. “We will not leave these children alone,” Cain said, “Please contribute to the buckets on your way out of the room.”