Sydney - Seattle Sister Port Visit

A report from Sue Virago: I was asked to represent the MUA sydney branch on their delegation to the IBU/ILWU conference in Seattle.

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I hesitated at first, the idea of leaving my family at home filled me with dread. So I contacted my good friend Terri Mast to find out what she could tell me about the conference. I was initially told it was in LA but I quickly received a very warm and eager phone call insisting that I attend, and that her union the Inland Boatworkers Union (IBU) was hosting it in Seattle. Having worked closely with Terri on the ITF women’s committee from 1998-2009, we often exchanged stories gloating of how beautiful and stunning Sydney/Seattle was and how we simply had to visit. Terri had visited Sydney earlier this year in February for our Quadrennial member’s conference and I almost felt obliged to return the visit.

Myself from DP World PBT, and 6 other Sydney representatives from Patrick’s, Sydney Ferries, and our branch, flew over to further cement and develop the sister port  relationship. We arrived on a Tuesday and went straight into their conference/welcome function. We met various Maritime workers and representatives, and indeed were made felt very welcome.

Over the next few days we listened and participated in the plenary and workshops, as well as paid visits to the Local 19, Local 52. We even travelled on a Washington State ferry sailing in Puget sound. I spoke with and met female stevedores and ferry workers and they all asked me to send back their warmest regards, solidarity and well wishes to their sisters back in Australia doing the same types of work (as I had come - carrying all of your greeting of solidarity and sisterhood). These visits and encounters were a highlight of the trip.During one of our port visits we also met with a female Terminal manager. I was more than a little, however pleasantly, surprised. I was very happy to see that somewhere in the world a woman had reached such a level of management within the stevedoring industry.

The IBU/ILWU conference for the first time resolved to mark the November 25th day of action for the elimination of Violence against women (White ribbon day). Speakers noted how they had been inspired by the MUA’s work in this area. Here I was invited to speak to the resolution on behalf of the ITF, MUA and women globally. I spoke about the need for unions to tackle social issues as well as their industrial campaigns, to be seen as acting for and on behalf of the greater communities within which they function, to protect women, children and working families. It was warmly received.

Upon leaving, Terri and I further cemented our own long standing sister port bonds between Seattle and Sydney, vowing to continue the support across the Pacific, both personally and for all our female members and workers in general. We hoped that in the years to follow we could see a continuation of women representatives being sent between our two cities to conferences and delegations, further ferrying the well wishes of sisterhood between our countries. We anticipate that new women leaders would come through from within our ranks and continue to help address the variety of gender and workers issues we were all facing. We parted optimistically, and content that we had achieved an earlier promise to visit each other’s city/port and families.

I’d like to thank the NSW Branch for the invitation and opportunity to attend. It was a trip that will not be forgotten.

Sue Virago

DP World Port Botany