Tribute to Sharan Burrow, World Labour Leader

A woman of many colours and the woman of the moment in the words of ITF president and MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin.

Only weeks after Sharan becomes ITUC general secretary, Paddy Crumlin is ITF President.  Together they plan to change the world.

Around 30 comrades from the maritime and mining unions gathered at the Waterfront Restaurant, Sydney Harbour on August 19 to bid farewell to Sharan Burrow.  Sharan has left the ACTU to head the 187 million-strong International Trade Union Confederation in Brussels, Belgium.   

"Sharan Burrow is an enormously impressive, a woman of intellect, dynamism and leadership," said CFMEU (mining energy) president Tony Maher.

"The ITUC is an enormously big and powerful international union," said Paddy Crumlin.  "And Sharan is the woman of the moment."

"When you'd walk around Parliament House with Sharan Burrow it's an amazing experience," said Tony.  "She will encounter an occasional minister and be right across the policy, meet the treasurer and be on top of her game.  It's just awesome to see the intellect and breadth of experience and skill that is displayed on our behalf by Sharan Burrow. And that's the principle reason she's in the position she's in. Sharan's not in the ITUC because it's about time we had a Sheila.

"Sharan is enormously impressive, knows about and can contribute to and can converse with world's leaders about all the policies.  We are honoured to have her as our representative, our person in Brussels, our person at the head of the global trade union movement."

Both mining and maritime leaders stressed the importance of having a woman in a leadership position, helping change the old male dominated trade union world, while also noting her environmental, organizing, industrial, political, human and civil rights credentials.

"We've got to feminise unions," said Paddy Crumlin.  "We need women on the wharves and ships and down the mines. Most of all we want women making decisions.

"It's a great challenge for us," he said.  "We're determined in the MUA to have genuine gender balance and democracy."

"Sharan challenged us all on gender issues," said Tony. "She challenged us all on dynamism, new ideas - new ideas of campaigning which have now been adopted by all unions.  She was at the forefront of campaigning.  She pushed the boundaries - appealed to different demographics.  Sharan has broadened our movement.   She is essential to the Australian labour movement and will be indispensable in the global union movement.  The ACTU really developed into something we can be proud of on the international level and it's obviously something the world unions want on a global level."

Tony Maher also spoke of Sharan's lasting legacy to the environment.

"I am privileged to have worked with Sharan in making sure there is a mainstream pro environment, pro industrial workers position developed by the Australian and global trade union movement. Australia was the driving force behind this."

Sharan paid tribute to union elders John Coombs ('my champion') and Pat Geraghty, remembered the good times and struggles on land and at sea on board the Yarra, the Stolt and ITF Ship of Shame disputes.  The new ITUC leader also acknowledged the election of the MUA's Paul McAleer and Mich-Elle Myers to lead ITF youth and women.

"To have to trifecta from Australia on the global stage is such a significant win," she said. "This is a union that in global terms is of incredible significance.  The global bargaining table that the ITF has -and Paddy plays an incredible role in that -- is not just of significance to the ITF or to the lives of seafarers and their families, it's actually of huge significance in terms of the models we can deal with around global bargaining and that's where I hope to head.  So having Paddy elected, as ITF president is a magnificent victory. Make no bones about it one of the reasons I have the support around the world is because of the strength of the Australian labour movement.  Paddy is my friend and such a great comrade and great union leader," she said.  

Sharan recounted the work she had done changing the face of the old cold war era ICFTU into the now 187million strong global union confederation that now talks about organizing and political activity.

"I can't tell you (the ITUC) has a history I love, but it's got a presence and a future and if we can make it work, we can change the world there's no doubt about that."