WA Conference Delegates Seize The Day--And The Roadway

After a day hearing from national and international maritime leaders, delegates to the Western Australia branch's conference seized an intersection to highlight the fight for a national stevedoring code of practice.

Flowing into the intersection of Queen Victoria St. and Tydeman Road, hundreds of delegates, waving flags and carrying mock coffins, occupied the area to give voice to the demand for a national code of safety. Adrian Evans, WA deputy branch secretary, read out the names of wharfies killed on the job.

The action highlighted a day of speakers who underscored what the rally represented: the WA branch, and the MUA as a whole, believes in militant action as the only course to guarantee a fair go for union members, whether they are MUA members or members of other unions. And it highlighted a day in which the WA branch strongly featured the importance of working globally and in solidarity with other unions as a way of protecting MUA members' rights.

Image - WA Conf 2013 Chris Cain Speech  
[Picture: Chris Cain]  

Early in the day, National Secretary Paddy Crumlin and Bill Shorten, Minister of Employment and Workplace Relations, Financial Services and Superannuation, kicked off the conference proceedings. Chris Cain, then, continued the theme of the conference, declaring: "We are bullding a union, a union that has teeth."

Perhaps the highlight of Cain's presentation was his leading a chant with the entire crowd joining in:

Gina Reinhart was her name

Exploiting workers was her game

Chevron’s in the caper, too

Both of them would make you spew

Image - WA Conf 2013 Bob McEllrath  
[Picture: Bob McEllrath]  

Cain, then, introduced Bob McEllrath, president of the US International Longshore and Warehouse Union. McEllrath told the story of a major fight against EGT at the port of Longview. "Allegedly, we took over the grain facility, we captured the port security guy, we locked him up in a room, these are all alleged things we did," he said to applause. "By the time we were done, they arrested over 250 people. But they didn't arrest them that day. [The police] waited til the next day until [the workers] went to the grade schools and picked up their kids, and they'd throw them down on the ground in front of their kids, handcuff them."

Throughout the fight against EGT, the MUA showed strong solidarity, in particular through the International Transport Workers Federation. The ITF's current president is Paddy Crumlin.

Image - WA Conf 2013 Bob Crow  
[Picture: Bob Crow]  

Bob Crow, the General Secretary of the UK Rail Maritime and Transport Union, gave a rousing talk about the importance of seeing the trade union work as a 24-7 community operation. "We stand for very simple things in life. We want everyone to have a job with decent pay. We want a house to live in. We want our kids to have good schooling'" he said. "Capitalism has failed mankind. They can't find money to end poverty. They can find money for nuclear weapons to smash and destruct society when they should be spending money on constructing society, building schools, and houses.The Murdoch press attacks us because we dare stand up and say 'enough is enough'"

Wrapping up the morning, incoming ITF General Secretary Steve Cotton laid out the vision of change, which the MUA has led. "You are the catalyst for change," he said. "It's your ITF, it's your ability to drive an international agenda."