ILWU Convention: Job Security

Published: 26 Jun 2009

MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin was special guest speaker at the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Convention, in Seattle from 8-12 June 2009. He led an MUA delegation of seven, including Jamie Newlyn, SA, Robert Patchett, Victoria, Glen Wood, Sydney, Steve Cumberlidge, Brisbane, Wade Eaton, WA, Michael Ryan, Victoria and Dennis Outram, Newcastle.


The convention saw the re-election of ILWU international president Bob McEllrath, Secretary Treasurer Willie Adams, Vice President Wesley Furtado (Hawaii), all unopposed.  Vice President (Mainland) Joseph Radisich, did not stand this election and has been replaced by long time friend of the MUA Ray Familathe, ILWU Coordinator of International Relations.  Ray was also unopposed. His association with the MUA goes back to 1998 and the Colombus Canada dispute, which saw LA longshore workers refuse to stevedore a ship loaded by scab labour in solidarity with locked out Patrick workers.

The ILWU covers around 42,000 dock workers on the US West Coast, Alaska and Hawaii and has a strong and historic relationship with the MUA.  It was founded in thirties by one time Australian seafarer and US Longshore worker Harry Bridges.

The ILWU convention is the democratic process for determining ILWU Rank & File Policy for the next three years similar to our own MUA National Conference.

The convention was opened by the Governor of Washington State Christine Gregoire who valued the ILWU contribution to the labour movement and was also a fierce advocate for the Employee Free Choice Act allowing employees to belong to unions.

ILWU President "Big Bob" McEllrath commented in his opening remarks on the issues confronting ILWU members in spite of the Global Financial Crisis and eight years of George Bush he reminded delegates and members of the legacy of 1934 and the difficulties Longshoremen confronted in gaining better conditions in times of great employer and Government hostility and encouraged his members to use that as inspiration in our struggles today.

The role of international solidarity featured heavily and convention heard from a number of guest speakers including MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin, ITF Dockers Secretary Frank Leys and MUNZ Assistant National Secretary Russell Mayn. The ILWU also formally renewed their Unity Statement with Japanese Dockers Union Zen Kowan


In an historic first a sister port program was endorsed between Seattle and Sydney. Glen Wood Deputy Sydney Branch Secretary presented a plaque to commemorate the occasion

This year the ILWU commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Great Strike of 1934 and the ILWU and commemorated the leadership of Harry Bridges, the convention heard from Professor James Gregory, Harry Bridges Chair at University of Washington who detailed at length the importance of ILWU struggles in the USA labour movement and particularly Harry Bridges leadership and further the importance of ensuring union information is archived, so that future generations can access important labour information as told by the union movement.

The overwhelming feature of the convention and caucus was the preservation of jobs, conditions and entitlements such as pension & health care in the context of the Global Financial Crisis.

Convention delegates were broken up into 4 committees to discuss Rank & File concerns consisting of

  • 1. Credentials
  • 2. Constitution
  • 3. Programs
  • 4. Resolutions

Each committee was responsible for determining which resolutions went before the convention based on the above committees

All resolutions were then presented to the convention for discussion, debate and endorsement. All members had an opportunity to speak for or against any resolution put before the convention.

The need to organize and grow the union was seen as fundamental to the union's ongoing success and reports were presented on the successes and long struggles that have occurred in the fight to be union.

A program for political campaigning was also debated and ILWU members were circumspect about political contributions and much discussion was had on trying to keep these politicians that the ILWU support accountable which is not dissimilar to how MUA members feels.

Other issues of significance and again with great similarity to Australia are the ILWU opposition to the Transport Workers Identification Credentials (TWIC) card which is similar to our MSIC and workers have to pass all the background checks.

Other resolutions included:

  • The end to the war in Iraq & Afghanistan
  • Free the Cuban 5,
  • Opposition to the death Penalty and Racist Oppression
  • Commending South African Dockers for their refusal to discharge Israeli goods in protests to the attacks on Gaza
  • The importance of organizing
  • Reaffirming the principles of rank & File Unionism
  • Universal Health Care
  • Support for Workers seeking union contracts

MUA members thanked the International and Organising committees for hospitality and invitation to participate and actively demonstrate International Solidarity


The Longshore caucus focuses specifically on contract issues of the Longshore (Dockers) section of the ILWU.

Reports were heard from the Coast Committee which covered the activities of the coast committee up to May 2009. The Coast Committee represents the Longshore Division of the ILWU in the day to day administration of the Pacific Coast contract document. Therefore the Coast committee assists the locals where issues arise in relation to breaches of the contract by employers.

The Coast Committee reported on the drastic decline in container volumes. The fourth quarter of 2008 delivered the single largest drop in volumes seen since 1975. The employer association PMA is cutting working hours and sending Steadies (permanents) back to the hiring hall.

Of course the PMA are trying to implement cost saving measures that have a direct impact on ILWU members, by way of breaches to the contract & jurisdictional issues i.e. bringing in or contracting out traditional ILWU work coverage.

A number of issues were reported on and debated to resolution including

  • Technology,
  • Pension Plans,
  • Maintaining jurisdiction,
  • Pay Guarantee plan ,
  • Workers Compensation,
  • TWIC,
  • Education

The Legislative Committee reported on the ILWU program in Washington DC which ensures the ILWU voice is heard and critical lobbying takes place around issues that affect ILWU members. Issues such as TWIC, Universal health Care, Support for the 2008 contract amongst other.

The political strategy was also reported on culminating in of course the victory of the Obama administration and the work that the ILWU contributed too both at the Local and International Levels.

The most controversial issue confronting longshoremen is the TWIC card & Port Security or specifically the government's attempts to further restrict and check on longshoremen. The ILWU have produced a White paper which discusses how to improve the TWIC program

A number of retiring Longshoreman and Active ILWU members were recognized for their outstanding contribution to the ILWU.

International Solidarity was recognized in a resolution and further reference to the sister ports of Sydney & Seattle was endorsed.

A presentation of Boomerangs was made to ILWU officials and staff from Bob Patchett on behalf of the Australian delegation in recognition of the hospitality and international solidarity shown to the MUA delegation.

The ILWU can be proud of their Democratic Structure and Militant & Progressive Values as demonstrated at their Convention and caucus.

An Injury to One is an Injury to All

The full speech to Convention by MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin can be downloaded below


Authorised by P Crumlin, Maritime Union of Australia, Sydney