Contributed by Joe Montero
“From next Thursday the whinging stops and the working starts.” These words came from electrical Trades Union Victorian Secretary Troy Grey, when giving support to and addressing a members of what was the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), who had assembled in front of their union office in Melbourne.
Two weeks ago, the union amalgamated and became part of the new with the Construction Forestry Mining Maritime and Energy Union (CFMMEU).
On this occasion, the wharfies met outside the new union headquarters in Melbourne, to re-affirm their preparedness to stand up for their right to belong to a union and defend wages and conditions, and this year, has involved two important battles. One is with a stevedoring company called Qube, which has been trying to cut wages by up to 56 percent. The other is at the Victoria International Container Terminal Limited (VICT), owned by International Container Terminal Services Inc (ICTSI), a company also notorious for brutalising and underpaying its mainly third world workforce.
The battle with ICTSI has been ongoing and ultimately concerns unionisation of the Australian waterfront and the use of cheap labour. A drive that is supported behind the scenes, by the federal government and sections of big business.
Out on the street, the gathering was joined by representatives of the other sections of the amalgamated union and various other unions, and this was reflected in the list of formidable speakers.
Although Troy Gray’s statement referred to the to ongoing action to take on ICTSI, it was equally concerned with the bigger battle of all Australian workers to put an end to an industrial relations system that has done so much to take away what previous generations had achieved, it terms of the dignity, rights and voice of the Australian workforce.
He also said, “the focus is not the coming election. Getting rid of the Coalition government is only a stepping stone. We need to go past this,” referring to the need to ensure that all workers, are in a position to ensure their interests.
Another key speaker was the Victorian Construction division secretary, John Setka, who said, “they hate us. They are always attacking us. They hate us because we keep on winning.” He observed that companies like ICTSI have always been around, trying to “…impose their conditions. This is not new. They’ve been around before. They disappeared and we’re still here. This lot will disappear too.
He stressed that the battle was also to unionise the whole workforce. “one in ten workers being union members is not acceptable,” he insisted.
The national, Victorian and West Australian leaders of the maritime division and other speakers committed to doing whatever it takes to bring about change.
The effort dovetails into the ACTU Change the Rules Campaign and the mass meeting of delegates of all unions on 17 April, in the spirit of this is where the work starts.
If this meeting was an indicator of what is to come, the Australian government and its backers are in for a rough ride.