A day on the Morris McMahon picket line



SYDNEY — On May 29, some 40 supporters of striking workers at can manufacturer Morris McMahon joined the picket line, then in its 12th week, to stop the scab bus in the morning, while 60 wharfies arrived during the afternoon for a rowdy protest.

The picketers forced a backdown by Morris McMahon management, which was quoted in the May 30 Daily Telegraph as saying that a union-registered agreement was never out of the question. Management also claimed the company was prepared to negotiate with the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU).

In previous negotiations with the AMWU and in the Industrial Relations Commission, the bosses had explicitly ruled out a union-negotiated agreement, insisting that workers sign individual contracts.

The striking workers at Morris McMahon have said they will not sign individual contracts. Forty workers remain on strike.

The morning picket kicked off at 6.30am. When company executives and scabs were due to arrive, the picketers formed a solid line in front of the gate of the newly erected fence around the factory and refused to let anyone enter the premises. Even security guards, who had recently become hostile to the strikers, were refused entry.

When the sole company manager showed up, he parked opposite the picket line and made a couple of phone calls, eventually driving off. Managers had previously driven their cars through the picket line.

The police, who turned up to escort the scabs, were overwhelmed.

When the scabs' bus arrived, the bus driver drove his vehicle into the picket line and kept inching forward, as he has done every other morning.

The cops formed a wedge in attempt to force an opening in the picket line. Their flying wedge got through the picket line, only to have the picketers form a solid line behind the police again.

At this point, the bus driver realised his efforts were futile and reversed the bus back onto the street and drove away — the first time this has happened since the strike began. The truck followed suit, causing a chorus of jubilant yelling from picketers and striking workers, who were cheering on from the other side of the road.

After the scabs left, police started arriving in force, bringing their numbers up to around 30.

After about half an hour, the roller door and gate were opened, signaling a return of the scab bus. Picketers where still formed into a solid line in front of the gates, with arms linked. As police started to attempt removal of picketers, the crowd sat down as a bloc, leaving the cops uncertain how to handle the situation.

Five minutes later, word came in that police had escorted the bus through the back gate — the first time in the dispute the scabs had been forced to use the back entrance.

When members of the maritime union (MUA) started congregating outside the company's hastily erected security fence at 3pm, security guards inside the fence took fright and sought refuge behind the second gate to the car park. A very vocal protest ensued, during which the MUA handed over nearly $15,000 collected from its members to the striking workers.

The scabs, who have a clause in their contract saying they must work whatever hours management demands, had to wait until after 7pm for the police to arrive again to let them out.

"Its imperative that we get as many days like this as we can", union delegate, Keith Brown, told Green Left Weekly. The picket is "giving the company a strong message", Brown added.

Community pickets will be occurring every Thursday at 6.30am. The wharfies have said they will also picket each Thursday afternoon. All supporters are welcome to attend the picket line at 34 Arncliffe St, Arncliffe. For more information, call Liam on 0415 365 937.

From Green Left Weekly, June 4, 2003.
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