East Timor and trade union solidarity


East Timor and trade union solidarity

Workers and their unions are starting to discuss how they can take action in solidarity with the East Timorese nation's fight to decide its own future.

Aircraft maintenance workers' delegates at the Qantas Jet Base in Sydney resolved last week to hold a stop-work meeting to consider refusing to work on Indonesian aircraft when the first such plane requests servicing.

Last week, the NT Trades and Labor Council voted to support East Timorese self-determination and a transition to independence. It applauded the East Timorese people's perseverance in their struggle, and called for the immediate disarming of the Indonesian army sponsored militia, the release of all East Timorese political prisoners and the withdrawal of the Indonesian troops under UN monitoring.

The NT TLC resolution also condemned the Australian government's response, and demanded an immediate suspension of all military ties and withdrawal of Australia's de jure recognition of Indonesian sovereignty over East Timor. It called on "all unions and the ACTU to immediately impose economic bans on all trade and commercial enterprises related to Indonesia", and proposed to offer support as requested by the East Timorese to rebuild their lives.

Victorian unions are discussing cutting postal, telecommunication, airline and shipping links. Leigh Hubbard, secretary of the Victorian Trades Hall Council, said the unions hoped to play "one small part in building public pressure, public debate [and] public awareness" about the Howard government's support for the repressive Indonesian regime.

The ACTU held a special meeting on April 30 which endorsed industrial action by its affiliates to protest against the violence of the Indonesian army and its militia against the East Timorese.

In the past, the Australian trade union movement has voiced support for East Timorese self-determination but has sat on its hands with regard to the complicity of Labor governments (under Whitlam, Hawke and Keating) in Indonesia's occupation of East Timor. Now, at last, the movement is starting to get this one right. Now, at last, the Howard government's industrial laws seem not to be a barrier to union action.

Australian unions' active solidarity will be an enormous aid the East Timorese people's struggle. The position being taken by those union bodies supporting solidarity action is clear — the East Timorese right to national self-determination is unequivocal — and they are in a unique position to bring enormous pressure to bear on the Australian government (Indonesia's principle imperialist backer) to withdraw all support for Indonesia's occupation of East Timor.

As well, the active participation of rank and file union members in the solidarity campaign will provide important opportunities to educate many more Australian workers about the issues involved, including the record of all Australian political parties on this question, the role of Australian big business interests in East Timor, and the centrality of internationalism in defending all working people's rights.

Solidarity actions by unions will also allow members to experience the power of collective action by workers and help the unions build alliances with others in Australia and overseas who actively support the democratic rights of the East Timorese.

The decisions taken last week by some trade unions were vital steps towards building a mass campaign for a free East Timor which the Howard government cannot afford to ignore. But the progress must not end there if it is to be effective.

The ACTU must do more than "endorse" solidarity actions by individual unions. It must actively promote and provide resources for the broadest possible solidarity action by unions and their members.