MUA activists foresee bigger fights


By Bill Mason

BRISBANE — Two men who took part in the Patrick lockout dispute as Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) members last year, former Queensland branch organiser Bob Carnegie and union activist Mick Fulton, spoke to 30 people after a showing of the documentary Solidarity and Unity on May 12 at the Resistance Centre. The film, which features interviews with MUA members and supporters on the Brisbane picket lines, and dramatic footage of the events, was introduced by the film-maker Trish Nacey.

Starting with archival footage from the turbulent history of waterfront unionism, the film traces the Patrick struggle from the midnight raid by security guards with dogs to expel the wharfies, through the marches, life on the picket lines and euphoria over the court victories, to the debate over the settlement with the company in MUA members' meetings.

Carnegie thanked Nacey for her "fine work" in capturing the primary material, which will be the basis for ongoing debate on the significance of the struggle. He said that the balance sheet of the Patrick campaign was two-sided.

"On the positive side, the union has survived, which is critically important. But, on the other side, what were the costs? The loss of jobs and conditions is devastating. Moreover, the dispute had the potential to win much more. It was ready to be extended to broader sectors, and could have won wider victories for the whole trade union movement.

"The Workplace Relations Act itself could have been challenged. Opportunities were shunted aside by the union leadership. The lessons of this dispute are important for the future of the whole Australian trade union movement", Carnegie said.

Fulton said the question of defeat or victory is one of "whether the MUA will be a fighting force in future. The new, young workers will have to take back the union and fight again the battles of the previous generations of wharfies to regain their conditions ... the members themselves are the real union. The union needs internal democracy, just like oxygen. Without it the body will die.

"The Patrick dispute was a major battle in an ongoing class war. The enemy has been forced into a relative stalemate by the solidarity struggle, but will come again harder than ever. The workers will need to be ready for even bigger fights in future", Fulton concluded.

A lively discussion followed which covered the course of the current MUA election campaign, in which the incumbent leadership is being challenged across the country by militant rank-and-file opponents.

Copies of the video are available from Trish Nacey for $30. For further information, contact the Resistance Centre on (07) 3254 0565.