On the evening of June 1, international shipping company Canada Steamship Lines (CSL) announced it was backing down after a tense four-day stand-off with Port Kembla members of the Maritime Union of Australia. Garry Keane, Port Kembla MUA branch secretary, reported to jubilant wharfies and community supporters that CSL had agreed to let “shore-based labour” unload the bulk carrier Capo Noli. The news was reported amid cheers of “MUA: here to stay!”On the evening of June 1, international shipping company Canada Steamship Lines (CSL) announced it was backing down after a tense four-day stand-off with Port Kembla members of the Maritime Union of Australia. Garry Keane, Port Kembla MUA branch secretary, reported to jubilant wharfies and community supporters that CSL had agreed to let "shore-based labour" unload the bulk carrier Capo Noli. The news was reported amid cheers of "MUA: here to stay!"
The dispute broke out after CSL attempted to discharge the Capo Noli's cargo of gypsum using the seafarers on board to do the stevedoring work. CSL claimed that the Capo Noli is a "self-discharging vessel". However, Dean Summers from the International Transport Workers Federation (ITWF) explained: "I've tracked the Capo Noli all around the world for the past few months. At every port, local dockers go on board and do the work of discharge. Claims that the ship is a self-discharger are dishonest and manipulative." This is the case for all ships and it is an international norm that unloading is done by local wharfies.
The Maltese-registered Capo Noli (the ITWF considers Malta a "flag of convenience") replaced the Australian-registered and -crewed MV Ormiston. The move to have seafarers do the work of local stevedores is the latest attempt by a multinational company to cut costs, intensify the exploitation of Third World workers, and undermine the MUA and wharfie's job security in Australia.
CSL's provocation outraged the community. A continuous, community-staffed peaceful assembly was instated until the dispute's resolution, which came after four days of struggle. The peaceful assembly received overwhelming support from the community and other unions. At times there were more than 100 people there, willing to block cranes or trucks if CSL attempted to unload the Capo Noli without local wharfies. A 250-strong peaceful rally was held on June 1.
Speakers argued that the Filipino seafarers on board the ship were not to blame for the situation. "We have a great deal of solidarity with the workers on board the Capo Noli", said Sharan Burrow, president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. "They are members of the international working community and deserve the same conditions and wages as workers here in Australia. But this is denied to them. Multinational shipping companies are making a dollar from exploiting these workers. This move by CSL is about exploiting workers here and overseas."
Port Kembla wharfies were inundated with messages of solidarity from around Australia and internationally, including from San Francisco and Strasbourg. At the peaceful assembly, flags and banners could be seen from many unions, including the Transport Workers Union; the Health Services Union; the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union; and the Fire Brigade Employees Union. Warren Smith, the MUA's Sydney branch secretary, brought solidarity greetings along with busloads of Sydney MUA members to the rally. They were met with rapturous applause as they marched to the dock.
Keane explained the resolution of wharfies and their supporters: "We were going to be here for as long as it took." After the announcement of CSL's backdown, the crew of the Capo Noli emerged from the ship to congratulate MUA members and their supporters and were warmly welcomed at the victory celebrations.