NSW unionists rally for the MUA

May 6, 1998


NSW unionists rally for the MUA

By Lachlan Malloch
and Shane Bentley

SYDNEY — Around 3000 unionists packed Sydney Town Hall on April 28 in support of the Maritime Union's fight against Patrick Stevedores. The meeting was called by the Labor Council of NSW and heard a dozen union leaders speak angrily against Patrick and the Howard government.

The first speaker, ACTU president Jennie George, received a standing ovation before commencing her speech. She said the present waterfront dispute is not about productivity but about union-bashing. She pledged solidarity with the wharfies: "When you mount an attack on one of the family, you face the rest of our family."

George went on to recount, with pride, the Labor Party's record of waterfront "reform", which she admitted had resulted in thousands of workers losing their jobs. The ACTU president warned that she "did not think the dispute would be won in the courts", yet did not canvass what approach would win.

Those present at the meeting had received a copy of a proposed motion endorsed by a wide range of union activists calling on the ACTU to convert the stop-work and rally called by the Victorian Trades Hall Council for May 6 into a national 24-hour stoppage. The motion also called "on all affiliated unions of the NSW Labor Council and others represented here" to strike and rally on May 6.

George down played the idea of a 24-hour national stoppage. "Do you really think that if a 24-hour stoppage would have given everyone their jobs back, we would not have supported it? Of course we would! But this dispute is far from over."

The Labor Council organisers allowed no opportunity to put the motion or discuss strategies, and there was no chance for rank-and-file unionist supporters of the MUA to have their say.

Andrew Ferguson, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union state secretary, spoke about the financial support that other unions had given the MUA. He stressed the need to rejuvenate militant unionism and urged those present to maintain the picket lines and give financial donations. "We will not allow Howard to starve the maritime workers back to work", he declared.

Ferguson spoke of the possible need to break Howard's anti-union laws. He called for an all-out stoppage of construction workers on May 20, ostensibly to defend building industry awards but also to build solidarity with the MUA.

Other speakers included Sandra Moait from the NSW Nurses Association; Bryce Gaudry, a NSW Labor Left MP; Paul Bastion, the manufacturing workers' union state secretary; and Robert Coombs, MUA Sydney branch secretary.

When the meeting ended, the 1500 who remained after two hours of speeches marched to the Darling Harbour picket lines. When they arrived, they we were led in stirring renditions of "Solidarity Forever" and "I am, you are, we are Australian". A special thank you to the NSW Police Association was moved.

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