SYDNEY — Forty people gathered at the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) offices to hear a reports from unionists recently returned from the Alyawarr people's walk-off in the Northern Territory, where they participated in building a house in protest against the NT intervention.
The forum was hosted by the Stop the Intervention Collective, Sydney; the MUA; the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU) and the Liquor Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union (LHMU).
Liz Barrett from the LHMU described the fortnight she spent at the camp and some of the appalling conditions at Ampilatwatja that led to the people walking out — including poor housing, leaking sewage, and offensive government signage banning alcohol and pornography (Ampilatwatja was always a dry community).
Paul McAleer from the MUA and Rebel Hanlon from the CFMEU focussed on the need for the union movement to get involved in the struggle for Aboriginal rights, and especially the campaign against the NT intervention.
Hanlon drew the link between that campaign and workers' campaigns, telling the audience that in Ampilatwatja, Aboriginal people on unemployment benefits are being made to work for their payments — and then having half the payment "quarantined" and delivered in the form of a Basics Card. These cards, one of the many paternalistic aspects of the intervention, can only be used at certain stores, and only on certain things.