By Ian Jamieson
BURNIE — In a massive display of solidarity with striking pulp mill workers, 1500 people marched through Burnie on May 18 to protest against what local unionists are calling Associated Pulp and Paper's industrial terrorism.
The march followed a public meeting addressed by ACTU president Martin Ferguson in the Burnie Civic Centre. The meeting heard a very public commitment of support from Ferguson and from officials of the nine unions representing mill workers.
The meeting was the first chance for the local community to show the depth of its support for the strikers at the 50 year-old mill, a vital part of the local economy. The workers and residents voted unanimously to support four conditions for lifting the picket:
- There will be no return to work until safety is guaranteed.
- All charges against mill workers and union officials must be dropped.
- Pulp workers may be represented at all levels by union officials.
- The existing award and subsequent interim agreements must be respected by the company.
The meeting rejected a recommendation by federal Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) judge Paul Munro that the unionists lift the picket and return to work. On the picket line, hundreds of unionists continue their round-the-clock watch on the plant's 10 gates, with supporters including business people, farmers, pensioners, entertainers and unemployed people.
Picketers have erected huts near the main gate in expectation of a long dispute. Response to the ACTU's national appeal for a $5 million strike fund has been strong, and the fund will probably be in excess of $8 million. Pledges of support have come from unions around the country and internationally.
The walkout at APPM began a week before the meeting, when the company ignored a directive of the Industrial Commission and pressed on with attempts to force boiler operators to train company staff to run the boilers, a strategic part of the mill.
Previously the company had sacked and then reinstated the operators, members of the FEDFA, over the same issue. On May 13, the company tried again, ordering the operators to attend a training course and leave the boilers in the hands of staff. When the operators refused, four were arrested for trespassing, along with a safety
Even the police have objected to this behaviour. Police minister Frank Madill told parliament the police were misled and will require a request in writing before intervening again in the industrial situation at the mill.
Central to the dispute is the ideologically driven refusal of APPM to negotiate with unions, a course apparently advised by some Liberal Party figures and right-wing think tanks. Repeated union calls for negotiations have been met with stony silence. The AIRC has been unable to force the company to negotiate.
Even conservative trade unionists are aghast at the company's approach, as it tries to substitute brute force for existing industrial procedures, using civil writs against officials, and even a writ against the police for failing to attack the picket line. It is using workplace flexibility as a stalking horse for an attempt to break down safety and training standards and drastically reduce the work force, substituting contractors for wage workers through much of its operations.
Wives, relatives and other supporters of the strike have organised a Support the Pulp Employees Committee (SPEC), which meets weekly to plan its activities. It may be contacted on (004) 318 715. Messages of support to the unionists and donations to the fighting fund may be sent to the local office of the Transport Workers Union, 59 Main Rd, Wivenhoe Tasmania 7320.
APPM strikers and their supporters will address a Politics in the Pub in Hobart on May 29, 7 p.m. at Round Midnight, Salamanca Place
[Tasmanian New Right "laboratory": see page 11.]