Ian Jamieson, Fremantle
For the first time, the Western Australian branch of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has allowed rank-and-file members to express their opinions at a state conference of the union.
Held over the February 14-15 weekend, the conference provided a chance to see how the new leadership of the WA branch is shaping up after seven months in office.
State secretary Chris Cain reported that the new leadership has begun to get on top of the many problems besetting the branch. There is a new mood of confidence in the union and its leadership and a belief that problems on the job can be successfully resolved.
One of the major concerns of workers is casualisation. More than half the union's membership are casuals and members are keen to challenge the maritime employers for their rights to permanent jobs. A resolution was adopted calling for the establishment of a union port committee to involve the ranks in an industrial and political campaign to end casualisation.
The WA branch is seeking to introduce pattern bargaining in the industry, investigating a legal challenge to casual work and wants the union to be involved in the pooling of labour to spread work among union members.
Other motions committed the union to campaign for decent workers' compensation laws in WA, where the current legislation is among the worst in Australia. The state Labor government is reviewing the workers' compensation legislation and unions are concerned that the government's proposals are not addressing the rights of those injured at work.
The conference endorsed the branch's involvement in building solidarity with Iraqi unions and a call for the union to actively participate in the international day of action on March 20, which is calling for US and other foreign troops to be immediately withdrawn from Iraq.
The WA branch also expressed its implacable opposition to the Coalition government. A proposal calling on the MUA to distance itself from the ALP and support more progressive parties was defeated after intervention from national MUA officials.
Defence of unions under attack from the federal government was also discussed. A resolution to support the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) was unanimously adopted. The branch also indicated it will be giving strong support to the Victorian Skilled Six campaign and victimised unionist Craig Johnston.
A dinner in the evening, attended by 300 MUA members and guests, provided the union's militants with a chance to meet members of other unions such as the CFMEU.
The conference confirmed that the Western Australian branch and its leadership are facing the right direction on organisational, industrial and political issues. Resolutions from the branch will be taken to the national MUA conference in mid March and Cain is confident the fighting mood of the membership will be expressed there.
He was also pleased with the outcome of the conference, saying to Green Left Weekly: "It is a joy seeing the rank and file beginning to take decisions themselves in the affairs of the union."
From Green Left Weekly, February 25, 2004.
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