About 120 unionists and supporters rallied outside the New Zealand Consulate in Sydney on March 19 in solidarity with 292 Auckland wharfies who were sacked for being members of the Maritime Union of New Zealand.
The rally was organised by the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA). It called on the NZ government to pressure the Auckland Council, which owns Auckland port, to immediately reinstate the workers.
In scenes reminiscent of stevedoring boss Chris Corrigan's attempt to crush the MUA in 1998, the unionised workforce was sacked on March 7 in the middle of negotiations for a new collective agreement and replaced with non-union scab labour.
Speakers at the protest included Union NSW secretary Mark Lennon, MUA Sydney branch secretary Paul McAleer and South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris.
They called for the Port Authority to reverse the sackings and said otherwise the chief executive and council should face the axe.
Sacked stevedore James Kirkham passed on thanks to the Sydney protest for the overwhelming support the workers had received from the International Transport Workers Federation and the MUA.
Kirkham said: "They want us to be on call at all times. They want us to turn up to shifts that could be anywhere from five hours to 12 hours long, and you don't know until you arrive. How can you organise your life around that?"
Mick Doleman, deputy national secretary of the MUA, also spoke. Doleman recently returned from New Zealand, and pledged the MUA's solidarity with the sacked wharfies to a 5000-strong rally in Auckland on March 11.
The Auckland rally had contingents from at least 10 unions, along with the MUA and the United States International Longshore and Warehouse Union. The crowd cheered when they heard that MUA members were refusing to unload a ship that had been loaded by scabs at DP World at Sydney's Port Botany.
Unions NSW organised a snap community picket at Port Botany on March 10 after learning about the scab-loaded ship, owned by the huge Maersk company. By 6am, more than 200 community activists and unionists had gathered at the gates of DP World and wharfies refused to unload the scab ship.
McAleer told the community picket: "Since 1995, when 500 Liverpool dockers were sacked and not enough solidarity was given to defend them, wharfies around the world have said 'there will be no more Liverpools'.”
He said mass community and union pickets in 1998 fought off attempts to deunionise the Australian wharves. "Now it is New Zealand’s turn, and we will stand with them as long as it takes."
He said non-unionised maritime workforces had “flag of convenience ships, dodgy deals being done, no rights for workers, crew are generally taken from different nationalities so they can't even speak to each other. This is the future the bosses want.”
Lennon and Greens senator Lee Rhiannon also addressed the community picket.
Revealing its anti-union bias, the misnamed Fair Work Australia immediately issued orders that MUA workers could not refuse to unload the scab ship.
Nevertheless, the community picket held strong and stevedores refused to unload the scab ship for 48 hours.
After Maersk guaranteed that it would not continue to use Auckland port, the workers agreed to unload the ship. Maersk’s agreement not to use Auckland’s non-unionised port was a step forward. But some workers were concerned that they were going back in before the Auckland wharfies had been reinstated.