Socialist Alliance 'a good alternative'

August 1, 2001



PERTH — Well used to causing controversy in the union movement, militant seafarer Chris Cain is unfazed by criticism of his recent decision to join the Socialist Alliance.

"I've been looking around for somewhere to help workers", he told Green Left Weekly, explaining his decision, "I don't believe in the Labor Party which is very right-wing. The Socialist Alliance is a good alternative".

Cain has a long history of union struggle. Working for Woodside Petroleum on the north-west shelf, Cain has been a long-time member of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA).

Known for his commitment to defending members, Cain led the fight by Western Australian seafarers in 1998 to maintain their industry roster. The roster provided significant protection for union members against discrimination by ship owners.

Cain also played a key role in organising solidarity for MUA members during the 1999 "war on the waterfront". As Patrick Stevedores, aided and abetted by the Howard government, attempted to break the back of the MUA, Cain garnered respect among union militants for his energy in building mass pickets at the ports involved in the dispute.

Cain was angered by the MUA leadership's 1999 decision to abandon the seafarers' roster. This was compounded by the union's acceptance of a deal with Patrick which was widely believed to be much worse than what the union could have achieved, given the wide community support it enjoyed.

Arguing that a democratic union would never have made these compromises, Cain helped to initiate the Maritime Union Rank and File, and ran against incumbent Wally Pritchard for the position of WA MUA deputy secretary. He was narrowly defeated.

Cain cites the internal democracy of the Socialist Alliance as one of the main reasons he joined. "I like the fact that rank and file members can have a say. Everything comes back to the rank and file and they make the decisions."

He has little time for ALP members who see desertion from the "workers party" as almost treason. "Throughout the trade union movement it's been, in fact, the ALP which has put workers collectively backward", he argues. "We expect it from the Liberals, but when workers put in the hard slog and get the ALP into power, well, you only have to look at NSW where workers stood in front of Parliament [to defend workers' compensation] and [Labor Premier Bob] Carr and company totally demoralised [them]."

"I can see the Socialist Alliance representing a vast avenue picking up ALP members disillusioned with the ALP", he added. "And you don't have to look far to be disillusioned with the ALP on nearly every issue."

Cain has been elected as a delegate to the Socialist Alliance national conference in Melbourne on August 4-5, and is excited at the prospect. "We have direct input into the making up of the platform... and one of the main policy points to be discussed regards how to reeducate the unions and their membership about what a Socialist Alliance really is."

For Cain, building the alliance among workers will be key to its success. "When we get back from that conference in Melbourne we'll be totally committed to getting down on the wharves and on the ships to let members know specifically how the Socialist Alliance is dependent on their direct participation", he said, adding: "This is an alliance that can help workers not just throughout this country but internationally."

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