Solidarity from AMWU workers for East Timor and Indonesia
By Sarah Lantz
MELBOURNE — East Timorese independence activists Alex Tilman and Gil Santos from Fretilin and Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor (ASIET) member Bronwyn Jennings recently toured work sites in and around Melbourne. They spoke to workers about the need for solidarity from Australian workers for the struggles of the East Timorese and Indonesian people.
As part of its commitment to those in East Timor and Indonesia, the Victorian branch of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) metals division sponsored the tour and organised work site meetings. At these meetings, the activists addressed more than 350 workers at Martin Bright Steel, Tieman, the Docklands Stadium, the Multipurpose Venue and the Victorian Museum in Melbourne and at several workplaces in Geelong.
The tour also went to the Brunswick and Mill Park Secondary Colleges, where Jennings spoke to teachers. The activist have also talked to a delegates meeting of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU).
Jennings stressed the importance of increasing union solidarity, including supportive industrial action, as the referendum in East Timor on autonomy or independence approaches.
Some workers asked if international solidarity was relevant in a period when workers in Australia are still having to fight for adequate working conditions.
Jennings spoke of the common ground Australian workers share with the people of Indonesia and East Timor. She stated: "While the Howard government strives to break union solidarity by denying workers their fundamental right to organise collectively, it is also maintaining a block to independence in East Timor because it continues to support the Indonesian military regime".
Jennings spoke to Green Left Weekly about the success of the meetings. "The importance of the workplace tour was two-fold. It increased the consciousness of workers about the role of the Australian government in funding the Indonesian military and Australia's support of the Indonesian occupation of East Timor. Secondly, it raised money for the struggles in both of these countries.
"We thank the unions which have supported this tour. We have also been greatly inspired by our meetings with these workers."
The tour raised more than $2000, mostly from donations by metalworker members of the AMWU. The money will go to Fretilin to fund campaigns in East Timor, including, because of the conditions created by the Indonesian army and its terror militias, humanitarian relief to pro-independence forces, and the campaign to free political prisoners, such as Dita Sari, recently elected to head the FNPBI, the National Front for Labour Struggle in Indonesia. The Health Services Union also donated $500 to ASIET during the speaking tour.
Visits to CFMEU sites will take place after construction division branch president John Cummins, who is part of an ACTU delegation to East Timor, returns. Further meetings are being organised for early August including in some Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia sites.