Solidarity with maritime workers

February 25, 1998

On February 16, members of the Maritime Union of Australia ended their 18-day strike at Webb Dock, Port Melbourne, following an Australian Industrial Relations Commission order to return to work.

At the same meeting, it was decided to launch a 48-hour strike at East Swanson Dock, the second of Patrick's workplaces in Melbourne. This strike ended early when Patrick went to the AIRC to have this strike stopped also.

This East Swanson Dock stoppage was followed by a second 48-hour strike, beginning on February 19. The MUA also notified a number of stevedoring companies that they were to enter a formal bargaining period to negotiate certified agreements. This would mean that the MUA could strike legally in those workplaces.

Also on February 19, Patrick launched common law action in the Victorian Supreme Court for damages against the MUA, the union's national secretary, John Coombs, and two other union officials. As part of this legal action, the company also lodged writs for an interim injunction to stop further industrial action at its two Melbourne workplaces.

In Brisbane, Graham Mathews reports that solidarity is building for the MUA in the run-up to the March 4 stop-work and rally to be held from noon in King George Square in the city.

The union has received strong support from the Queensland branch of the ACTU, according to MUA South Queensland branch secretary Mick Carr, and pledges of support from the Queensland Teachers Union, the Builders Labourers' Federation and the plumbing division of the CEPU. The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, and the metalworkers' union are also expected to pledge their solidarity.

In the build-up to the March 4 action, the MUA has called an organising meeting on February 25 at 5pm at the Trades and Labour Council. The meeting will be open to delegates of all unions, as well as community groups and interested individuals. "This is not just an MUA thing", Carr told Green left Weekly. "We want to involve the whole community in the campaign." For more information or to offer support, phone the MUA south Queensland branch on (07) 3831 0177.

In Canberra, around 300 trade unionists protested outside the National Farmers Federation office on February 19, Tim Gooden reports. The rally was organised by the ACT Trades and Labour Council.

MUA members from Wollongong and Sydney were joined by members and speakers from the Australian Nurses Federation, the Community and Public Sector Union, the Transport Workers Union and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union pledging support for the Webb Dock workers and their union.

In Fremantle, 20 people attended a Green Left Weekly public meeting on February 17 about the attacks on the MUA. The meeting was addressed by Wally Pritchard, secretary of the WA branch of the union, Ana Kailis from the Democratic Socialist Party and a Community and Public Sector Union delegate.

Pritchard noted that the campaign against the MUA was primarily a political attack. On the issue of productivity, Pritchard quoted from a P&O ports monthly summary which stated that a "record volume in container productivity [was] achieved in January 1998" and noted "the continuing efforts of all our employees help us to achieve the crane rate productivity average for the month of January of 20 containers per hour".

On the future of the campaign, Pritchard said,"The MUA is a political union willing and prepared to take up the fight against Reith and the NFF. If we are called on to help the Webb Dock workers, then we will do it."

Kailis said, "there are many delegates in other unions who are willing to show solidarity with the MUA" and that it was important for the success of the campaign that other unions organise solidarity actions.

Another MUA stop-work on February 23 will discuss future actions. To get involved in the campaign to defend the MUA in WA, phone Roberto on 9227 7367.

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