By Bernie Brian
WOLLONGONG - Striking clerks from the offices of the engine drivers and building workers unions (FEDFA and BWIU) have been asked to lead the South Coast May Day march. Local unionists are outraged at the treatment of the clerks, which some have compared to the worst practices of BHP. The dispute arose when the FEDFA retrenched two clerical staff at its Sydney office.
The NSW officers of the two unions are refusing to negotiate with the striking clerks, and senior union officers have sent out corporate-style personal letters expressing concern at the strike and for the welfare of the strikers' families. There are rumours that federal officers of the two unions are uncomfortable with the behaviour of the NSW officials. Most Sydney rank and file delegates are refusing to cross the clerks' picket line.
The clerks claim the FEDFA failed to consult with their union delegates over its plans for retrenchments, and ignored the union principle of seniority. Sydney officials have taunted picketing clerks with claims that seniority is an old-fashioned notion that doesn't exist in the building industry since the unions surrendered it in a retrenchment deal at the Multiplex site.
One of those sacked had worked for the FEDFA for 22 years. Only two weeks earlier, the union had employed a new full-timer at its Sydney office.
Some of the striking clerks believe the dispute is related to plans for amalgamation between the FEDFA and BWIU. There have been suggestions that some BWIU officials think formal amalgamation is now unnecessary because the building union could get coverage of much of the FEDFA's membership without the need for a ballot, negotiations and the problems of integrating the two unions' staff and officials.
The clerks remain firm into the fifth week of their strike in both Sydney and Wollongong. South Coast staff are receiving strong financial support from other unionists, and a solidarity action in support of the clerks at Wollongong's Trade Union Centre is set to escalate into an official picket line.