By Melanie Sjoberg
MELBOURNE — Outrage on the part of many trade union activists over the massacre in Dili and persistent activity by the Timorese community and solidarity groups have produced a response from the organised trade union movement.
The Australian Workers Union initiated bans on the unloading of Indonesian ships very early following the massacre in Dili. The lifts in the building containing the Indonesian Consulate have also been black banned by maintenance workers.
Kevin Jowett from the Plumbers and Gasfitters Union told Green Left Weekly that they have identified at least three major building-related Australian companies which are operating in Indonesia. The combined building unions group is expected to discuss recommendations about taking action against these companies at a meeting on December 5.
Transport Workers Union Victorian secretary Chris Kylie told Green Left that they had agreement from their members to implement bans on refuelling against Garuda Airlines, but needed federal office support for the bans to be implemented on a national basis in order for them to be effective.
A Trades Hall Council meeting held on November 28 passed a strongly worded motion calling on the Australian government to withdraw its recognition of Indonesia's sovereignty over East Timor; to immediately cease all military and economic aid to the Indonesian government; to indefinitely postpone the prime minister's proposed visit to Indonesia; to do all it can to facilitate talks without prejudice between East Timor, Portugal and Indonesia under the supervision of the United Nations.
The THC meeting also endorsed proposals for the relevant unions to convene meetings to consider extending the protest to actions against shipping, aircraft and diplomatic activities.
Unions associated with Australia Asia Worker Links have also contributed funding to assist Timorese representative Abel Guttierez in conducting workplace meetings about the issues and the importance of solidarity actions.
The ACTU International Affairs Committee considered the situation at a meeting held in Melbourne on November 28. It reaffirmed the ACTU policy which supports the right of the East Timorese people to self-determination and condemns the Indonesian annexation.
The public statement expresses outrage at the massacre and a recognition that this was not an aberration but part of a consistent pattern of widespread repression and abuse. It calls upon the Australian government to immediately suspend all military aid and sales to Indonesia, to suspend the Defence Cooperation Program and to review its relations with the Indonesian government.
The motion calls for all affiliated unions to support the planned g on December 7 and indicates that, as a mark of solidarity, no ships or planes flying the Indonesian flag will be serviced on that day.
However, the ACTU called for people planning visits to the region to cancel or postpone them. Human rights activists and Timorese community leaders have stressed that it is essential to maintain visits as a means for monitoring of the situation.
After 16 years of struggle by the East Timorese people, it will take more than words and a token action to assist their cause. The Australian trade union movement is in position where decisive industrial action can play a significant role to shift the balance in favour of the Timorese. Such action would be supported by the majority of the Australian population.