Why the MUA supported the APEC protests

Issue 

On September 8, Tim Gooden spoke to Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) Sydney branch secretary Warren Smith for the Geelong Trades Hall's Union Air community radio program. The interview took place at the protest that day against the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit and US President George Bush.

What are your expectations today with APEC?

It's an important day because what we've seen spun around us is a very reactionary web of deceit in terms of the removal of democratic rights from ordinary Australians. Sydney has been turned into a prison. The interesting contradiction is that it is the world leaders and the representatives of big capital who are imprisoned and hidden away from the people, as they are in just about every location they go to around the world.

That's because the people are outraged by the types of policies that bodies like APEC and other supranational organisations like the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund and the World Economic Forum implement. These bodies represent the interests of big capital, and big business is implementing policies that are inherently anti-people and anti-worker, so wherever they meet, they've got to meet behind bars, and behind fences to quell the anger of the people.

The reflections of anger you see around the world in these demonstrations have been used as an [excuse] to wind back the democratic rights of Australian workers and Australian protesters.

We've had a hell of a job in being able to organise a very simple peaceful march through the city. We've been moved back and forced to compromise. John Howard is running around saying that the bars are up because of protester violence, not because of the fact that he has made Australia a terrorist target because of the invasion of Iraq.

We've been able to secure permission to have a march. We've got to be very careful that the march is a peaceful march, because if it's not and if there's provocation from the police, it will be used as a mechanism to keep these incredibly repressive police powers in place to be used against workers into the future.

Do you draw a link between the repressive laws around APEC, the terrorism laws, and Work Choices?

Absolutely. They're intrinsically linked. It's all part of the neoliberal agenda of privatisation, war, attacks on human and democratic rights, deregulation of all forms of market and free trade. The neoliberal agenda comes with attacks on workers' rights and laws such as Work Choices. That's why we see it as so important that the trade union movement is represented in demonstrations and protests that come out very openly against war and against corporate globalisation. We think it's extremely important to highlight that Work Choices and the attacks on workers' penalty rates and conditions and standard of living are part of exactly the same agenda.

I notice that the Fire Brigade Union is here as well. Do you expect many of the other unions to turn up to the protest?

We've been working very closely with the Fire Brigade Employees Union in NSW. We've got a very strong fraternal relationship. A lot of the other unions haven't been as active around these particular questions, but those are decisions that unions make and that's their business, not ours. The MUA and the fire rigade union are interested in engaging and do it in unity and making sure that we're representing the voice of working people.

We're speaking on behalf of our members. We're not speaking on behalf of other unions, but we're saying that Work Choices and the Howard agenda is intrinsically linked to the agenda of globalisation and war that is being supported by forums like APEC.

Do you expect to speak to any of the APEC delegations?

Absolutely not. They're behind the bars with snipers and a water cannon and all sorts of repressive measures to make sure that those people don't have contact with ordinary folk around the place. The way that we get our message across is collectively, by protest on the streets. We want a peaceful but vibrant protest that sends a message to the world leaders who want to introduce the policies of big business that we're opposed to.

We'll fight politically to make sure that proper, decent policies are put in place by government and if the governments that are there now don't want to put in policies that are in the interests of the people, then they should get out. And we'll do everything we can to move those governments on and see that more people-friendly governments are put in place.

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