BY CHRIS SLEE
MELBOURNE — Drivers working in the long distance freight industry blockaded oil company depots and the Melbourne docks on November 20. They were demanding an increase in the cartage rate from $1 per kilometre to $1.43 per kilometre, indexed to inflation.
Driver spokesperson Jerry Brown-Sarre said that increased fuel costs are forcing drivers to work longer hours and skimp on maintenance for their trucks, putting themselves and other road users at risk. About 50 drivers participated in the blockades, which were not supported by the Transport Workers Union.
The TWU recently organised a month-long strike by owner-drivers in the quarrying and excavation industries, which succeeded in winning higher cartage rates.
However the union's main emphasis is on campaigning for legislative change, such as the Victorian Labor government's Fair Employment Bill. Currently being debated in parliament, the bill will establish a tribunal with the power to set minimum rates and review unfair contracts.
Browne-Sarre is reported in the Australian on November 21 and 22 as saying that he and the other drivers were so fed up with the major parties that they had held discussions with Pauline Hanson's One Nation party about adopting policies in support of the truck drivers' demands. They are also reported to have discussed running truck drivers as One Nation candidates in the next federal election.
Responding to this report, NSW TWU secretary Tony Sheldon said that "so far it has only been the ALP that has offered any real solutions to the current problems facing drivers and their families".
Melbourne district secretary of the Democratic Socialist Party Graham Matthews slammed Sheldon's response, saying that it was "lack of action by the major parties on the long-standing issues of cartage rates, safety issues and fuel prices which had driven the drivers into the arms of One Nation."
However, "One Nation is no solution to the problems confronting owner drivers", Matthews said. "One Nation is more interested in dividing workers on racial lines than in supporting workers' rights. One Nation never spoke out in support of the wharfies against Howard's attack in 1998.
"The successful struggle by owner drivers in the quarrying and excavation industries in Victoria shows the way. Owner drivers, like other workers, need to wage a militant struggle for their rights and interests. That is far more effective than supporting opportunist parties like One Nation" said Matthews.