Dozens of members and officials of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) rallied at the Block on May 26to show support for the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy (RATE) and its ongoing struggle for social housing for the Aboriginal community.
They were also there to oppose the Aboriginal Housing Corporation’s attempt to evict the embassy from the site. The eviction notice for the embassy had come into effect that day.
The event also coincided with the first anniversary of the embassy. The embassy was established on National Sorry Day, to protest against plans by DeiCorp and Mick Mundine of the Aboriginal Housing Corporation to build high priced urban accommodation rather than housing for the Redfern Aboriginal community.
Speakers from RATE and the MUA talked about the ongoing genocide and dispossession of Aboriginal people. They condemned successive Coalition and Labor governments for compounding the crisis. They called for broader community support to help rebuild affordable Aboriginal housing on the block.
Felon Mason, hip-hop artist and Indigenous activist, said: "What we need from the unions is to remember the Green Bans. If you’re a unionist, if you’re a worker and a fighter, go and do your history, if you don't know it; and look at the Green Bans because we want Black Bans on the Block. They can't do anything without transport, plumbing and workers. Those unions pull out and DeiCorp is stuffed, Mickey is stuffed."
Mason attacked the media for its lack of coverage of the Redfern Embassy, concluding that people internationally knew more about the situation than people in Australia.
Speaking on behalf of the MUA, Sydney branch deputy secretary Paul Keeting said: "The Redfern Aboriginal community is steeped in pride and history, they have every right to remain and we are here to stand alongside our brothers and sisters in that fight and that struggle."
The press conference concluded with the MUA leaving a union flag to symbolise its intention to return and give further support to the embassy.
The MUA delegation followed a stop work meeting where Mason was invited to speak on behalf of RATE to explain how the union could give further support to the embassy. Rank-and-file members of the union put a motion that called on the union to give further support to the embassy and to urge other unions to do so. The motion had been drafted by unionist supporters of the embassy.
Broader support for the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy is urgently needed. If you would like to pass a motion supporting RATE at a union or community group, the following motion was endorsed by the embassy.
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Resolution from the Aboriginal Tent Embassy meeting of unionists and supporters
Trade unionists and supporters of the Redfern Tent Embassy (RATE) gathered here on May 26 to express our ongoing solidarity with the action being taken by the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy in occupying Aboriginal land at the Block in Redfern to stop a commercial property development planned by Deicorp and the Aboriginal Housing Company.
Aboriginal housing is desperately needed and should be built before any commercial development is allowed to progress.
Many long-term Aboriginal residents of Redfern/Waterloo are currently living in overcrowded, unsuitable state housing, or are homeless, while Aboriginal land is being taken over for commercial development.
Both the Commonwealth and state governments are refusing to release public funds for any Aboriginal-controlled community housing projects anywhere in Australia. This discriminatory policy has to end. Public funding must be allocated immediately for Aboriginal community housing for the Block and across the country.
We call on trade unions, and Unions NSW, to pass similar resolutions and take political and practical steps to ensure that the proposed development does not proceed before the housing demands are met.
[Liam Cohrs is a member of the MUA and the Socialist Alliance in Sydney.]