‘The poor have to labour in the face of the majestic impartiality of the law, which forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread. – Anatole France
Stop press*** Stop press*** Stop press*** Stop press***
On day seven (7) of the dispute, the sacked waterside workers marched back to work at Hutchisons at the Brisbane port terminal. The federal court granted a temporary injunction against the sacking by Hutchison. It is in violation of their enterprise bargaining agreement to sack 97 workers by text message without proper consultation.. Their case will return to court on 31 August 2015. The court will make a final determination as to the lawfulness of the sacking. The MUA was required by the court to guarantee the wages of the sacked workers till 31 August, should they be unsuccessful in the Federal Court.
Listen to this explanation given by Paul Petersen, a local MUA organiser:
Stop press*** Stop press*** Stop press*** Stop press***
Hutchison dispute – MUA in front
It is day 6 (12 Aug 2015) of the community assembly in solidarity with the Hutchison workers at the Port of Brisbane. The assembly is like a mini-may day, but this time, on a piece of reclaimed land that juts out into Moreton Bay.
On the surface the Hutchison MUA Dispute at the Port of Brisbane and Botany Bay is about the sacking of 97 workers by text because a Hong Kong company claims it is not competitive and there is insufficient work.
Yet, talking to the wharfies working at Hutchisons, another reality comes through.
Till six days ago, wharfies at Hutchison’s in Brisbane were doing full shifts 24/7 with the exception of a couple of nights during the week.
They told me that Hutchison management run an unsafe workplace with several near fatal accidents occurring there because of a refusal to introduce safety cameras.
Hutchisons are in contempt of FairWork laws but will judges of the federal court recognise this later in the month?
Yesterday the Chinese government devalued its currency by 1.7% and the commodities (iron ore, coal etc) in Australian share market immediately fell by 4% the lowest since January this year.
What effect will the Chinese slowdown have on the waterfront, on the mines and the service economy in Australia?
One of the workers at the MUA assembly, a fitter, told me he had been working in China on an LNG project and as they drove to the worksite just south of Shanghai, there were building after building empty, whole towns built but not occupied. ‘Now that’s a bubble’, he said. A Chinese bubble.
Report on Day 6
This is a report to a loose group of people on an email list arising from the May Day Group which has organised a forum and discussion about the workplace on May Day.
Bernie Neville (former ETU) and I (former CPSU) attended today’s assembly at the gates of the Hutchison terminal with 50 or so other unionists, political and community groups. There were no ships berthed and no cranes operating in either Hutchison or the adjoining Patricks Stevedores. There was some minimal maintenance work being done at Patricks.
1998 Patricks Dispute
There is a noticeable difference in the Port of Brisbane compared with the 1998 dispute.
This dispute is confined to a smaller section of the waterside. In 1998 Courigan sacked all the workers at Patricks throughout Australia, Hutchison has only two terminals, one at Brisbane the other at Sydney and they have sacked half their workforce.
In 1998 the number of wharfies was over 3,000 now they are only 2,000 strong including a few seamen Australia-wide.
Listen to Bob (MUA) and Chris from the Miners who chained themselves to the railway track during the ’98 dispute:
The Port of Brisbane is far larger and is growing day by day and is destined to become the biggest terminal in the Southern Hemisphere.
A vast area of land has been reclaimed by the Port of Brisbane. To the detriment of the marine environment, the mangroves, the food chain, the fishery that once was in Moreton Bay.
There was a report given by Bob Carnegie (newly elected state secretary of the MUA) about the state of the dispute. Bob outlined the importance of community support saying without the other unions and community organisations support we are nothing. He reported that the union is strong and that the 97 sacked workers in Brisbane and Sydney will get financial support from the union. CFMEU state secretary Michael Ravbar gave its support. Jeff Langdon a MUA official from the 1998 dispute said that they would use tactics divised by the rank and file in the 1998 dispute.
Apparently Hutchison were bringing security guards by boat from across the river at Pinkenba. MUA members were alert to this and say that the landing at the terminal by ‘Jacobs Ladder’ is unsafe and unlawful.
There would be a levy on MUA members to support the sacked workers from Hutchison.
The attached Queensland Branch News explains the legal situation but the objective of Hutchison seems to be to get rid of the union and to extend its operations with non-union labor with a lot of automation. Currently the Hutchison site has automated stacking of the boxes but requires workers to take the boxes from the stack (using cabs) to the big crane also operated by a wharfie that loads them onto the ship. There is currently 98% unionised workforce at Hutchisons and this includes fitters and crane drivers.
The ’98 dispute resulted in the loss of half the workforce and loss of conditions. The aim here by the stevedores and their supporters in government is to end union dominance of the waterfront and to return to the law of the jungle. This dispute must be won.
At this stage there is an order by FairWork Commissioner, Anna Booth, for picketing at the gates of the terminal to be ended. The MUA position is that it is not a picket, that no one is on strike and that it is a community assembly in support of trade union rights. Each day some MUA members march on site with the MUA flag and service some refrigerated boxes containing perishables. This is to keep the Port of Brisbane corporation onside, the union is playing one against the other, after all it is Hutchison that is acting unlawfully.
Of the four stevedoring cranes at Hutchisons (called Post-Panamax Quay Cranes), only one is operating properly. Sources say that, of the other three, one is non-compliant for safety reasons and the other two are damaged because a Port of Brisbane barge rammed into that part of the Quay.
At this stage, unions do not appear to be contemplating secondary boycotts as its members are working in the Patricks terminal beside Hutchison, the location of the bitter dispute in 1998. Trucks loaded with boxes have turned around when they see the assembly, but this may be the decision of an individual driver not concerted action.
Another difference is that the union camp is right at the gates of the terminal whereas in 1998 we were shifted about a kilometer away from the terminal by the then publicly owned Port Authority. The Port of Brisbane Company has given approval for occupation of the site for 24 days. This permission may change at any time, depending on events.
In 1998, Camp Unity was kept away from the gates resulting in Patricks being able to move trucks on and off the wharf. Within this climate, credit should be given to those determined workers, including workers from other unions like the TWU (led by Hughie Williams), that showed courage in an isolated position.
Another difference is the the Liberal National Party was in power in 1998 whereas there is a Labor minority government in power now. It was not until after the 1998 dispute was over that Labor formed a minority government under Beattie with the assistance of independent Peter Wellington who is now speaker of the house of parliament. Curtis Pitt, the new Treasurer in the Labor government, came down to the assembly.
At this stage, it seems that the union believes that they can win reinstatement of the sacked workers through the court system combined with community support. But there are many factors at play and this may be a high risk strategy for the workers and their union.
In the end, it may come down to a negotiation across the table with Hutchisons. In this negotiation, because of the slowdown on the wharves (Patricks Hutchison’s main competitor, is currently working at 65% capacity) there may be a lot of redundancies. Enterprise bargaining is a long way from work and control.
After the 1998 dispute a lot of wharfies could not get work. Sources say they formed their own stevedoring company to provide employment. Such attempts are at the mercy of capitalist giants like Patricks, DP World and Brisbane Container Terminals (Hutchisons) – that is, two multinationals (DP and Hutchisons) and a big national company (Patricks).
Such are the slings and arrows of the current economic crisis for workers everywhere. And consumer products of capitalism still provide sufficient diversion for many workers to remain unconcerned with the plight of their fellows – e.g. only 13% of workers in Australia are still in the union.
Some unionists at the picket said we need to get rid of the government but it is the laws of previous governments they are up against: FairWork, Secondary Boycotts, Trespass (used on the wharfies at Botany) and a whole range of anti-strike and anti-picketing laws. So for a change of government to benefits workers these laws would need to be repealed. To withdraw ones labour is a basic democratic right.
While the workers remain quiet, there is little prospect of real change. Likewise, if Australian workers see this dispute as competition with foreign workers from a Hong Kong based company, then that too will mean setback to the working class as a whole.
15 Aug 2015
Here is Phil Monsour’s take on the dispute:
One More Day than Them
MORE REPORTS ON 4ZZZ – LISTEN AT
Over the years LeftPress has been involved in a number of publishing ventures, these include Towards Peace – a Workers Journey by wharfie Phil O’Brien and Bernie Dowling; our own After the Waterfront – the workers are quiet ; Dawn to Dusk – reminiscences of a rebel by Ernie Lane. We also have copies of Humphrey McQueen’s Framework of Flesh and our own pamphlets and reprints of classics like The Communist Manifesto. I took a box of these books down to the assembly and donated them to an MUA organiser so that they can be distributed to the unionists during the long hours of the assembly.
MUA, here to stay!