Hutchison lockout Sydney: it’s not over yet!

The Hutchison port strike in Sydney and Brisbane which began with the sacking of 97 workers by late night email and text message on Thursday, August 7, has become a lockout, despite a Federal court ruling that the sackings be postponed.

The enormous and growing support for the sacked workers has shocked those used to flexing their corporate muscle with impunity. The Hutchison workers’ stand has breathed power to those who’ve watched as workers have been sacked and people’s services destroyed nationwide.

This clip tells the story of the sacked workers eloquently:

They just get up and do it
The giant corporations who run Australia don’t like it. They don’t like it at all.

The first day after the sackings, those at Port Botany were unprepared, some with light jumpers to keep out the night’s bitter winds, but soon they were more organised, with fires and outdoor gas heaters, toilets, BBQ area and bucket to collect support money.
People seem to arrive non-stop. As some leave, others take their place. Everyone who turns up is personally thanked.

A retired AMWU member is one of many who has lent their support. He’d turned up at the 1998 Patrick dispute, despite not knowing anyone because, he said, “I knew that if  they could crush the MUA, they could crush any union.” And he was back again, just as determined.

Jenny, a nurse who also supported the 1998 Patrick’s dispute turns up regularly, bringing Picket-Line Dog, a Maltese terrior who’s won hearts on the line. His name? Cupid, of course. “People have to realise,” she said, “if they attack one person, they attack all of us.”

A load of soft drinks arrived. As ten people headed over the carry the cartons, she pointed to them, “See, they’re workers. They just get up and do it. They see a job and pitch in. No one has to tell them.”

They face the biggest port operator in the world, a foreign multinational tax dodger of gigantic proportions which made $11 billion last year. Doug Cameron exposed them in a blistering speech to the Senate last week:

A job is a right, not a privilege
It’s clear what workers are up against, and union after union is rostered on to cover particular shifts.

The United Services Union got in early and took their executive and staff to the picket line on Friday 8th ,  while retired MUA members from Newcastle made the five hour round trip on Tuesday 11th, after a weekend of large support gatherings, including a Sunday Funday for kids and families.

By Wednesday, the picket’s size had more than doubled from its first day.

Maxine Sharkey read a message of support, this time from the NSW Teachers Federation. She told the workers, “You have a right to a job. It’s not a privilege or luxury. You should be treated with dignity and respect, even if your work simply makes a rich person richer.

“TAFE teachers can empathise, because we’ve lost two and a half thousand teachers and support staff in the last three years.”

The workers gasped at her words. While she expressed a desire to learn from the picketers, because the MUA has been dealing with Fair Work Australia for longer than the Teachers Federation, that learning is a two way street.

All this causes the ruling class great unease, and it didn’t stop on Wednesday.

A week after the sackings, Unions NSW held their meeting at Port Botany. After work the Inner City and Eastern Suburbs Teachers Associations, of rank and file teachers, also met at the windswept port entrance.

State Labor MPs Trish Doyle and Yasmin Catley were not deterred by the howling, icy winds, of one of Sydney’s coldest nights. The Senate passed a motion of support. Mayors did their shifts.

The Federal Court decision registered the growing strength of the fight. Real people with real families, fighting for their jobs, their Facebook slogan, were becoming too dangerous for the ruling class, even inspiring a new song:

Urgent: support required!
On Friday 14th,  the day the workers were due to clock on, young people strummed guitars and women with strollers listened as CFMEU delegates held their monthly meeting.

Hundreds had gathered, including the Aboriginal tent embassy mob and Ged Kearney, President of the ACTU. But the victory text message that detailed the celebration was a little too prescient: “It’s not over yet,” it concluded.

At 2pm a guard of honour clapped the workers back onto the dock. Supporters departed, leaving around 25 people. But it was clear things were not as they’d been presented, when security, police and media vans arrived at 3.30pm.

At 3.45pm, another text message went out: “URGENT: support required at port botany community assembly. Problems with workers being allowed back, police and security back.”

The maintenance crew of three, all strong rank and file leaders, who check safety before each shift, had been refused entry.

“Your name isn’t on the list,” each was told.

Backward march, but not by the workers
The other workers were already inside, so they elected their delegate as they do at the beginning of each shift. Conversations immediately began between those inside and those outside.

“It was brilliant,” said ex-Unions ACT head, Kim Sattler. “People are people, and they have relationships with each other, and they weren’t going to cop harassment.”

Those beyond the gate followed union instructions to stop more people being sacked. Besides, no real work was going on, no cranes moved, no ships were ready to be loaded.

The security guards, mostly young people, were completely inexperienced. They were forced to retreat backwards by a reformed crowd of hundreds, until they gave up and marched alongside the picketers, a kilometre to the employment office. The protesters banged on the door.

MUA organisers and workers demanded to be let in. They had a legal right to entry, now backed by the Federal Court decision.

“We don’t know about that,” replied the police, a stock comment now used Australia-wide to circumvent legal rights won in hard struggle. Riot police arrived, but shocked as people flooded back in response to the emergency text message, mostly stayed put in their vans.

A fire burns
It’s still a stand-off at the port, with the picket as strong as ever.

This little spark might yet start a bushfire, amongst people who are sick of feeling powerless in the face of a ruling class determined to snuff out any embers of resistance.

Anyone can play at text messages. Hutchison’s absentee overlords have fiddled with fire in those late night sackings. Now the smell of its dirty deeds exposed floats like smoke above the forty gallon drums, where the picketers warm themselves and empower us all.

It’s not over yet! No by a long shot.

Louisa L.

Below are links to articles posted on the  website for the week ending August 16

Construction workers stand by union organiser              

Hutchison lockout Sydney: It’s not over yet!                  

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