Ships are loading at Hutchison’s Port Botany in Sydney, as the lockout of key unionists continues. Each day at breaks, and after shifts, workers join the community assembly. Most would prefer it if no ships were moving, but the MUA knows it’s dealing with a company with $700 billion turnover a year, that could simply shut up shop and wait the workers out. As an old wharfie says, “It’s new times, and we have to use different tactics.”
So the locked out workers are paid their minimum salary by the union, and the community assembly remains.
Targeting the most staunch workers for lockout is a message from Hutchison’s absentee owners to all workers, “Watch out, or you’ll be next!” There’s plenty of precedents.
Dockworkers from Patricks and DP World, and from Hutchison itself, defy the threat and join the picket at breaks and after work. The Hutchison’s workers know the possible cost from that walk to their mates outside, but know too the last words of Redgum’s classic 1978 anthem, ‘Killing Floor’ , “If you don’t fight, you lose.”
Touch one, touch all
Not everyone joins the gathering, or stays long when they do. Some people will always have more grit than others and deeper understanding, but that’s not the point. Divide and conquer was devised by Alexander the Great’s dad, Phillip of Macedon, over 2000 years ago, and it’s still about the most effective soft tactic the ruling class has. Hutchison’s strategy aims to divide those inside and outside the gates, but so far no one is falling for it. Those outside will need all their collective discipline to bridge any breaks in unity that may arise, and strengthen collective confidence of those inside.
The workers trust their officials, who encourage retired workers to take an active role, not just as bodies on the line. Struggle Village, the picket line, is a working class university.
The dispute’s leaders understand the ALP’s limitations. “The ALP reckons they manage capitalism better for the ruling class,” said one. The 1980’s Accord, overseen by Hawke and Keating’s administrations, disarmed and disorganised unions as fighting forces of the working class. It comes in for particular analysis in discussions.
Within this understanding that the ALP is a capitalist party, the MUA don’t downplay the tactical importance of creating alliances – no matter how unreliable – to oppose the unbridled subservience to multinational corporations epitomised by Abbott’s crew. Capitalism is not currently collapsing, and realism rules.
Despite shaky ground of predicted economic crisis, most ordinary Australians have never owned more at any time in history. They may be busting a gut working long hours, but big houses, boats and overseas holidays, often debt-funded, currently make talk of tough times and revolution seem remote.
One retiree sitting on the line spoke of the rise of individualism, of some young waterfront workers thinking that good conditions dropped from the sky, rather than from the bitter struggle of previous generations. But alongside that are the young mariners who make straight for the picket line after five weeks straight on the job.
Questions and Answers
“Why are they doing it? We bent over backwards for them,” a young Hutchison’s worker asked a retired worker, who set him straight.
“It’s inevitable. The contradiction between the capitalist class and the working class is antagonistic. Capitalists are impelled to seek the greatest profit and their workers are the only source of that profit.” Well, that was the gist of it, though he said it more simply and powerfully.
$11 billion profit in one year is pretty big. But where does it come from? According to another staunch veteran, almost $50,000 average profit is squeezed from the labour power of each of the 270,000 Hutchison Holdings employees worldwide.
Billionaire bosses like Hutchison’s owners would like workers to believe they are paid for their labour at an hourly rate, but that’s just wrong. Like other multinational corporations, they buy their workers’ ability to work, their labour power, like they buy any other commodity, like a port or a computerised loader.
But unlike any other commodity, labour power has the capacity to create added value. Hutchison’s workers are on the job for many more hours than it takes for Hutchison to cover the value of their wages. The hours worked above that are unpaid – the source of profit.
And that’s not all – if other companies make bigger profits, the smaller one’s get swallowed, so it’s a dog eat dog survival of the fittest for the capitalist class. Large Australian companies have all but disappeared, cannibalised by giant foreign corporations.
Brisbane community assembly
In mining, construction, finance, banking, all the major players are foreign owned or completely enmeshed with foreign finance capital. On the waterfront, that’s pretty clear. And the name for this? Imperialism.
Internationalism and humanity
At the outset Eric Abetz joined Murdoch’s Andrew Bolt, Alan Jones and Miranda Devine in parroting outrageous accusations against wharfies for supposedly betraying Aussie soldiers in World War Two. The doco, The Dalfram Dispute 1938, Pig Iron Bob, shows maritime workers doing just the opposite at enormous cost, as Liberal Party founder Prime Minister Menzies praised Hitler and supported the Japanese war machine.
This history of internationalism sees the MUA winning support across the globe, especially with seafarers and wharfies. But it doesn’t stop there, its elected representatives find time to speak out against the horrific treatment of refugees. And here again we find other foreign multinational corporations profiting from misery and injustice.
Before construction giant Transfield took over, British multinational Serco ran detention centres and prisons for Australia, until huge problems surfaced – despite billions charged to Australian taxpayers. Serco has sticky fingers in public and private transport, traffic control, aviation, military weapons and schools, fraught with “problems, failures, fatal errors and overcharging,” according to Wikipedia.
And fatal means just that, that people die under its ‘care’. In NZ $1.5 million fines have hit Serco over just one prison, and the public Corrections Department has taken over control, after death, corruption and brutality was exposed.
Trust Serco with your health? Now it runs all non-medical services in Perth’s new Fiona Stanley Hospital, where they routinely run out of dressings, catheters, and where operating instruments arrive in theatre with bits of bone attached after ‘sterilising’, and patients get sicker because rosters are chaotic, and unmatched to specialist needs. In NSW, Mike Baird reckons Fiona Stanley is the ‘gold standard’ for the Northern Beaches Hospital, currently under construction.
Tough times are our best recruiters
Maritime workers aren’t the only ones trashed by Rupert Murdoch’s media. Murdoch’s mythical education crisis has targeted teachers and public schools for decades. Meanwhile, Murdoch personally lectured the G8 on ‘Education – the final frontier’ for profit. News Corp’s most profitable sector is now News Education, which runs some US schools and wants control of the online education sector, worth $50 billion dollars yearly in the US alone.
The profit-making corporatisation of the public sector is part of the wider context of the Hutschison dispute. There’s no easy solution. As a representative of docks that were still working says, his members were filthy at having to load Hutchison’s ships at their dock even before Hutchison’s own cranes started moving, but that “tough times are our best recruiters.”
What’s clear is that as long as giant foreign corporations run Australia for their profits, ordinary people will eventually suffer. What we fight for today, gets taken away tomorrow unless we have the collective strength to protect our victories. Today isn’t a battle to overthrow their rule, but that battle will eventually be on the immediate agenda.
Like that retired maritime worker says, “It’s inevitable.”
Meanwhile Struggle Village waits for its own postcode. It isn’t going anywhere.
Below are links to articles posted on the http://www.cpaml.org website in recent weeks
Condemn illegal air strikes in Syria!
SA-Shandong economic ties must avoid ChAFTA pitfalls
Community assemblies still strong on Sydney and Brisbane wharves
Amidst instability, illusions about the State persist
Older Australians – living on the edge
Sham contracting – Howard’s individual contracts by another name
Contributed articles, comments and inquiries are welcome.