Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Life asserts itself for locked-out Hutchison workers

Louisa L.

Friday October 16 marked ten weeks since the start of 24 hour community assemblies outside Hutchison Ports in Sydney and Brisbane. Late the following afternoon Paul McAleer, Sydney Branch Secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia, was deeply worried. Like most MUA officials, he spends long hours, in an unofficial capacity, at the Port Botany assembly.

Alongside MUA members, he'd happily face down the riot squad or Hutchison owners, if the owners ever visited their corporate empire's wild frontier. Fat chance!

But this was different. He had to speak at a left fundraiser, a comedy night... and they wanted him to be funny. He swore, sweated and squirmed with fear as everyone in the tent lounge room roared with laughter and hurled ridiculous suggestions. If only they'd caught it on tape! But like everything in life – you had to be there. Off he went into the sunset, still muttering and cursing.

Humour in tough times has always been an important survival mechanism. So the picket line has inherited a letter box and potted garden, a tongue in cheek tag to the iconic war cry, 'MUA, here to stay'.

Everyday life asserts itself. Unlike the Brisbane assembly, which is a long way from anywhere, it's easy to pop in to Port Botany. The roar of the generator provides a backdrop to cooking, cleaning and tidying, and chats about life, the universe and everything. The locked out men, women and their supporters aren't stereotyped union boofheads created by Daily Telecrap cartoonists. They're ordinary Australians in a far from ordinary situation, and there's serious business afloat.

Now the media helps Hutchison with a cone of silence about the lockout. Most people are unaware that workers are still camped outside the gates.

Brave new world of work

 In the 1980s, corporate media told us computers would create a 10 hour working week.

Why, then, the outrage and lies from those who once sold this bullshit when the MUA negotiated shorter working hours? This Murdoch-media fury contributed to the anti-worker actions that are always close to the surface in giant corporations like Hutchison Ports.

Currently in  Rotterdam, just one worker operates the world's most mechanised dockyard. Massive magnets move containers, cranes are self-maintaining. Workers' organisations have to operate effectively in this brave new world. Holding back technology's tide isn't an option.

Hutchison's initially cooperative relationship with workers and the MUA saw the country's most highly mechanised wharves operating quickly, while a 30 hour week offset the reduced numbers of workers.

But the company failed to break the corporate port duopoly of Patricks and DP Shipping. Despite massively undercutting rivals, work didn't flow Hutchison's way. Shipping companies preferred existing and reliable relationships with Hutchison's rivals. Vastly overcapitalised, Hutchison targeted the workers. So came midnight sackings on August 7.

Our country in our hands...

 This is part of what a proposed merger of the MUA and CFMEU attempts to grapple with. It has strong support amongst maritime workers, because both are fighting unions with lots to offer. They know they have to reach far beyond the left, deep into the community that reflects their own members' hopes and aspirations.

Australian people of all cultures worry for the future. Wherever you go, you hear words like these, “My kids, they'll never have a permanent job or buy a home.”

Ultimately unions don't threaten capitalism itself because they fight within it for a bigger share for workers. But struggle crystallises thinking about deeper problems and their solutions, especially when those leading struggle understand and reflect on reality.

Imperialist control of Australia's economy, and its political, social and cultural superstructure, is unsustainable. We know the lion's share of benefits from technological advances flow to imperialist corporations, despite the last 20 years when most Australians have been pretty comfortable. But that's changing.

The beautiful blue and silver stars of the Eureka flag that proudly adorns many MUA shirts points to the future. Australia's economic heights are controlled by foreign corporations. We need the genuine independence the flag symbolises, to take our country into our own hands. There's plenty of money  that could provide bright futures for all our people.

It may seem a pipe dream. But look how much a small, organised and disciplined group can achieve against a giant corporation, in circumstances that make compromises inevitable. When the storm of economic crisis breaks here, we need to be ready with a way forward.

No comments:

Post a Comment