Around 1,800 wharfies working at DP World terminals across Australia have gone on strike in defence of their jobs and conditions. The UAE-based multinational is one of the largest container terminal operators in the world, and the largest in Australia, operating four terminals around the country.
The strike by members of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) is part of a struggle over a new Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA). The legally protected national strike action started on Monday July 8 as 300 wharfies in Brisbane walked out for 48 hours. This was followed by a 4-day stoppage of 600 workers in Melbourne on Wednesday. A further 600 workers in Sydney struck on Thursday and Friday at the same time as hundreds of workers in Fremantle.
The well co-ordinated national strike by the workers and the MUA is the first major industrial action by unions since the ‘Change the Rules’ electoral campaign failed to elect an ALP government.
The pulse may be faint, but there are signs of life in Australia’s trade union movement yet.
Braving chilly high winds and rain on a wintery Friday morning in Melbourne, hundreds of unionists and community supporters gathered on the picket line in a fantastic show of solidarity with the striking workers. It’s a positive sign that the organised working class may be starting to gear up for a fight back against the coming attacks from the vehemently anti-union Coalition government and big business on workers’ rights and conditions.
As the ALP swings to the right and the anger of union members mounts over once again being used as foot soldiers for another dead-end electoral campaign, there are growing calls from workers for the trade union movement to get back to doing what unions are supposed to do best; fighting industrially to win higher wages and better conditions for members, and building unity and solidarity with workers in struggle.
And more struggle is on the cards in other major industries. In Melbourne, co-ordinated protected industrial action by employees of the city’s railway and tram operators is looking increasingly likely. Construction workers are also due to negotiate new EBAs in the coming months as well. All while staring down the introduction of the so-called Ensuring Integrity Bill, one of the most repressive anti-union laws ever proposed in Australia.
Whether the trade union movement has the leadership to do what needs to be done to win these coming battles for working people remains to be seen. But one thing is certain. They won’t be won by waiting around for another election in three years’ time! Workers will win nothing by relying on parliament and the ALP. Only by taking control of our own struggles, and relying on our collective strength – not just as workers in this or that industry or union – but as workers as a class, can we ever hope to achieve a turn around in the state of the union movement. That will require not voting to change the rules, but breaking them together.
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