Class war on the docks
1st March 1998


By Joe Staats
Around 5,000 supporters from trade unions, the Koori and community organisations, left political parties including the Communist Party of Australia (CPA), as well as representatives from South Africa took part in a MUA solidarity rally in Melbourne on March 1.

Leigh Hubbard, Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) Secretary, repeated previous requests to unionists to organise at the workshop level, send delegations to the union assembly at Webb Dock and prepare for mass action.

As he pointed out, massive rank and file supportive action is needed.

International solidarity

The importance of international solidarity was reflected by the South African delegate who spoke on behalf of the ANC, COSATU and the South African Communist Party.

"Workers' interests are our first priority. The banning of South African vessels from Australian ports by Australian waterside workers during the anti-Apartheid period helped us to destroy the anti-working class racist National Party Government.

"We will support the Australian dockworkers in every possible way we can", he said.

Wharfie's wife

Cheryl Smith, a wharfie's wife with a long family history on the waterfront, spoke of the hard work and long hours that wharfies do.

"Mr Reith", she said, "waterfront workers' women are pissed off with you and your money-bag friends. We belong to the pillars of society, the community of wharfies.

"My husband suffers loss of hearing, he works shift work, sometimes double-headers. The kids and me hardly see him at times.

"When my Dad worked on the wharves during the '50s there were 27,000 waterside workers, some 10,000 seamen and counting other trades employed on the waterfront there were about 45,000 to 50,000 workers.

"Today a maximum of 9,000 are employed. The stevedoring companies make big profits, the money-bags are never satisfied. Wharfies are loading and discharging a hundred times more cargo in a matter of hours as was handled then over several weeks or months."

Union membership first

Kev Carmody, a very successful Koori activist, singer and historian said: "Look, I was a union member before I became a citizen in my own country."

He spoke about the Gurindji people's strike at Lord Vestey's cattle station. It was the longest strike in Australian history.

"Us Koori people know who the exploiters are. We have been and still are, the most exploited section of the Australian working class. Our people will support you, because the maritime workers and other trade unions always supported my people."

Occupation of Gem Pier

A colourful march to Gem Pier, the site of the scab labour transfers to No 5 Webb Dock followed the rally. It was impressive for its size and diversity.

Sharon Burrows, Australian Education Union (AEU) who addressed this second meeting also presented a $500 donation to the fighting fund.

John Maitland, National Secretary of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), recalled the experience at Rio Tinto's Hunter Valley No 1 mine in NSW when there was an attempt to force a train of scab coal through the CFMEU picket line. Bus loads of MUA members arrived to render support and the trainload of scab coal never got through.

MUA National Secretary John Coombs and National Organiser Mick O'Leary declared confidently that this war on the waterfront will continue until victory.

The community is showing the scabs the utter disgust and hatred of working class people to those who sell their heart and soul to the enemy.

Some of these rattle snakes when recognised have already been refused service in restaurants and pubs in Williamstown and surrounding areas.

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by The Guardian newspaper
of the Communist Party of Australia in its issue of Wednesday, March 11th, 1998.
Contact address: 65 Campbell Street, Surry Hills.
Sydney. 2010 Australia. Fax: (612) 9281 5795.
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