A national speaking tour has generated growing public and union support for the Ampilatwatja community walk-off, an ongoing protest camp against the NT Intervention involving hundreds of Aboriginal people.
Richard Downs, spokesperson for the walk-off, was joined by Harry Nelson from Yuendumu on a three week tour of the eastern seaboard.
“The support is overwhelming, particularly from the union movement’’, said Downs.
The speaking tour came just two weeks after the return of a Unions NSW delegation to NT communities, including Yuendumu and the Ampilatwatja protest camp. Unions NSW deputy secretary Adam Kerslake was part of that delegation and spoke alongside Downs at a meeting of more than 40 unionists in Sydney.
Richard gained particular heart from the meeting: “[Adam was asking], do we standby and live with racism and discrimination towards people in the NT? Do we let history show we all stood by and let it happen without lifting a finger to support?”
The Sydney branch of the Maritime Union of Australia arranged for the visitors to address a work site meeting of more than 200 members at Port Botany. Strong speeches were given by unionists who drew upon the historical role wharfies played in supporting the Gurindji strike and walk off in the late 1960s.
A meeting with executive members of the ACTU included Paul Howes, the National Secretary of the AWU, who committed to pushing the Labor government to respect the self-determination of Aboriginal people.
Similarly in Melbourne, Richard and Harry met with officials from most major unions, including a meeting with 18 unions at Trades Hall. An AMWU delegates meeting gave the NT speakers a rousing reception.
In Brisbane, a briefing meeting was arranged with the executive of the Queensland Council of Unions and a broad range of unions including the CFMEU, Nurses Association, NTEU, PSA and the Plumbers union.
Following substantial donations, including more than $1000 from the CFMEU and NTEU, the protest camp has raised enough money to sink a bore for drinking water.
Many unionists committed to mobilising members and resources for rallies on the national day of action against the NT Intervention planned for February 13 next year, the two year anniversary of the apology.
“Hearing about the positive outcomes of the speaking tour gave our Elders and the community so much more determination and reinforced we are going in the right direction’’, said Downs.
The power of organised workers has been decisive in Aboriginal rights struggles throughout history. It’s beginning to stir again.
By Olivia Nigro

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