Defiant solidarity action by Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) members in Sydney has delivered a boost to sacked wharfies in New Zealand. Workers took industrial action against a scab-loaded ship from Auckland, demanding the company refuse to use Auckland port while it is run on non-union labour.
Port of Auckland management is waging a savage attack on workers’ rights, demanding the casualisation of the entire workforce, so workers have no idea when or how long their shifts will be.
The Maritime Union of New Zealand (MUNZ) began industrial action in December to defend permanent jobs. It came to a head in mid-February, when workers called an all out strike, shutting down the Port of Auckland.
In retaliation the Port sacked the 300 striking workers, replacing them with scabs. This is a blatant attempt to break the union, echoing the 1998 Australian Patrick’s dispute when Chris Corrigan tried to smash the MUA.
Under union pressure, most shipping companies are refusing to use Auckland. But the hugely profitable Maersk shipping company has continued to use the Port.
One of the scab-loaded ships, the Maersk Brani, which docked at the DP World terminal in Sydney on Saturday March 10 was met by a community picket line organised by Unions NSW and other activists. In a fantastic display of international working class solidarity, Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) workers refused to work the scab ship, leaving it idle for over 48 hours as workers and supporters protested at the DP World gate.
When another ship arrived at DP World the next day, workers said they were willing to unload it but they would not touch the Mearsk ship. DP World bosses refused the offer, effectively locking them out.
Workers agreed to unload the Maersk ship, but only after the company told the MUA that it would not use the Auckland port.
Some workers reluctantly went back to work, believing that the industrial action should not be lifted until the NZ workers had been re-instated. “It seems like a victory,” one worker told Solidarity, “but it won’t be a win until all the Auckland guys have their jobs back.”
Defying the law
The MUA workers defied Fair Work orders banning industrial against DP World. Australia’s industrial relations laws make solidarity action, “secondary boycotts”, illegal, meaning the MUA risked thousands of dollars in fines.
The law is designed to intimidate workers from taking effective strike action. Defiance is necessary to beat the multinational shipping companies and their efforts to slash wages and conditions. The wharfies have shown that these laws can be challenged.
But there are worrying signs that Maersk has reneged on its agreement not to use the Port of Auckland. In public statements in New Zealand the company says that it will continue to use Auckland. A Maersk ship, the Maersk Bratan which unloaded in Auckland is expected at DP World’s Sydney dock, on Saturday March 17. Rank and file MUA members have said they are ready to take action again if that’s what’s needed to support the NZ workers.
Sydney’s defiant action has re-invigorated the fight in Auckland. On the same day that DP World workers began their action, 7000 people marched in Auckland demanding the reinstatement of the union workers. A Port Botany worker who visited Auckland for the protest there told Solidarity, “They [the Port workers] were in bad shape. They had just been sacked. They were doing it really tough. After what we have done here [in Sydney], now they think they can win.”
But there is a fight ahead. Auckland wharfies have not been holding an active picket to stop scab workers going into the Port. An attempt to stop scabs going to work following the mass rally did not last.
There is a need for mass community pickets, like those during the 1998 Patrick dispute at ports around Australia, to shut down the port.
Further international action can help the Auckland workers save their union and their jobs. Port Botany MUA workers have shown the potential power of international solidarity. But further bans on scab ships will require defying the law again, and winning support from the wider union movement if there are fines.
The MUA, along with other international unions, has sent delegations of workers and officials to the boost the struggle in Auckland. As, one MUA worker, back from NZ told students at the University of Sydney, who are fighting cuts and casualisation at their own campus, “The ruling class’s biggest fear is that people might see an example and follow suit.”