by Daphna Whitmore
The Auckland port has containers stacked on its wharves but nothing is moving. Outside there’s a picket of maritime workers and union president Garry Parsloe is updating strikers and supporters on the dispute, now in its second week of an indefinite strike. The containers on the port were unloaded by a couple of dozen scabs a few days ago while 300 unionists are out on strike in the biggest port battle in decades. The containers have been “blacked”. In other words, they won’t make their destination. No union truck, train or worker will touch them.”There’s more movement in a morgue,” says Garry.
In contrast to the corpse-like port, the picket is buzzing with supporters. Passionate messages of solidarity from Australian maritime and mining unions are read out; unionists from the PSA and from the Nurses’ union pledge support; a Meatworkers’ delegate says it’s time for the working class to stand together, and a donation of $20,000 from the Amalgamated Workers Union in Auckland, are the latest in a growing stream of support.
Internationalism is more than a slogan in this dispute.
Ray Familathe, from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), is the next speaker up. He belongs to Local 13 branch of the Dock Workers in Los Angeles and is Vice-President of the ILWU. They are promising to stand by the Auckland dock workers, and see this as a vital struggle for the international union movement. He tells us the battle is on in docks around the world, in Egypt, in the US, and Latin America.
This is a tough fight but the wharfies have a few things in their favour.
Firstly, the wharf is strongly unionised. When they go on strike the place is closed down. The few non-union people who stay on are not able to do anything much and the company can’t just bring in a bunch of outside scabs to assist. The jobs – like driving multi-million dollar machines – can’t be done by untrained people.
Secondly, the employer in this dispute is not an outright owner. The Ports of Auckland is run by a board set up by Rodney Hide and therefore has a neo-liberal agenda. POAL boss Tony Gibson and his board desperately want to contract out the workforce and dream of privatising the port. Gibson, by demanding an absolute victory, has bought himself an absolute fight.
Public support seems to be swinging in behind the wharfies. Most cars driving by the picket are tooting in support. Not polite little beeps, but long loud honking with arms waving out the windows.
The balance of forces are swinging in the workers’ favour.
Further Redline articles on the dispute:
Why wharfies are striking – in their own words
Public support for wharfies
Ports of Auckland: what should the left be doing?
Wharf boss suddenly for women’s lib?
Ports dispute an issue for all workers
Thanks to the wharfies