Members of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) joined an estimated 8000 fellow waterside workers from across Europe yesterday at a mass demonstration in Strausbourg, France. The demonstration was organised to protest against the Ports Directive Bill outside the European Parliament.
The bill would open Europe’s ports to non-union labour and allow ships crew to stevedore cargo. Parliament will debate the Ports Directive today before it goes to a vote tomorrow.
For the most part the demonstration was peaceful, but as the march reached the parliament-building workers were confronted by riot police. Some of the workers were angry at the massive police presence and some conflicts did take place. Police fired water cannons and tear gas into the crowd to disperse the protestors. At least 13 dockers were arrested.
The European waterside workers were very impressed by the Australian delegation who were also joined by other international delegations from Canada and the US.
Brisbane wharfie Len Waddell said “People shook our hands, the respect they had for the MUA flag was unbelievable. We swapped flags and caps. It was a great honour to be part of an international group of unions – a part of history.
Adrian Evans from Western Australia said “It was an amazing experience, dockworkers from different countries getting together to defend dockworkers rights. Our presence seemed so important to them ”
Elsewhere in Europe strike action disrupted work at major ports from Greece to Sweden. In Rotterdam and Amsterdam, short work stoppages were called between 11.30am to 3pm. In Antwerp a general strike was staged. Bosses estimated that on the day they lost close to 12 million Euro.
The so-called liberalisation of European ports is part of a worldwide neo liberal offensive against workers. The changes would certainly lead to job losses and cuts to wages and conditions.