Monthly Archives: September 2015

Today’s Ship of Shame: MV Rena, IMO No. 9464780

The MV Rena, Bahamas flag

MV Rena, photo courtesy of US Coast Guard

Some days, it’s especially clear why ITF inspectors wage our Flag of Convenience campaign against shameless shipowners – and today is one of them.

Serial offender MV Rena, a Bahamas-flagged FoC bulker, has been detained in Tacoma for multiple safety violations – including faulty breathing gear that wouldn’t have worked properly if crew had reached for it to fight a fire. The Rena is the same ship that sailed into Vancouver in February having cheated crew of four months wages — $167,000 US, which we managed to collect for the men. The owners, clearly incapable of shame, were caught again in June, by ITF Inspector Aswin Noordermeer at the Port of Amsterdam, having cheated crew again of more than $118,000. In 2014, the year before either of those wage claims, the ship was also caught twice for smaller amounts owing.

It’s hard to know where to begin with the outrage: Repeatedly cheating crew of money for work they have performed and that families at home are waiting for, sometimes desperately? Providing safety gear that might well fail in one of the worst moments any seafarer can experience at sea, a fire on board?

It’s easier to focus on the heartening part of the effort to support crew. Our work in collecting the wages in Vancouver got a big assist from Rob Ashton, the vice-president of the ILWU-Canada, and from local ILWU 502 rank-and-file members who attended the vessel when it berthed to verify that wages had been paid out and to collect and confirm paperwork. A shoutout to all involved for their acts of solidarity.

Together, we will continue the fight for safe, decent and just workplaces for seafaring workers.

You can find a story on the latest detention in Tacoma here.

And you can take a look at our favourite kind of paperwork here:

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Your Saturday Listen: The world’s longest picket line

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What could be better than a weekend of full frontal solidarity? This week’s Saturday Morning Listen is just that — the sights and sounds of the ITF in Canada as it marks the 20th anniversary of the Liverpool dockers dispute — and the role that Vancouver played in supporting the 500 longshoremen sacked for refusing to cross a picket line.

Yesterday, we noted that Peter Lahay, the ITF’s Canadian coordinator, took part this week  in an ILWU youth conference aimed at helping the next generation of union activists step out loudly and proudly into the labour community. Peter spent some time passing along a piece of the history of community activism in Vancouver — specifically, the role local folks played in driving away the Neptune Jade, an infamous scab ship that tried to discharge cargo in Vancouver that had been loaded by scab labour in England after the dockers there were sacked. Vancouver was part of what became known as “the world’s longest picket line” and the community was saluted in a song by Billy Bragg, which we’ve linked to the bottom of this post.

Today, for your listening pleasure, we’ve got a colourful podcast that offers up the unvarnished details of the Neptune Jade. It features Peter in conversation with Mike, Mike and Dan at The Docker Podcast. The trio were part of this week’s youth conference and we’re incredibly proud to say they represent the kind of sharp, committed and hard-working young members that have joined the ranks of Canadian maritime workers willing to step up for working people everywhere.

We hope the podcast whets your appetite for more details of the dockers dispute.

The Liverpool Echo is running some great material this week for the Sept. 26 anniversary of the day the dispute kicked off.  There’s some  coverage here and here, and an interactive timeline that lays the whole thing out here.

In particular, we urge you to read this article from the Liverpool Echo; it recalls some of the star power that supported the dockers — footballers like Robbie Fowler, Duncan Ferguson and especially Stig Inge Bjornebye, who was a regular down on the picket like. There was massive support from recording artists like  Oasis, Billy Bragg and many others who produced the CD Rock the Docks and gave all proceeds to the Solidarity Fund. Politicians stuck a hand in too — Tony Benn and new Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who supported the dockers, and others who did not, like Tony Blair and Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who enjoyed an “ice bucket challenge” at the Brit Awards after Chumbawamba finished performing their No. 1 hit, I Get Knocked Down. Leaving the stage, band member Danbert Nobacon picked up an ice bucket meant for cooling champagne at the table of the deputy PM and dumped the freezing water over his head, proclaiming “This is for the Liverpool dockers.”

It seemed everyone was supporting the dockers, who had themselves supported so many causes. They even got a letter of support from Nelson Mandela.

We’re also including a great short video interview with one of the many dedicated women who were community activists in Liverpool during the dispute. It has some brilliant lessons for anyone wondering how that kind of solidarity works, or how much it matters. You can watch it here:

We’ve got a good bit on famed Liverpool football striker Robbie Fowler and his equally famed international moment of support for dockers. (That’s Fowler in the image at the top of the post.  Knowing he was on national television after scoring a goal in a UEFA cup match, he lifted his team jersey to reveal a dockers support T-shirt. That writing in the middle of the shirt is a brilliant knock-off of a Calvin Klein design, which gives you some idea of how sophisticated their campaign was.)

And you can listen to Billy Bragg’s Never Cross A Picket Line, his salute to the dockers, via the next link. You’ll hear him sing about Vancouver and its role in chasing away the Neptune Jade — a song that made local headlines in Vancouver at the time. The video combines the song about Liverpool with images of the British miners strike of the 1980s — and we kind of like how the two fit together. Our common struggles go on around the world, and solidarity is the answer, everywhere and always, right?

Finally, if you want more on Bragg, he did an interesting interview about the Liverpool dispute you can find here.

Happy listening. We’ll close with some images from this week’s youth conference. The enthusiasm and understanding and determination to carry the cause forward  was more than encouraging. It was inspiring.

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Canadian, Australian and American delegates to the ILWU youth conference, Sept. 2015, vow to remember the lessons learned from the Liverpool dockers struggle. — photo by Mike Parent, ILWU 514

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Delegates collected food donations for needy families.

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Canadian delegates practice some political messaging for the country’s election period.

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The Docker Podcast team salute Steve Nasby (centre) from Local 514. Steve is second vice-president of ILWU Canada, responsible for education, and played host for the youth conference.

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Mark Leier, labour historian and professor of working-class and leftwing history at Simon Fraser University, presented a well-received, interactive multi-media session on the social history of people’s movements and how working people can build an activist society. It had everything from folksongs to film and workshop sessions.

The Liverpool Dockers Dispute: Solidarity without borders

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Solidarity is the single most important tool that workers have in their fight to build better workplaces, lives and communities – and to help workers around the globe do the same. It’s the lesson we pass to our brothers and sisters the first day they show up for work: an injury to one is an injury to all.

This week, the ITF’s Canadian inspectorate helps mark the 20th anniversary of the Liverpool dockers strike that saw workers in Vancouver join hands with 500 fired dockers in the UK and drive away a ship that had been loaded by scabs in England. 

The Liverpool dispute arose on Sept. 26, 1995, when dockers refused to cross a picket line that had been set up in support of a group of young longshoremen who had been fired by another company. For their act of solidarity, the 500 workers were fired too. Some were offered new contracts — but the contracts were subject to unacceptable change by the employers, and so the dispute began.

Over the next two-and-a-half years, the dockers waged a very high-profile public campaign for their reinstatement, and workers around the globe supported them. The strike – in their case, a dispute rather than a formal strike – failed in its declared objectives, but was an unforgettable modern example of solidarity.

The role that Vancouver workers played in the action was important, and we were invited to take part in anniversary events in Liverpool this weekend in recognition of our contribution.

But a meaningful chance to celebrate and build solidarity appeared in Vancouver at the same time. So instead of travelling to Liverpool, Peter Lahay, the ITF’s Canadian coordinator, spent this week with young union activists gathered for a youth conference of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, to help pass along the history of local resistance and the hard lessons learned in the dispute. Continue reading

Your Saturday Listen: Guilty until proven innocent

A working life at sea can be tough for all the reasons our inspectors assist with daily: poor food and living and working conditions, being cheated of pay or denied medical care. Today, we address criminalization, a grim and growing risk for seafarers.

We’re guessing that most of our readers consider human rights sacrosanct and “fairness” a kind of right in itself. In the seafarer’s working world, they aren’t. And that’s for a number of reasons. Seafarers may be foreign nationals, and after an incident where a seafarer might be a witness or defendant, they’re often deemed a flight risk or unlikely to appear at a subsequent trial. So they’re treated differently — less fairly — than nationals, and are often discriminated against. They might have the continued support of their employers, but if they are not released along with the ship, they may find themselves friendless in a strange land, facing charges that are incomprehensible to them under a wholly alien system of justice, with defence counsel unfamiliar with the technical nuances of a maritime scene. Language and the lack of adequate translation facilities can pose a serious handicap. Continue reading

Peace and justice: Unifor’s in it for the long haul

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The strength of working people lies in their determination to support one another – in their workplaces, in their communities and around a world that all of us seek to share in peace and prosperity. This week, we couldn’t be prouder of the committed Canadian muscle going into a global piece of that effort.

Unifor — the largest private-sector and largest transportation union in Canada and, as we are always proud to note, a committed and active affiliate of the ITF – is part of a labour delegation now on a five-day visit to Israel and Palestine to continue the push for workers rights and for justice for the people of Gaza.

In the words of Unifor itself, “at its most basic, the labour movement is guided by a belief that when and where there is social and economic justice, people are best able to live full, decent lives.”

Peter Kennedy, Unifor’s secretary-treasurer, takes that belief with him on the mission this week. Also along are the ITF’s president, Paddy Crumlin, our general secretary, Steve Cotton, and leaders from the International Trade Union Confederation and the Singapore Organization of Seafarers.

Their mission will ring true with all fair-minded Canadians, now watching the sorry election campaign spectacle of a Harper Conservative government attempting to defend nine long years of war-mongering and legislated attacks on working families. We are watching him defend importing a temporary foreign campaign worker named Lyton Crosby, an Australian schemer who helped foist Tony Abbott on his own unfortunate country – a prime minister who did such a despicable job that his own party tossed him out of office this week. Across the Atlantic, we are watching with disgust as the Cameron Conservatives this week introduce a full-on draconian legislative attack on organized workers – an approach also masterminded by Crosby before he turned his withering gaze to Canada.

So the idea that working people need to join hands around the world finds much traction here, and Unifor has been a leader in fleshing out conviction with the hard work of help where it’s needed.

It has been a major financial backer of the Palestinian Truck Drivers Project. The program is a great example of practical, focused trade-union work. It helps Palestinian drivers who are held up for long periods at the Irtah crossing between Palestine and Israel; truckers and taxi and minibus drivers are all caught up in the delays. The project provides them with food and drinks, toilet facilities and parking areas. And there’s union education on hand – always important where workers gather.

Unifor has also been a strong advocate for peace in the Mideast, urging ceasefires during periods of bombings and calling for an end to all military operations by Israel and Hamas. Along with the global trade-union community, it has called for respect of international human rights law, immediate humanitarian assistance to Gaza, lifting of the blockade of Gaza and renewed peace negotiations. In Canada, it has called on all Canadian political leaders, including Harper, to advocate for peace in the Middle East. And it has branded the Harper government’s uncritical endorsement and promotion of the Israeli government’s actions “a disgrace to Canada that diminishes our ability to contribute to global peace and security.”

On a final note, in a month when Canadians have been fundamentally shaken by Harper’s cold, fear-mongering response to the plight of Syrians fleeing a brutal civil war at home, we are proud to note that Unifor will be supporting resettlement of five Syrian refugee families in Canada. Its Social Justice Fund is also donating $160,000 to the Canadian arm of the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, to provide desperately needed support to Syrian refugees living in Jordan.

All of which is our way of saying that we are proud of our affiliate, proud of the Canadian workers it represents, and confident the delegation will bring its best to its work this week. We wish them every success.

They will be meeting with trade unionists in sites including Tel Aviv, Sderot, Ashdod Port, Nablus and the Irtah crossing.

In the words of Steve Cotton: “This mission is the latest expression of the ITF’s determination to achieve justice and rights for workers, and our continuing humanitarian support for the people of Gaza who have been so terribly affected by military action in recent years. The world cannot ignore the inequalities and human suffering that are manifest in this region, and the ITF pledges to continue to throw all its efforts behind achieving co-operation and peace there.”

Paddy Crumlin adds: “We are driven by a desire for equality, and by the manifest desire of the 4.6 million workers the ITF represents for peace and justice in Palestine, an end to its occupation and for a two-states-for-two-peoples solution. In particular the ITF is looking to strengthen transport workers’ rights and protections in both the critically important challenges of securing economic development and stabilising community services in Palestine, along with consolidating our long, practical and focused support for trade unions in both Israel and Palestine.”

You can read more about this week’s visit here.

You can read about the ITF’s program, now in its fourth year, to support workers in the region — including the members of ITF-affiliated trade unions — here.

And you can find details on the ITF Gaza Support Fund here.

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Bilal Malkawi (second from right), the ITF’s Arab World regional secretary, helps with a humanitarian-supply effort in Gaza.

Your Saturday Listen: They mapped our North by sea and they died doing it

This week’s Saturday Listen steps back in time with a salute to crew of the vessels that powered the world’s early exploration and expansion and commerce – the vessels with the famous names on the famous voyages that went down in history, and the ones that worked quietly, year after year, mapping coastlines and hauling cargo. Continue reading

Your Saturday Labour Day Listen: A Scottish-Canadian punk salute to those who sail the sea

This week’s Saturday Listen is a Labour Day visit with the Real McKenzies, a Vancouver Scottish punk band that’s been living in our head as we travel the world this month, extending a hand of solidarity to our colleagues.

We’re humming their music a lot these days — although humming isn’t really the word for what you have to do to reproduce the jackhammer that the McKenzies take to a bagpipe, guitar and set of drums. We’re “humming” them  mostly because a number of their songs are kick-ass anthems to the sea and the men and women who work it. Some are sad, some are stirring. All of them in some way salute the strength of those maritime workers. Continue reading