Monthly Archives: September 2016

Your Saturday Listen: Wrestling back the gains of our grandparents

miners_strike_1984Like a lot of maritime trade unionists, we’re packing our bags and heading for the ITF Maritime Roundtable in Montreal. This week’s Saturday Listen invites you to think about one of the big problems we’ll be wrestling with.

Start here: In North America, the working class squeezed a first round of big gains from employers and governments after the great depression, between the two world wars, in what was known loosely as the New Deal (1933-34).

Then consider this: Beginning in 1945, after the end of the Second World War, workers began to gain more broadly. Pay and conditions in Europe and North America continued an upward trajectory throughtout the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. And then bosses, governments and the establishment mounted a massive push back. Throughout the developed world, workers and their trade unions were challenged — and sometimes smashed. Think about the Reagan/Thatcher years, when tens of thousands of air-traffic controllers were sacked in the US, while in Britain, Thatcher took on miners, pressmen, seafarers and dockers.

Our point is not to catalogue the incredible assault on workers’ conditions over the past 30 years, but to set the scene for this episode of The Docker Podcast. In it, the Podcast team speak with Zach Pattin from ILWU Local 23 in Tacoma and Kyle McGinn from the MUA. The were gathered in Tacoma to mark the struggles of earlier generations and to analyse where workers stand now — and what they’ll need to do to wrestle back some of the conditions won by their grandparents and lost during their parents’ working lives.

It’s the same analysis we’re doing in Montreal this week as we meet to renew ties of solidarity and to plan the critical campaigns that are built on it. We’ll let you know how it goes. Meantime, enjoy the podcast. Share it, and share the conversation.

And don’t forget, it’s not too late to get in on our contest!


Shipowners are gnawing at us. We’re biting back next week.


It’s never been clearer that dockworkers and seafarers labour on the front lines of globalization. It’s equally clear that much of the shipping industry — through lack of discipline, lack of regulation and eternal and blindly optimistic greed — is now teetering on the brink of insolvency. Everywhere transport-trade unionists look, we see employers trying to stop the hemorrhaging — most often on the backs of workers. The most cynical of corporations are actually seizing the moment to regroup and to redouble their assaults on workers.

For all workers, the answer is to join hands and resist with equal determination.

The ITF is leading that movement. Canada will host the federation’s Maritime Round Table in Montreal Sept. 20 – 23rd. This major international maritime event, organized in the form of a roundtable seminar, is held once every four years and aims to support and further the development of the next generation of maritime labour leadership.

This year, the four days will be dedicated to helping maritime union activists identify, develop and undertake campaigns in support of their own memberships — and to make meaningful contributions to global maritime solidarity.

We’re gathering under grim skies next week.

Memories of the financial collapse of 2008 are still fresh in workers’ minds, and the ongoing failure of Hanjin looms large over us. The financial collapse of the South Korean shipping giant serves to highlight the deep problems of a shipping industry crippled by over-capacity and too little cargo. Workers are always the most vulnerable party in such failures, and we meet in Montreal in common cause with the seafarers who crew Hanjin’s fleet. The solidarity of the ITF and its affiliated unions is the first, and sometimes only, line of defence for those workers and the families they leave behind.

Against this backdrop, more than 150 delegates will attend an inclusive and interactive seminar. Canada’s ITF inspectors and our two main campaigning unions — the Seafarers International Union of Canada and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada — will play host to the delegates, as well as dozens of maritime union leaders and ITF staff.

Our Canadian inspectors and unions are taking their responsibilities seriously.

All three Canadian ITF inspectors are attending as facilitators and each of us will bring our practical experience to forums and workshops. Our Canadian unions have played a massive role in organizing the gathering — especially SIU of Canada, which as the home union based in Montreal has shouldered the burden of organizing everything from support letters for delegate visas to the venue itself, and planning for the outside activities that generally surround our seminars. All of this is enormous work, and we give them a tip of the cap.

The ILWU Canada is pitching in with its own special initiative on Sept. 21 with an evening event that will share lessons learned in two years of steady work to revitalize activism in the union — and a blueprint for others to take home and customize. The session will include a presentation on the evolution of the ILWU’s young workers movement and an undoubtedly lively live recording session of The Docker Podcast.

As part of the presentation, the young workers have launched a social-media campaign and photo contest for delegates to the MRT. We liked the idea so much we’re opening it up to all of our readers. Delegates are being encourage to print off the poster found here, sign their name in big, readable letters — and then take a creative photo of themselves holding up the poster. The photo should be posted on social-media platforms using the hashtag #iampartofthemovement. The best delegate photo will receive a gift from the ILWU Canada.

We at the ITF Canada are spreading the solidarity joy by encouraging all our readers to do the same. Non-delegates will be eligible to win a special prize from us. All you have to do is add the hashtag #ITFCanada to your post as well.

You can learn more about the roundtable here. It’s going to be an awesome event, and we’ll be reporting back to you on it when it’s over.


Labour Day: Celebrating success, leaning in to the struggle


Labour Day celebrations feel bittersweet for us this weekend. There’s much joy in honouring the rights that workers have struggled to win in Canada, given the high cost they’ve paid for them. But it’s a sombre celebration when on our own West Coast — and around world — maritime workers are caught up in the bankruptcy of shipping giant Hanjin.

All of us have seen the troubling headlines about the South Korean company’s financial collapse. In Canada — alongside at Deltaport in Vancouver and at anchorage in Prince Rupert — crew of two of the 140 or so affected ships were caught up in the mess.

For all of the apparently arcane financial details, the bankruptcy is at heart uncomplicated: depressed freight rates and too many ships. It’s a man-made problem. Greedy shipowners overbuilt and relentless financiers aided them in their race to the bottom. In a nutshell, it’s capitalism at its finest.

What the collapse meant is that around the world, seafarers aboard Hanjin’s container ships, owned or chartered by an already troubled company, woke up last week to grim news: Their employer had gone bust, they might or might not get paid, and they might or might not be flown home. Their wages might come one day, but that day might be months away and might come only after a long fight for the money. In the meantime, families waiting at home for allotments to cover rent, grocery and school bills might go without cash too.

At worst, workers knew they faced the possibility of abandonment.

Abandonment happens all too often in Canada. And it is a disgrace. Croatian and Greek crew of the Navi Wind were abandoned for weeks in Argentia in the bitter depths of a Newfoundland winter until Gerard Bradbury, then our Atlantic inspector, helped win them $100,000 in back pay. Twelve Turkish seafarers on the Phoenix Sun were marooned in Sorel, Que., when the ship’s owner refused to pay for repairs; it took the ITF’s St.Lawrence/Great Lakes inspector Vince Giannopoulos to organize the support to fly them home. The 25 Indian crew of the Atlantis Two were abandoned in Vancouver when they arrived to load $4 million in potash and the ship was detained for $400,000 worth of structural repairs that the owners refused to pay for. ITF Canadian coordinator Peter Lahay eventually pried loose their $300,000 in backpay in a court case a year later. Just this week, 20 Chinese crew aboard the Five Stars Fujian, abandoned three weeks ago without pay and in need of food at anchor off the Port of Gladstone in Australia, were finally awarded back wages with the help of ITF inspector Sarah McGuire.

This Monday, Canadians are celebrating the rights that workers here fought hard to secure. Seafarers aboard Hanjin’s fleet have extensive rights, equally hard-won. They’re covered by collective bargaining agreements backed up by an international convention, the Maritime Labour Convention. (In fact, the most recently negotiated amendment to the MLC is a requirement that shipowners have abandonment insurance). Seafarers’ rights were won through organized and structured flag-of-convenience campaigns run by maritime trade unions around the globe, backstopped by strong dockers unions and the solidarity they extended.

We’ll be celebrating those victories won by seafarers and the 140 ITF inspectors around the world who organize ships into the agreements that protect workers — and enforce them once they’re in place.

But we’ll be celebrating in the shadow of the lesson of Hanjin: that there is no certainty in capitalism. Our present economic system doesn’t serve everyone’s interests. Hanjin’s executives may sail away with their bonuses, but workers, their families and their communities have not been served.

Hanjin’s troubles will take weeks, maybe months, to resolve. The repercussions make take years to rattle through the industry. We will have more to say on this in days to come.

For now, we wish workers everywhere a moment of peace this Labour Day. Today, we salute and honour everyone who labours for a living, and especially those who at such great personal cost move the world’s goods, power our economies and make possible the world’s wealth.

We will continue to stand in solidarity with you, brothers and sisters.


Your Saturday Listen: Solidarity is always the message


Steve Cotton, Dockers Podcast

Steve Cotton talks with Podcasters Mike and Dan at an ILWU convention in Hawaii, 2015.

For your Saturday Listen on this Labour Day weekend in Canada, we dug back into the archives of The Docker Podcast for this compelling chat with ITF General Secretary Steve Cotton.

We’re serving this up as the week’s Listen for a couple of reasons.

It’s a big shoutout to the Dockers Podcast team of Dan Kask, Mike Mayer and Mike Scopazo, all members of ILWU 502. More recently, Local 502 casual member Stephanie Dobler has joined the gang. In this podcast, Cotton and the crew chew over the ITF’s dynamic new direction and its global campaigns. And they draw a roadmap for building a strong international trade union movement and using new mediums to communicate with a new generation of members. The Podcast team, who are based in BC, will be taking their roadshow to the  ITF Maritime Roundtable in Montreal this month. Given their sass, solidarity and experience in organizing real solidarity for workers in struggle, we know they’ll play a big, beautiful and rowdy role at the roundtable gathering.

We also hope this podcast with Brother Cotton will remind transportation workers where the big struggles are, where we need to take the labour movement —  and how all of this fits into the local and global agenda for workers.

A big Labour Day salute to Dan, Mike, Mike and Stephanie for their part in building solidarity in Canada over  the past year, and to Steve Cotton for his role in rebuilding and strengthening the ITF structures so critical to organizing and delivering global solidarity.

You can hear the podcast here.

We’re back on deck

It’s September. And we’re back blogging after a busy summer helping with training and solidarity work, and assisting seafarers who were injured or hadn’t been paid or were trapped aboard by owners too cheap to fly them home as their contracts ended.

Look for a lively fall offering from the ITF’s Canadian inspectors team.

The three of us travel this month to Montreal for the Maritime Roundtable 2016. That’s where activists and upcoming leaders from the world’s maritime labour family will meet to share ideas on organizing and campaigning and prosecuting our Flag of Convenience campaign on behalf of seafarers. Canadian maritime unions are delighted to be welcoming international delegates with such shining activist backgrounds in solidarity work. Our own inspectors — Karl Risser, Vince Giannopoulos and Peter Lahay — are looking forward to working with them, and delegates should feel free to tap us for anything at all they need during their stay.

We’ll be meeting against the grim backdrop of the Hanjin bankruptcy, something we’ll be addressing in later posts. The situation is likely to take some time to resolve; look for us to weigh in as it does.

We’ll also be introducing our entire team of inspectors soon, now that we’ve all settled into our work. Our time on the gangways has only strengthened our resolve to lean in to the job of assisting the workers who move the world’s economy, often at a considerable personal cost.

And of course we’ll be reporting in on cases across the country as they arise.

It’s nice to be back in touch.