We’re back from the ITF MRT in Montreal fully energized, having sharpened our campaigning skills and our commitment to solidarity in action. Our biggest lesson? To quote Canadian punk legend Joe Keithley of DOA, talk minus action equals zero.
During the week in Montreal, labour activists from around the world were put to work in lively participatory sessions meant to “agitate, educate and organize”. Sometimes the “agitation” is as simple as one heartfelt story that says everything about how the effort to support transport workers can make a real difference.
We’ve got one of those stories for you this week.
In Montreal, we invited The Docker Podcast team to plug in to a live session on how we can harness our own unique skills to further the many worthwhile campaigns underway, identify new struggles and take effective action. And then we had them record the dark and dramatic words of Brother Shwe Tun Aung, who we have written about before. The podcast captures Shwe’s own story of his grim life as a Burmese seafarer — and his lonely struggle as a man without a country, ultimately saved by perseverance and solidarity.
Shwe repeated his story four times to sessions that day. “Compelling” doesn’t begin to describe his words. In some sessions, activists rose and gave him a standing ovation; in other sessions, they were moved to tears.
ITF Canada Coordinator Peter Lahay, who has known Shwe for 20 years and was a participant in some of the events Shwe described, remarked: “I’ve known Shwe for a long time. Together, along with others, we kept the flame flickering for Burmese seafarers’ rights for many years. But even I have not heard all the gruesome details of what Shwe has lived through. I don’t know anyone who would not be shaken by his story.”
Our solidarity with Shwe and IFOMS, the new Burmese seafarers union, remains strong. This week, Vince Giannopoulos, the ITF’s inspector for the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence region, and Transport Canada stopped and detained the Marshall Island-flagged Merlin in Sept-Isles for non-payment of overtime wages to the Burmese crew. Nearly $12,000 US was recovered and returned to the lower ranked crew. It’s always a special moment when we assist Burmese seafarers. Just two short years ago, it was illegal for them to accept the assistance of international trade unions when they’d been robbed of wages. Shwe’s story is the story of how all that changed.
So settle in for the next 40 minutes for the details of his struggle, told in his own voice. You mind is about to be blown.