The Seafarers International Union of North America’s quinquennial convention Sept. 11-12 at times had a strong international flavor, thanks to powerful speeches from four high-ranking maritime labor officials from overseas.
Addressing the convention in Piney Point, Md., (in order of appearance) were International Transport Workers’ Federation Maritime Coordinator Steve Cotton and ITF President Paddy Crumlin on Sept. 11, followed the next day by Dr. Conrad Oca, president of the Associated Marine Officers’ and Seamen’s Union of the Philippines, and Norwegian Seafarers’ Union President Jackie Smith.
They all stressed the importance of political action across the globe as well as international solidarity.
Cotton, who is charge of ITF inspectors around the world, is expected to become the federation’s general secretary later this year. He urged convention delegates from the U.S. to support the re-election of President Obama, and said it is vital “that each and every one of you mobilize to ensure that those two right-wing politicians (the Republican nominees) and their declared determination to destroy the North American labor movement do not – do not – make it to the White House on the sixth of November.”
Cotton then praised the work and leadership of SIUNA President Michael Sacco and Secretary-Treasurer David Heindel, who also chairs the ITF Seafarers’ Section. He cited “their personal courage and commitment to the labor movement and [their] determination to build a brighter trade union future.”
Envisioning the ITF’s future, Cotton said the federation (to which the SIU is affiliated) “is in a real period of change. We have an organization with a great history. The ITF has historically been involved in providing information, servicing committees and providing solidarity from one union to another – all good things – but now, we want to become an organization that’s more proactive, an organization that will build projects to empower unions, to give them more leverage, to give them more opportunities to build their membership. And with your help, we can achieve that.”
He added, “As the workers of the world come under continuous attack … we have to build on our capacity to support each other. We have to build on our opportunity to build relationships across the transport modes, not just seafarers but dockers, road workers, rail workers and other areas of the transport mode.”
Crumlin, in addition to his role with the ITF, is national secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia – a position equivalent to that of a union president in the U.S. Discussing a huge legislative win for Australian mariners that was secured earlier this year, as well as other political victories for the industry around the world, he stated, “These things don’t happen accidentally. They happen because we made them happen. They happen because we’re determined to keep our jobs in our own countries. They happen because there’s plenty of bite in the dog – we are prepared to go and lay it on the line.”
He talked about the loss of American and Australian jobs to other countries and said cooperative efforts are needed to bring – and keep – those jobs back home.
“We have to reach out to other unions and we have to reach out to the American people and the Australian people and say, what sort of America do you want to live in? What sort of Australia do you want to live in? If you want to live in an America with dignity and decency and respect, if you want to live in an America where workers have a future, where workers can get a home, where workers can have health care…. If you want to live in America where working men and women are the bones and the skin and the flesh and the organs of democracy, then you have to get behind us.”
Following up on Cotton’s point about changes in the ITF’s approach, Crumlin said, “We needed a new unionism that was a global unionism, that would reconcile differences between developing countries and developed countries. We need a new unionism that would take on the greed that we saw in the global financial crisis, that ripped away more wealth from generations of working men and women in this country and around the world than ever before in the history of humanity…. And when we were going to fight that, we couldn’t do it alone. We had to reach out and think differently.
“Everywhere there is a non-union contract, we should attack it like a cancer. It’s a cancer and we’re the antidote…. Let’s do it smart, let’s do it politically, let’s do it industrially, let’s do it together. That’s what the SIU is about and that’s what the ITF is about.”
Oca, in addition to serving as president of AMOSUP, directs four union-owned and union-operated seamen’s hospitals in various countries that serve the union’s members and their dependents. He told the delegates that U.S. unions deserve ongoing credit for “making it possible for millions of American citizens to enjoy the quality and standard of life that is still the benchmark for the rest of the world.”
Oca noted that piracy remains a deadly threat for the world’s mariners, but also pointed out that improvements have happened thanks to joint international efforts.
“We are heartened by the progress achieved in the fight against piracy, thanks in large part to the efforts of the ITF Seafarers’ Section, by the SIUNA’s very own Dave Heindel, who as chair spearheaded the Save our Seafarers campaign, or SOS Campaign, more than a year ago,” Oca said.
He continued, “The SOS, through program advertisements and opening of its website has been able to mobilize thousands of citizens around the world to urge their governments to do something to stop piracy attacks on innocent Seafarers. Filipino Seafarers would like to thank the countless SIUNA members throughout America who have logged onto the SOS website and have sent their anti-piracy messages to President Obama and other elected officials.
“We hope these efforts succeeded in raising public consciousness and a global level of awareness that can hopefully lead to clear, positive and sustained multilateral actions by all governments and stakeholders. More importantly, the SOS Campaign has clearly shown that seafarers can best achieve success by working together. It is a pragmatic response that highlights the need of international solidarity and cooperation in running a successful campaign.”
Other fruitful examples of joint efforts include the International Bargaining Forum and the Maritime Labor Convention of 2006, he added.
Smith was the convention’s final guest speaker. She pointed out the SIUNA’s Norwegian heritage in Andrew Furuseth (founder of the forerunner to the SIU) and Harry Lundeberg (the SIU’s first president), who positively influenced mariners worldwide.
Examining current maritime events, she stated, “The cooperation and solidarity between not only the SIU but also NSU and all seafarer unions globally is extraordinary. I personally have been privileged with knowing and learning from Brother Sacco, Brother Heindel and the late Brother John Fay (former SIU executive vice president). The SIU’s standing internationally is not only because Dave is the chair of the Seafarers’ Section, but also because of the support and knowledge that the SIU brings to the international scene.”
She concluded by stressing the importance of the upcoming elections.
“Yours is happening in two months; ours is happening next year,” Smith said. “And it is so important to have a government that is labor-friendly and not attacking the labor movement and workers’ rights. These are hard- and long-won rights that we have internationally, you within the U.S., us within Norway. So, brothers and sisters, we need to remind our governments that priority number one needs to be decent work for all.”