The SIU had a strong turnout at the quadrennial event, which took place in Bulgaria.
Delegates to the 43rd International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) Congress, conducted in Sofia, Bulgaria, August 10-16 took to heart the gathering’s slogan of “From Global Crisis to Global Justice: Transport Workers Fighting Back!”
Tackling issues ranging from maritime piracy to the longstanding flag-of-convenience (FOC) campaign to demanding fairness in the international campaign for DHL drivers, the more than 1,700 delegates representing 372 unions from 114 nations called for stronger laws around the world to protect workers.
The SIU, an ITF affiliate, was well-represented at the convention, which takes place every four years. SIU Secretary-Treasurer David Heindel was reelected as chair of the federation’s Seafarers’ Section, while SIU of Canada President James Given was elected chair of the North American Seafarers’ Section caucus. SIU Port Agent Tracey Mayhew was reelected as a representative for the ITF Fisheries Section.
Other participants in the congress included SIU of Canada Secretary-Treasurer Catina Sicoli, SIU of Canada Executive Vice President Patrice Caron, SIU ITF Inspectors Ricky Esopa and Shwe Aung, and Maritime Trades Department Executive Secretary- Treasurer Daniel Duncan.
In opening the congress, ITF President Paddy Crumlin (who was reelected to a second four-year term) from the Maritime Union of Australia pointed out that 90 families hold as much wealth as half of the world’s population. He said it was time for all workers to stand together and fight back.
Crumlin reiterated that call at the convention’s end: “The ITF understands just how interconnected we all are and how powerful that can make us if we work hard together and build on the solidarity between working men and women across supply chains, across industries and across borders. The ITF lets brave men and women of the union movement know that their fight is not in vain, that they are part of something much bigger.”
Delegates unanimously elected Stephen Cotton to serve as ITF General Secretary. Cotton, who addressed the 2012 Seafarers International Union of North America Convention, had been serving as acting secretary following the retirement of David Cockroft in 2012.
Cotton told delegates that transportation and the workers who move goods connect the world.
“World trade dominates our national and international economies,” Cotton stated. “It is a mighty engine linking labor throughout the world. The mighty global economic engine has far too long been funneling the majority of its wealth into the hands of the few and not the many. It is an engine that should benefit all of us.”
Heindel reported on great progress within the Seafarers’ Section these past four years. He covered a wide range of topics but emphasized the global effort to reduce and eventually eliminate maritime piracy.
“Piracy is an ongoing battle, and it’s an effort that involves not just the ITF but many other organizations and governments around the world,” he stated. “Still, there’s no doubt the ITF has been – and remains – a leader in this life-and-death struggle. And there’s no doubt we’ve made tremendous strides.”
He recapped the “End Piracy Now” petition spurred by the ITF and the subsequent Save Our Seafarers campaign, both of which increased global attention to piracy.
Heindel also offered a statistic “that reflects the progress we’ve made. Three years ago, in 2011, there were more than 1,100 seafarers being held hostage as a result of pirate actions. Today, according to the most current data available, there are 39.”
He acknowledged that statistics don’t tell the whole story and much work remains, “but by any reasonable measure, both the ITF in particular and the industry as a whole have stepped up and made great improvements when it comes to protecting our seafarers.”
Some of the keys to that success have included securing military support, making greater use of private armed security guards, and helping form a humanitarian response group that assists victims of piracy, he noted.
Meanwhile, the ITF staff compiled news clips and film footage of numerous worker demonstrations from around the world since the London-based federation last met in convention four years ago. The video – which included scenes from America’s “Occupy Wall Street” campaign, Arab Spring, and protests in Africa, Asia, Australia and South America – graphically demonstrated how workers around the world are fighting for the same thing at the same time: a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work.
In other news from the convention, during the Joint Seafarers and Dockers Conference, delegates offered support for continued efforts to improve conditions for mariners sailing aboard runaway-flag vessels by working with shipowners as well as via the ITF’s global network of portside inspectors.
Additionally, delegates strongly endorsed the federation’s “white ribbon” campaign calling for an end to violence against women. They urged ITF affiliates to participate in a global day of action for this issue November 25.