The first guest speaker at the Seafarers International Union of North America (SIUNA) convention saluted the union for its effective international leadership and pledged his organization’s continued backing of U.S. and Canadian cabotage laws.
International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) General Secretary Steve Cotton delivered an enthusiastic and wide-ranging address to the delegates and guests Sept. 26 at the SIU-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education, located in Piney Point, Maryland.
“The ITF isn’t a one-way street, and we’ve been investing in and protecting cabotage,” he stated. “We’ve been supporting [Canadian cabotage] and supporting the Jones Act.”
The federation in 2015 formed a cabotage task force consisting of eight affiliates along with key ITF maritime representatives. Included on the task force are unions representing the USA, Norway, Nigeria, Canada, Brazil, Australia, Greece and the Philippines.
Cotton also saluted the SIU’s current and past leadership, including President Michael Sacco, Secretary-Treasurer David Heindel, and the late Secretary-Treasurer John Fay. Heindel chairs the ITF’s Seafarers’ Section – a position Fay also held.
“The ITF is a global federation, but your union has been leading, first with John and now with Dave,” Cotton said. “You believe in fighting beyond these shores to protect workers’ rights.”
Additionally, he commended the SIUNA’s work at home.
“This union has been fighting to defend the maritime history of this tremendous country,” Cotton stated. “You’ve been working to defend your rights politically, industrially and persuasively – with common sense and dedication to protect what is a truly maritime nation.”
He also pointed to the host facility as symbolizing the foresight and determination of the union’s officials.
“When you look at this tremendous establishment, the Paul Hall Center, you recognize the vision of people – and dare I say, people that fought for this union. They fought on the waterfront to carve out a space for this union.
“And this union is continuing that mantra of setting an agenda, engaging with the employers, looking after the interests of members,” he continued. “If you look back to the 1930s, when this union rose up at a difficult time for this country, you know that the leaders then and the leaders in between, and the leadership now, and the leadership going into the future have one thing in their hearts and their minds, and that’s defending the rights of workers and primarily Seafarers.”
The recent hurricanes were a prevalent topic throughout the convention, and Cotton mentioned that the ITF made a financial contribution specifically for SIUNA relief efforts.
He then explained efforts within the federation to facilitate growth and effectiveness among its non-maritime affiliates, with the maritime unions serving as a positive example.
“With the affiliates, it’s about building your power and building your influence,” he said. “And I’m very proud that you have supported us all the way through that process. We are looking at the changing face of the global economy and we are developing new strategies….”
He said ITF affiliates represent approximately 20 million members across the globe. That number “is important to recognize, because when we talk to governments and when we talk to international organizations, and when we talk to employers, that loud voice of 20 million transport workers is crucial,” he said.
Reflecting on the five years since the prior SIUNA convention (Cotton also was a guest speaker in 2012), he mentioned that the ITF has been effective in helping combat maritime piracy, partly by working with the International Maritime Organization and with individual governments.
Moreover, he said the SIUNA has been at “the heart of all of our maritime work fighting to stop deregulation, and ensuring that all workers – regardless of their nationality – have sustainable jobs and dignity in their lives. This union reaches across the sectors.”
He concluded by encouraging attendees to learn from history.
“As I stand here and recognize your 50 years, there’s something about being a unionist that we have to know who went before us, and (know) their struggles, and their fight and belief in protecting the men and women of the transport sectors,” Cotton declared. “It is really a privilege to have your support, but we have to recognize from history the world is changing; we have to respond to the changes in the world; we have to bring all of those determinations of the past with us to the table; we have to engage with the employers; we have to engage with governments; but we have to engage with a thoughtful, longterm strategy.
“We must always remember the next day is a challenge, and we must be ready for that challenge.”
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