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Issue #1457      2 June 2010

Top level union meetings in Beijing

Maritime Union of Australia national secretary and International Transport Federation vice president for the Asia Pacific Paddy Crumlin has returned from high-level union meetings in China with ACTU and International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) president Sharan Burrow last week.

“It was a solidarity meeting,” said Paddy Crumlin. “We talked to the Chinese unions about friendship, building relationships and mutual issues.

“The reception with union leaders in the Great Hall of the People – usually reserved for national leaders – is indicative of the respect the ACTU and Australian trade unions are held in China,” he said.

Meetings were held with Wang Zhaoguo, member of the Political Bureau of Communist Party of China Central Committee, Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress and Chair of The All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU).

President Wang represents the 230 million Chinese workers who are members of the ACFTU.

Sharan Burrow introduced Paddy Crumlin as leading “one of the smallest but one of the unions that sits at the most powerful heart of our movement.

“There is nothing of significance that we fight for or stand up for that the MUA isn’t at the heart of,” she said. “And you know they probably started the fight-back on rights at work with the great waterfront dispute that many of your colleagues supported as indeed did others throughout the Asia Pacific back in 1998.”

Sharan Burrow said Chinese demand for Australian produce had helped us come through the economic crisis very well. “Europe,” she said, “could have serious consequences in terms of global trade but during the first wave of economic shock the Chinese economy played a major role. That’s why it’s really important we do deepen the relationships.”

The range of the conversation was from Australia China trade, regional and sub-regional political and economic observations, particularly the Pacific region.

“Larger ACFTU and ACTU exchanges on the international geo politic and economic situation, problems with organising migrant workers from the provinces and multinational companies setting up business in China were also discussed as was the impact and ongoing ramifications of the global financial crisis,” said Paddy Crumlin.

“This flowed through to interesting exchanges on the role of government in pump priming economies particularly through infrastructure development and the consequential creation and maintenance of jobs,” he said.

The unions also met with Chen Hao, Chairman of Shanghai Trade Union Council and Xu Zhenhuan, Vice Chairman and Member of the Secretariat, ACFTU.

Talks with Vice President Xu and leaders of the Chinese Seamen and Constructive Workers’ Union (SUA) also touched on the grounding of the Sheng Neng 1 on the Barrier Reef in April and the issue of criminalisation of seafarers involved in such incidents. Discussions also focused on the implementation of the new maritime labour convention, particularly for vessels trading between China and Australia.

Vice President Xu and Comrade Crumlin spoke of the long relationship between the KSU and the MUA and the importance of maintaining that in the interest of Australian and Chinese maritime workers.

“We presented a plaque commemorating this history,” said Paddy Crumlin.

The plaque recognises “The courageous role Chinese seafarers stranded in Australia as a result of the outbreak of WWII played in the effort to defend Australia from attack and supply Australian troops operating in South East Asia, PNG and Pacific region.

“The principled stand which those Chinese seafarers took in forming a strong and united trade union to defend their rights.

“The SUA played a vital role in supporting the Chinese Seamen’s Union, which became a branch of the SUA.

“That friendship and solidarity marked a new chapter in Australia trade union history and was instrumental in breaking down cultural barriers in the Australian trade union movement.”

Both Australian and international union leaders also attended a seminar on trade union work in China and Australia as well as visiting the Assistance Centre for Needy Workers in Putuo District, Shanghai.  

Next article – Mining companies cry wolf

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