We May thank our lucky stars

We May thank our lucky stars.

THE May Day march is back in Fremantle this year, after a three year hiatus due to Covid. 

It will be a noisy and powerful show of workers’ solidarity, a reminder that thanks to the unions, working conditions, pay, health and safety, etc. have all significantly improved. 

The poor working class of the past is no longer, with FiFo workers in the mining industry being some of the best paid workers in the world.

Unions started in WA in 1891 with the Trades and Labor Council, and since then most of them have come together under the UnionsWA banner.

One of Freo’s most famous unionists was Paddy Troy, who worked at Fremantle Port, and even has a tug boat and Fremantle street named after him.

The Tom Edwards memorial fountain at Walyalup Koort reminds us of the Battle of the Barricades riot on the Fremantle Wharf in May 1919, where the lumper was mortally wounded and died three days later.

The general public though is often in two minds about union power, partly due to the fact that industrial action sometimes negatively impacts on the community, more so than on the targeted employers. 

But there has been very strong public support this year for better working conditions and a pay rise for nurses and the police. 

Our first responders and front line workers deserve community solidarity. They are there for us when we need them.

UnionsWA has some 150,000 members in 30 affiliated unions, and is currently also involved in negotiating better conditions for those working at Fremantle Notre Dame and other universities, and for garbos, childcare workers, etc.

When unions put banners on building sites claiming “We build Australia!” they are right. 

And what would happen to our international maritime trade without the wharfies, whose future at Fremantle Port is very uncertain, with plans for a new, no doubt fully automated, port at Kwinana? 

What are their employment prospects? 

Is anyone pro-actively planning to retrain them, maybe for some of those promised jobs at planned new facilities on Garden Island?

Whilst soccer fans naively chant “You’ll never walk alone” that certainly applies to union members. 

The strong feeling of belonging, protection and solidarity is very powerful, as this Sunday’s march through the streets of Fremantle will again show. It always gives me goosebumps.

The public might sometimes be apprehensive about allegations of union thugs and standover tactics, but most of us appreciate that unions are a necessary pain in the arse. 

They keep the ‘bastards’ honest, be that in the private sector or in government.

Workers’ rights are essential to maintain a strong workforce, that gets fairly paid, where men and women are equal, and where health and safety is at the forefront. Workers no longer are de facto slaves, who used to work for next to nothing, at the mercy of greedy and selfish bosses. It’s the unions who have changed that, who instilled pride in the workforce, and who made sure no one gets ripped off. Times have changed for the better, but there is still a lot of room for more improvement. 

The May Day celebrations are on the Freo Esplanade from 10.30am to 2pm with live music, free rides, a sausage sizzle, and family friendly entertainment. 

The march is at midday. 

Come join in. I’ll be there!

Roel Loopers

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