Melbourne: Melbourne's waterfront dispute faced a new threat after a new reactionary ruling in Victoria's Supreme Court as 2000 workers in the food and retail industries walked off the job today to join the protest against the mass sacking of Patrick stevedores' wharfies.
In a shock ruling the Supreme Court of Victoria today ordered the Maritime Union of Australia and its supporters to abandon picket lines on Victorian docks. The order successfully sought by Patrick stevedores would prevent all those who have taken part in the picket on and since April 8 from going within 200 metres of Melbourne's ports. Justice Barry Beach also banned people taking photographs "of any person who is on or who is entering or is about to enter or leave or has entered or left the premises, or attempting to take such a photograph".
The judgment also prevents new protesters from joining the picket. But Trades Hall Council secretary Leigh Hubbard has vowed to continue the community protest.
"This picket line and the other picket lines are here to stay just as the MUA [Maritime Union of Australia] is - we will not be going anywhere," Mr Hubbard said."The fact is that the Supreme Court judge has made such a wide order that I think he's made this dispute not just an industrial dispute but a civil rights dispute as well."
Within hours of the court decision, ACTU secretary Bill Kelty – in the
company of almost the entire ACTU executive – was on the docks in Melbourne
delivering an impassioned statement of support to protesters.
"If people think that we will resile, or fall under and fall down, I'll just say this – we won't. If we fall down, we'll get up again, if we fall back, we'll come back again," he said.
. Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett said police may have to intervene firmly in the dispute to protect the public interest but the truce between police and unionists is expected to hold till tomorrrow morning.
The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) says it will appeal against a Victorian Supreme Court injunction preventing members of the public from entering Patrick Stevedore's Melbourne terminals. Union solicitor Josh Bornstein says the order is far too wide and a denial of natural justice. The order, sought by Patrick Stevedores, prevents anyone from being within 200 metres of any point on Appleton Dock Road, Coode Road, or Dock Link Road.
"The decision was made and orders were handed down affecting people who had no notice whatsoever of the proceedings today in the court," he said. "There were orders that were very broad in circumstances where people simply did not have an opportunity to be heard."
The ACTU executive met in Melbourne today, has come out in support of widespread industrial action by other unions in support of the Maritime Union of Australia's (MUA's) dispute. Assistant secretary Greg Combet says every union member should have the opportunity to consider the issues of the waterfront dispute and participate.
Storemen strike in support of wharfies
The National Union of Workers (NUW) said between 2000 and 3000 workers walked off the job from work sites including suburban warehouses for retail giant Myer and Safeway supermarkets, and some sites of manufacturing company Sigma.
NUW national president Denis Lennen said the union and its members felt very strongly about taking action to show support for waterfront counterparts.
He said the union and its members were keen to support the 1400 sacked wharfies and their union "both physically and financially", Mr Lennen said,"It gets to the stage where if a law's a bad law, people have to defy it."
The support included continuing rolling stoppages, despite the penalties they potentially exposed themselves to under federal industrial relations laws.
In other developments in the dispute:
The Australian Government has asked the Clinton administration to counter a threat by American dock workers to mount a boycott of Australian food.
The key U-S waterfront union, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union has imposed a ban on Australian products in support of more than 14-hundred sacked Australian watersiders.Australia's Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, says he's discussed the threat with the U-S Ambassador in Canberra, Genta Hawkins Holmes.
"I made the point today to the American Ambassador that we very much hope that the US administration and others in the US will do what they can to counter this call by the wharfies in the US for a boycott of Australian agricultural products."
Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer has also expressed concern the ban by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in the United States could have wider implications for Australian jobs.
The MUA has been warned again by the Australian Competition and Consumer
Commission that it is at risk of breaching the Trade Practices Act.