OCTOBER 27, 2010
The Illawarra Aboriginal Rights Group held a great joint union/community meeting with Mark Fordham on October 19. It was chaired by Arthur Rorris from the South Coast Labour Council and attended by MUA delegates and numerous members of the local Aboriginal community – many of who have been active and integral to IARG.
The lunchtime meeting attracted 40 people from a range of groups including former Community Development Employment Project (CDEP) workers, delegates from the South Coast MUA, the Illawarra Aboriginal Corporation, the local Aboriginal Land Council, the Koori Men’s Group, Northern Illawarra Reconciliation and Treaty Group, the University of Wollongong’s Woolyungah Indigenous Centre, the Greens, the Socialist Alliance and the Reconcile Australia Party.
Richard Davis, chairperson of the Illawarra Aboriginal Community-Based Working Group, welcomed Fordham to country and stressed the unity of all Aboriginal people in the struggles in the NT. He acknowledged local trade union legend Fred Moore, who was in attendance, as a key contributor to Wollongong’s long and proud history of fighting for Aboriginal justice.
Fordham’s presentation on the appalling conditions of Aboriginal workers in the NT was followed by a report from Tina McGhie from the Myimbarr Aboriginal Family Support Service. She explained the impacts on the local community since CDEP was cut. “We went from almost 200 people with viable jobs, which included 120 positions on award wages, to just 40”, she said.
Many contributions from the floor emphasied the need for unions and especially the labour movement to support the struggles and demands of Aboriginal people. Sharralyn Robinson, coordinator of the Local Land Council, said the past showed we couldn’t win unless unions stood behind her people. Many others reiterated her point but said it was up to communities and campaigns to win support from the rank-and-file unionists and push their leadership to challenge governments, giving the only real chance of an end to the intervention.
There was no doubting the support of the South Coast MUA: branch acting secretary John McGartland said he was “embarrassed and disgusted” by what Fordham had told the audience, and said the MUA passionately supported Fordham’s cause. He handed over a cheque to support the campaign. It was clear that the support of the MUA acts as an important example to get other unions on board with similar support.
Leaflets and posters of the October 29 NDA were passed around. Workers from Woolyungah, the uni’s Indigenous Centre, said they would be organising students to attend the protest and many others said they would be there.
The following night a special meeting of the SCLC voted unanimously to endorse the statement. Both Rorris and McGartland retold many of the stories Mark shared, from the appalling “wages” to the dangerous and exploitative lack of safety throughout the CDEP activities (both were particularly appalled that a man was made to work with a broken arm or else risk his pay being cut). The meeting included organisers and delegates from the MUA, the NTEU, the Teachers’ Federation, the Australian Services Union, and the Fire Brigade Employees Union plus others.
(UPDATE: The following week, 25 people came to a screening of Our Generation – the breakthrough film about life for Aboriginal people in Arhnem Land. Everyone was extremely moved by it, including some people in attendance who had visited and worked in or around the area. Discussion afterwards focused on why the hell the media wasn’t telling these stories and agreement that it was a political purpose to legitimise the Intervention and the dispossession of Aboriginal people. Many also expressed their disgust about the NT’s “hub towns” policy and mining ventures on Aboriginal land. Contact lists for IARG and future events were filled out at both meetings.)