David Fisher

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Noisy march gives heart to wharfies

EPMU member Peter Broadhurst and other protesters march in Auckland. Photo / Jason Dorday
EPMU member Peter Broadhurst and other protesters march in Auckland. Photo / Jason Dorday

Wharfies took fresh hope from a noisy protest march in Auckland as industrial action spread to Australia and threatened to leap to the United States.

About 3500 workers and their supporters marched the length of the Auckland waterfront to voice their opposition at the sacking of 300 Ports of Auckland staff last week.

They were joined by unionists from across the country and some who had travelled from Australia and the US.

In Sydney yesterday, wharfies went on strike in a show of solidarity with the Maritime Union of New Zealand workers.

International Transport Workers Federation representative Ray Familathe - representing dock workers on the West Coast of the US - said international support was strong and industrial action could spread. "We're going to look at all means of support possible."

Sydney stevedore Mauro Viera and 15 other Maritime Union of Australia members marched alongside Auckland port workers. Viera said they were concerned that Australian employers might try to copy the Auckland Port and replace union workers with contract workers, a move he believed would be damaging to families.

Labour leader David Shearer, joined by caucus members David Cunliffe, Andrew Little, Parekura Horomia, Charles Chauvel and Moana Mackey, marched as did Mana Party leader Hone Harawira and the Green Party's Denise Roche.

Shearer said it was still possible for the workers to find resolution with the port. He said the parties needed to resume mediation. Among the issues, he said the port needed to consider its drive for a 12 per cent return which would be "very difficult" to achieve simply by placing pressure on staff.

Shearer refused to discuss protesters' slurs of "scab" against Auckland mayor Len Brown. He refused to call on people to stop using the term.

Brown avoided the march. At Auckland's Pasifika Festival he said: "I'm at the festival here today, this is my primary priority to be here with the community. This is where I'll stay here today."

But his absence from the protest was marked by protesters' signs including one stating the carrier was a "Browned-off voter".

Sid Walker supplied the sound system and spoke over the microphone as marchers crested the bridge down to the picket line. "Here they come," he said. "What a wonderful sight."

His dad Dave, who died two years ago, had been in the 1951 lockout. "I'm hoping he would be proud of me."

- Herald on Sunday

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