Christmas solidarity action by ILWU Canada Members

Holiday solidarity: ILWU Canada members joined other unions and community groups to deliver solidarity and supplies to crewmembers of the Hanjin Scarlet who have been anchored-off Vancouver Island since the company declared bankruptcy in late 2016.

Members of ILWU Canada are continuing to help other workers – and themselves – by fighting to save good jobs in the maritime industry through an ongoing series of protests and public actions. Another “free trade” deal Last November, they joined a coalition that organized a march and rally with ILWU Canada President Rob Ashton, Vancouver Labour Council President Joey Hartman, and SIU Canada President Jim Given (see last month’s Dispatcher). That protest targeted attacks on maritime jobs being threatened by a new free trade agreement negotiated on behalf of corporations in Europe and Canada, called the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA).

Helping Hanjin seafarers

In December, Locals 400, 500, 502, and 514 continued their support for seafarers who have been stranded for months aboard Hanjin vessels around the Port of Vancouver, while the company’s bankruptcy moves slowly through the courts.

Hanjin seafarers are being paid and receiving good meals, thanks to political pressure from the ILWU, with support from International Transport Workers Federation that is working with Korean unions to help Hanjin crews.


Positive press

On December 15, an informative and sympathetic news story about the Hanjin workers and the union solidarity support effort was produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation – known as the “CBC.”

That report provided background about the plight of Hanjin workers, which ILWU Canada and the ITF have been supporting, along with efforts in the U.S. by the ILWU and ITF that helped win shore leave for Hanjin seafarers, as reported in last month’s Dispatcher.

Solidarity on the water

The latest Hanjin solidarity action in Canada came on December 20 when Local 400 joined with Locals 500, 502, and 514 as well as the British Columbia’s Ferry and Marine Workers Union, and Victoria Filipino Canadian Association, to visit seafarers aboard the Hanjin container vessel, Scarlet, who have been anchored off British Columbia’s Southern Gulf Islands since late summer.

A ton of Christmas provisions

Volunteers brought one ton of Christmas provisions – including a 90-pound pig and plenty of charcoal to roast it. Most of the goods delivered to seafarers on Dec. 20 were donated by workers at four collection sites: the Bayanihan Community Centre in Victoria, the B.C. Ferry and Marine Workers’ Union office in Nanaimo, the Maritime Labour Centre in Vancouver, and Local 502’s dispatch hall.

“We asked for support, and the community really came through for these workers,” said Jason Woods, Secretary- Treasurer of ILWU Local 400. The Filipino Canadian Association of Victoria was involved because most of the seafarers come from the Philippines or Korea.

In addition to delivering warm clothing, entertainment items, including DVD’s, video games and board games were provided. Supporters also brought some Filipino food specialties. Several days earlier, a group of Christmas carolers from Pender Island visited the Scarlet and sang songs for the crew.

“It’s lonely,” said sailor Romeo Cabacang from the Philippines. “But all the crew, we are very happy for the early Christmas gift.”

Good media coverage

News of the solidarity action was conveyed to the general public via reports in Canada’s national newspaper, the National Post. Additional stories were carried by the CBC and Vancouver Island’s Chek 6 Television News. Another story about the event was broadcast nationwide on December 22 by CBC radio, including a live interview with Local 400’s Jason Woods, who was encouraged to do the program by ILWU President Rob Ashton.

Approaching the Scarlet: Solidarity team members were transported to
the Hanjin Scarlet on a launch provided by Tymac Launch Service. Tymac crewmembers
belong to Local 400 and donated their time; the company donated the launch service and contributed supplies to help the Hanjin crew.

South Korean support on Nov 29

ILWU Canada members supported a separate solidarity action in November that was organized after the ITF contacted President Rob Ashton of ILWU Canada to help South Korean unions seeking to oust President Park Geun-hye because of her corruption and anti-worker policies.

Maritime Council acts

President Ashton approached members of the Pacific Coast Maritime Council while he was attending the British Columbia Federation of Labour convention. Together they developed a plan to march on the South Korea’s Consulate in Vancouver, as a way to protest the Park government’s corruption and abuse of worker rights.

Marching to the Consulate

On November 29, Rob Ashton – who serves as President of both the ILWU Canada and Pacific Coast Maritime Council – invited Labour Federation delegates to join the march during the Convention lunch break. He also announced that South Korean workers had simultaneously organized a general strike and were protesting in the streets. Many different unions supported the march from Vancouver’s Canada Place to the South Korean Consulate. A group of 50 workers demonstrated in front of the Consulate while a delegation went inside to read and deliver a letter from Maritime Council President Ashton, Vice Presidents Gerry Gault and Tom Doran, and Secretary-Treasurer Graeme Johnston.

New action planned January 12

ILWU Canada locals are coordinating a solidarity action on January 12 with the Seafarer’s International Union (SIU) Canada and Canadian ILA leaders.

They plan to begin the New Year with a “National Day of Action” in Canada that involves union members and supporters from Newfoundland in the east to Victoria in the west – with activities also planned at the big ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert. All events are scheduled to begin at 10am pacific time. The goal is to protect maritime jobs that are being threatened by corporate greed.

Foreign flags, lower pay

The planned national action is a response to moves made by vessel owners in Newfoundland who changed the flags on ships being crewed by SIU members. By “re-flagging” these vessels to operate under a Marshall Islands flag, ship owners hope to dodge labor, environmental and tax laws that apply to vessels flying Canadian and U.S. flags.

Substandard pay

ILWU Local 400 is fighting a similar struggle in Victoria against a foreign flagged vessel operating with poorly paid, predominantly Filipino seafarers who earn less than the region’s minimum wage and far less than the $30 per hour that Local 400 crewmembers typically receive. The foreign-flagged vessel operates from port-to-port within Canada, something known in maritime law as “cabotage.” Canada and the U.S. both have laws requiring all cabotage work to be performed by vessels flying domestic flags and following domestic labor laws, including the Jones Act in the U.S. and a similar law in Canada. But Canada’s Trudeau government recently issued a waiver allowing a foreign-flagged ship to be based in Victoria and operate between Canadian ports. In the U.S., attacks against the Jones Act are increasingly common and could escalate under President Trump.

Corporate greed

“This is part of the corporate greed ethic that can also lead to public ports being privatized,” said ILWU Canada President Rob Ashton. “Free trade agreements are part of the same disease that destroys workers and communities in order to enrich corporations and CEO’s.”

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