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February 2003   

Interview: Agenda 2003
ACTU secretary Greg Combet looks at the year ahead and how a union movement can keep the focus on the workplace at a time of global crisis.

Peace: The Colour Purple
Local communities across Australia are taking stands against war by displaying purple banners. Jim Marr visits one.

Industrial: Long, Hot Summer
As Workers Online took its annual break, the world kept turning � at an increasingly alarming velocity.

Solidarity: Workers Against War
Joann Wypijewski reports on how union locals in the USA are fighting the hounds of war at home.

Security: Howard And The Hoodlums
With all the talk of terror, the Howard Government�s Achilles heel is its tolerance of Flags of Convenience shipping , writes Rowan Cahill

International: Industrial Warfare
Scottish freight train drivers have already acted to disrupt the war effort in the UK with crews of four freight trains carrying war supplies to ports walking off the job, writes Andrew Casey

History: Unions and the Vietnam War
The Vietnam experience steered some unions towards social activism for the first time. Unions are today key players in the anti-war movement, writes Tony Duras.

Review: Eight Miles to Mowtown
Mark Hebblewhites looks at two summer movies that tap into different sounds of American culture - white boy rap and motown blues.

Poetry: Return To Sender
Resident bard Divd Peetz discovers that Elvis has become the latest shock recruit to the peace cause.

Satire: CIA Recruits New Intake of Future Enemies
CIA Director George Tenet announced today that the agency has begun recruiting future enemies for the year 2014.


The Soapbox
Getting On with The Job
Premier Bob Carr chose Trades Hall as the venue to launch Labor's IR policy for the upcoming state election.

Justice in Bogota
Sydney lawyer Ian Latham knows how to pick them. He�s gone straight from the Cole Royal Commission to justice Colombian-style.

The Locker Room
Heart Of Darkness
There is a school of thought that there is, in fact, only one World Cup - and it doesn�t involve cricket, writes Phil Doyle.

Danger Mouse
John Howard's politics have trapped him into supporting an unpopular war. He is in political trouble, Leonie Bronstein argues.


A Call To Arms
Workers Online returns from our summer break to face a world on the brink, the structures of global cooperation being crushed by the iron will of the earth�s last remaining superpower.


 The Cuffe Link � Taxpayers Cough Up

 Carr: Secret Lib Plan to Slash Public Sector

 Abbott Comes Out Swinging

 Thanks a Million: Cole�s Lawyers Clean-up

 Corrigan Dogs On Jobs Promise

 Gnomes Fess Up � Unionism Best For All

 Owens Survives 30-Year Ban

 Ribs and Rumps Something for Government to Chew On

 Badges of Honour

 Guards Rail Against Assaults

 Workers Online Scoops Global Prize

 Currawong Must Pay It�s Way

 Let�s Get Real! 2nd Australasian Organising Conference

 Guard Knocked Out in Villawood Escape

 Activists Notebook

 Bouquets and Brickbats
 War Talk
 A Tale of Two Malls
 Talk Back Tom
 On The Beach
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Howard And The Hoodlums

With all the talk of terror, the Howard Government�s Achilles heel is its tolerance of Flags of Convenience shipping , writes Rowan Cahill


According to election-mode NSW Police Minister Michael Costa, Port Kembla on the state's south coast is a possible entry point for illegal hand guns. Stands to reason; the port has healthy trade figures, and port authorities are striving to increase these. The local Customs unit was downsized and relocated north to Wollongong during the 1990s. There is a case for a considerable security upgrade.

But Costa was understating the situation when he made his claim during January. More than hand guns could be coming through Port Kembla's open door. Given the hypothetical nature of our times, try drugs, try illegal immigrants, try terrorists.

A week before Costa's claim, The Washington Post quoted US intelligence sources warning of Tongan registered ships being used by al-Qaeda to ferry terrorists and their supplies throughout the world.

Transporting Terrorism.

Since 9/11 at least five Tongan registered vessels have been involved in, or been suspected of involvement in, al-Qaeda and terrorist related activity in the Mediterranean. Of special interest is the Nova company which uses Tongan flagged ships and is incorporated in the US and Romania. The al-Qaeda fleet is believed to comprise 50 vessels, 15 of which are cargo freighters, all plying the sea routes of the world, their ownership hidden under a blanket of cunning corporate paperwork.

Enter the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA). During January the Tongan registered bulk carrier Ikuna loaded a grain cargo in Port Kembla. The vessel was formerly the Australian registered Wallarah, operating out of Newcastle and employing two crew of 18 Australians. Now flying the Tongan flag, the Ikuna employs Tongans who reportedly work for the pocket money wage of $330 per month.

The MUA and South Coast Labour Council protested the use of the Ikuna, a bitter matter going back to complex corporate manouverings last year that took the bulk carrier from Newcastle, and placed it on the Tongan register.

Concerns were raised with Port Kembla authorities about the use of the Ikuna, the loss of Australian jobs involved, and the use of exploited maritime labour. Concerns about national security were also raised in the light of the US revelations. A peaceful community picket line and an airing of the issues involved attracted considerable regional media coverage.

While Prime Minister John Howard and relieving P.M. John Anderson spent the Christmas break disembling through their teeth, denying they were George Dubbya puppets, it was left to the MUA and the South Coast Labour Council to look after the national interest of Australia.

Hoodlums of the Sea.

So how did Tonga get into the terrorist act? Two years ago, hard on the heels of a raft of personal revenue raising scams, the corrupt Royal family of Tonga allowed international shipping interests to register vessels in Tonga--for a price. Thus Tonga became a "flag of convenience" (FOC), alongside notorious veteran players like Liberia and Panama.

Flags of convenience enable unscrupulous shipowning interests to avoid paying taxes to their national governments, and having their vessels meet stringent national regulations designed to protect shipping, seafarers, cargoes, and environments.

Many FOC registered ships, variously known around the world's waterfronts as "rust buckets", "coffin ships'', do not stand up to such scrutiny and should be in maritime wrecking yards. But afloat, registered under a FOC, they are "ships of shame" and ply the sea routes with impunity.

FOC vessels are notorious for running aground, being involved in collisions, sinking, causing loss of life, featuring in insurance scams and in ecological disasters. Exploitation of untrained, non-unionised, labour is also standard fare.

France's President Jacques Chirac, revolted by the ecological catastrophe unfolding as oil from the wreck of the Liberian registered tanker Prestige washes ashore on the coasts of Spain and France, recently described business interests behind flags of convenience as "shady businessmen, the hoodlums of the sea".

A cautionary note: these hoodlums tend to look like corporate lawyers and accountants rather than movie style low life.

Cash Cows and Confetti.

So far as al-Qaeda is concerned, the slackness of the FOC system is a godsend. Tonga was a new player in the maritime stakes, wet behind the ears, and the Royal family was hungry for money.

Not everyone in al-Qaeda is a desperate towel-head hiding in a mountain cave, the familiar propaganda image cultivated by George Dubbya and his media lackeys. Behind the front-lines al-Qaeda is a sophisticated multi-million dollar enterprise involving businesses that operate as cash cows for future operations. Hello Tonga.

FOC vessels work Australian domestic runs because of special Federal legislation that allows the issue of 'single voyage' permits. Trouble is this system is abused by the Howard Government; permits are cheap and easy to get, sort of like maritime confetti.

The result is the guts are being torn out of the Australian merchant fleet. Australian ships variously disappear from the Australian register, taking with them jobs once done by unionised Australian seafarers, and FOC vessels and exploited crews take over. Since 1994 the Australian merchant fleet has been reduced from 90 vessels to 45.

Which is probably the name of the game as the ideologically driven Howard government, committed to anti-unionism, covertly seeks to dismantle the MUA, a bastion of Australian trade unionism, destroying a significant part of the union's membership base by eliminating Australian sea-going jobs.


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