I write these words barely 16 hours after the end of the third annual LabourStart Global Solidarity Conference, held in Sydney, Australia this week.
This won’t be a full or formal report; other conference participants are invited to make their own reports and I’ll try to link to them below as I learn about them.
These are more a series of random observations than a proper report told in chronological order, but that’s all I’m capable of at the moment.
This turned out to be relatively difficult conference to organise. We had originally planned to do it in Sydney in 2011, but that fell through and we hastily convened the one in Istanbul instead. This time, we pulled together a fairly large organising committee, got a great venue for free (from the New South Wales Teachers Federation), and thought we had things under control.
But about two months ago, it became clear that the conference was in trouble so I intervened. I convinced members of the committee to move from a conference that would cost more than $100 per head to attend to a free one, and from a registration procedure that required the printing off of a form and its posting by mail to a simple online one. I also secured the involvement on a voluntary basis of Essential Media Communications, headed up by Peter Lewis, and this proved to be decisive. The conference agenda was rewritten from scratch, and the number of registered participants soared from 5 to well over 200.
The conference opened on Sunday evening with a reception at a local bar, hosted by UnionJobs.com, and this was an opportunity to meet many of the international participants. In the end we had people from more than 15 countries — the UK, Norway, Belgium, Switzerland, the USA, Fiji, the Philippines, Timor Leste, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and New Zealand — as well as Australia (including members of the Bahraini and Vietnamese communities).
The conference was formally opened by the traditional ‘welcome to country,’ delivered by a representative the indigenous population. We were reminded that the conference was held on aboriginal land and paid our respects with a moment of silence.
The two initial speakers were myself and Dave Oliver, the secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. Dave gave a terrific speech, the first part of which spoke very highly of the work LabourStart does and the esteem in which it is held in Australia.
The rest of the conference was a series of plenaries and workshops focussing on six different selected campaigns. These included Nissan USA (which became the subject of a LabourStart campaign launched during the conference itself), Qatar (an ITUC campaign focussing on migrant workers), Bahrain (we heard an impassioned appeal for help from Bahrainis living in Australia), China, Fiji, and Mexico (miners). The conference was privileged to hear addresses by such prominent activists as Daniel Urai, of the Fiji Trades Union Congress and Benjamin Velasco from the Philippines, who spoke about the campaign at Philippines Air Lines against outsourcing.
Monday evening the entire conference packed up and moved across town to a dinner and reception hosted by the Australian Workers Union at Trades Hall, including a display of banners and a tour of EMC’s new television studio there.
The final session on Tuesday, following detailed reports from each of the workshops, focussed on ways LabourStart can be more helpful to Australian unions
The second day saw a much smaller turnout, as expected, but there were a credible number of people in the hall and an exhausted crowd did manage to rise up from their seats to sing a rousing version of the Internationale.
Wednesday morning there was a small meeting of LabourStart correspondents including participants from Australia, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Norway and the UK. We discussed the conference that just took place, a possible conference in Berlin in May 2014, the proposed ActNOW DIY system, LabourStart’s finances and fundraising, and more.
Special thanks are due not only to the unions and individuals name above, and to all those who attended, by to members of the organizing committee including Alison, Crystal, Tony, Caroline, Michael and of course Andrew.
I encourage others who attended the conference to post their own reports and I look forward to reading these.