The first day of the Conference on November 12, 2018, offered to local and international dockers and sailors the opportunity to discuss about the working conditions of their sector in several countries, as well as to propose strategies and initiatives to strengthen their class struggles. Also, information on the ports of Djibouti has been provided.
On behalf of the WFTU, Comrade G. Mavrikos, WFTU General Secretary, greeted the opening of the event, while Comrade Nicolas Ghiokas of the WFTU Office in Geneva, took the floor to pronounce the WFTU main intervention.
The Conference will conclude its works today with the discussion of the conclusions and with the speech of the General Secretary of the WFTU.
Below the speech of comrade N. Ghiokas:
The friends of WFTU in Switzerland and the WFTU Office in Geneva at the ILO, are greeting the initiative of UGTD to organize with the support of WFTU a trade union Conference under the topic of Maritime Transport Workers and Dockers of African and Mediterranean countries.
More that 80% of the world’s commerce in volume and more than 70% of its value are transported aboard ships and handled by the maritime ports all over the world, fact that underlines the importance of maritime transport for commerce and development. Millions of tons of cargo are loaded and unloaded at the ports, whether it is raw material, capital goods or manufactured merchandises.
Moreover, millions of persons travel by sea, as passengers or ship crew. They get on and off at the ports. Millions of workers sell their workforce to ship-owning companies
in order to make a living from the sea professions, while the workers of maritime transports struggle for security, for dignified salaries and working conditions aboard.
In the same way, the ports and terminals are largely controlled by private companies, and more specifically, 85% – 90% of world ports have signed the public-private
partnership, where all operations, especially the handling of cargo, are carried out by private companies, which also employ the workforce of the port. This results in the worsening of the dockers’ working conditions, the non-respect of collective agreements and of health and safety members.
Therefore, the majority of maritime and port activities are handled by capitalist monopolies which furthermore own almost the total world fleet of merchant ships or of passengers transport ships. Their objective is to rival with their competitors and increase their profits. In order to achieve it, they maximize the workers’ exploitation by paying low wages, by extending the daily and weekly working hours, by increasing the labor intensity – for example, they make one single worker to accomplish a task that requires more workers – by reducing the costs for the health protection measures and of the risk of accident for the workers, by not respecting the signed labor collective agreements. In short, by worsening the working conditions either at the ports or aboard the ships.
What is more, the ILO Maritime Labor Convention, has very general directives that are not enough to guarantee the rights of sailors and dockers, who are facing the cutting of their salary, the limiting of their rights, the reduction of the ship crews and of the workforce at the ports.
Moreover, these very same monopolies of shipowners take advantage of the fact that their activities extend over the five continents, so as to utilize the diversity of national legislations on the workers’ rights and on taxation, so as to choose the more beneficial for them, by using the flags of convenience and the “off-shore” companies established in fiscal paradises. This allows them to have huge profits, compared to the meager salaries of workers.
The consequences of the capitalist crisis of 2009 are still very evident at the sectors of maritime and dock workers. The crisis increased unemployment among the workers of this sector.
Nowadays the insecure, poorly paid, hard work prevails in the sector, which jeopardizes the health or even the life of sailors and dockers. Navigation on old tubs is very common for hundreds of thousands of seafarers. Ships often sink, ships and their crews are also abandoned by the shipowners at a regular basis. Very often, the maritime workers are abandoned very far away from their country, without being paid and therefore without having the means to return to their countries, to their families.
In this situation, the sailors and dockers are reacting. The international trade union movement of the sector has a long history in the organization of struggles. Historically, these trade unions are members of the WFTU, they defend the rights of workers who travel the seas aboard, as well as of those who work at the ports. They are at the front line of mobilizations, always present in all struggles by the side of the workers. The militant international organizations are the ones that unite the workers of all nationalities and origins. Today the workers are fighting for salaries that will allow them to live with dignity, for the satisfaction of their contemporary needs and the needs of their families, for working conditions that assure their day-offs, their health, their protection from occupational accidents, for collective agreements that assure them a daily and weekly working time that does not exceed 8 and 40 hours respectively, for their rights to retirement, for pensions that provide them a dignified life after the accomplishment of their life as workers.
It is crucial that seafarers and dockworkers in the African and Mediterranean region coordinate and reinforce their struggle to improve their salaries and working conditions, claiming a better life for themselves and their families, since it is their work that produces the huge wealth that the capitalist ship-owners of the monopolies of maritime transport and port management monopolize. Their action must be collective, militant and massive, it must be organized by the action of the unions of the working class, militant unions which put forward the interests of the workers, for salaries and working conditions that allow to live a dignified life and not one in misery.
We must reject the proposals of the reformist unions, who promote class collaboration, who want the workers to be under the influence of employers or governments, who sign agreements with employers at the expense of workers, so as to make them accept deals that promote the interests of employers against the legitimate interests of seamen and dockworkers. These unions offer the workers the choice of the “lesser evil”, which they present as a necessity. In reality, the lesser evil always weakens the position of the workers and prepares the worst for them.
Sailors and dockers must turn their backs on reformism, they must close their ears to the sirens who try to persuade them that sailors and dockers have the same interests as shipowners and bosses. In fact the interests are conflicting, it is the interests of the exploiters against those of the exploited ones, the exploitation of some persons brings about the wealth of others.
Their exploitation reminds dockworkers and sailors that they are an integral part of the working class, who toils everywhere on land, at sea and in the air, in all latitudes and longitudes and whose interests are common, and diametrically opposed to those of capitalists.
Dockers and sailors need unions coming from their ranks. Class oriented unions in the direction to change the relations of production of society. They need militant activists who come from the base and who believe in the strength of their class. Those who are able to organize along with the workers the most advanced forms of struggle and resistance, such as strikes. Moreover, it is no coincidence that the right to strike is targeted by capitalists and their governments in most countries.
Sailors and dockworkers must participate massively in their class union organizations, they must claim their rights and struggle. We must isolate the opposite voices of those who promote collaboration. We must always keep in mind that everything is won with hard struggles, nothing is granted. We must realize that even the greatest conquests will be threatened as long as capitalist barbarity, which causes the crisis, unemployment, misery, exile and war, will be dominant.
Us, the friends of the WFTU in Switzerland and the regional office of Geneva at the ILO, call on the participants of this conference to gather around the WFTU, to make their trade union organizations strongholds of the workers’ movement, to lead a massive and uncompromising struggle to defend their social rights and their wages, their working and living conditions, not to accept the policies that condemn them to unemployment, precariousness, misery, to struggle against the system that exploits their work and makes the workers poorer and poorer and the ship-owners richer and richer, and for a society without exploitation of man by man.