Building Our Navy Ships in Australia: navy uniforms and patriotism

Yesterday, I joined with a bunch of metalworkers who work in Australia’s shipbuilding industry to hand out leaflets about building the next fleet of Australia’s navy ships in Australia, instead of spending taxpayers dollars to import from other countries.
Its pretty simple, you would have thought: Australia is an island nation and we have the capability to do the job. We have been campaigning for the past 9 months to get the federal government to commit to building the next fleet of 48 ships worth about $250b. over 25 years, and we are continuing our campaign just as vigorously with the new conservative government. (For more info CLICK HERE http://makingourfuture.com.au/ )
The site for yesterday’s action was the Fleet Naval Base entrance in Wooloomooloo, Sydney, because there were thousands of people there for the warships open day. This event was a part of the International Navy Week that was “celebrating” the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Australian navy. There were ships from many other countries and in most cases those ships had been built inside their own country by their own workforce.
To get into the ships you had to buy tickets online beforehand, and then queue (yes, we do queues here in Oz), in the warm sun for your turn to enter the dock where the ships were berthed. The crowds were big and also a startling reminder of Australia’s multicultural population.
So, here was an opportunity for us to provide information and explain to thousands of working class Australians – because that’s who the vast majority were – that our federal government had NOT YET made a fair dinkum commitment to build the next fleet here in Australia.
And we had a great time doing it, with an overwhelmingly positive reception from the masses of people waiting their turn to go on board. Many people stopped to ask for more information and committed to signing the letter to the new Minister for Defence that urges him to make a decision soon that ensures that the current generation of skilled metalworkers and technical workers are not retrenched when the current air warfare destroyer hull blocks are finished in 2015.
We also got ABC news coverage, with AMWU National Secretary, Paul Bastian, and boilermaker and union member, Ben Horan, explaining our “ask” on the Australian government.
Unfortunately, there was one exception: one group who could not see their way to even take a leaflet.
These were men and women who wore the uniform of the Australian navy and the uniform of the Australian Federal Police.
Where is their patriotism? Lost in action – it seems – when it comes to the plight of working class Australians who are building the AWD’s now, who are capable of building the next fleet, and who are very committed to doing so.
Is there a policy, a new one or an old one, that prevents navy personnel from taking such information?
Our campaign will “soldier on”. We know that the majority of Australians agree with us: Build our fleet here!

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I am a retired left wing and labour movement activist. Before that I worked for a long time in the Australian union movement in union education, Australian and international solidarity and organising. I am also active in Cuban solidarity, the SEARCH FOUNDATION, and promoting discussion, debate and action about green socialism based on workers control and social ownership.

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