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Shipbuilding Unions Demand Sovereign Build

Written by: (Contributed) on 25 February 2023


Leaderships of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, Australian Workers Union, Communications, Electricians and Plumbers Union and Professionals Australia, their members and supporters held a rally outside the SA Premier's building in Tarntanyangga (Victoria Square) on Friday 24 February.

Leaders from all four Unions demanded that the federal Albanese Government take urgent action now to secure locally built navy vessels, particularly the next fleet of non-nuclear submarines.

They all emphasized the need for the "sovereign build" of non-nuclear submarines at the Australian Submarine Corporation (ASC) in Osborne, situated near Port Adelaide.

By "sovereign" they meant the alternative being considered - importing non-nuclear submarines form overseas, or no more non-nuclear submarines at all - would see an acceleration of the exodus of skilled workers from not only SA but Australia. "Sovereign" to the speakers at the rally meant "within Australian workers' interests".

All leaders of all four Unions said that federal government commitment to build navy vessels in SA would be a hollow commitment unless the government funded a naval technical college within the ASC precinct at Osborne. This was essential to provide training for the current generation of young people and future generations of young people.

If the federal government did not set up a naval college for skills development of young people now, there would be no manufacturing workforce to build any navy vessels in SA or Australia.

Little mention was made of the nuclear submarines being built, except that all speakers said that even if that occurred, it would not be for another 20 years or so. The positive side of the demand to continue with the building of conventional submarines is that it challenges the pro-nuclear powered subs of the AUKUS coalition; the downside is that both build options feed into the predatory imperialist agenda of the United States.

It was good to hear passionate Union leaders demand not only a "sovereign build" but also link this demand to creating the opportunity for local people to design and build and service vessels and to decrease reliance on temporary high skilled labour from overseas.

Central to the Union leaders demands for an on-site technical college was the demand to increase apprenticeships related to a sovereign build.

The speaker from the Electricians Union also made the point that it was not just a matter of skilled work opportunities for locals at the shipbuilding works at Osborne. It was also about providing young workers with skills that were transferable to other industries which benefitted not only themselves but society as a whole.

While not stated explicitly, the theme of the speeches, "sovereign build" also was a reminder of the past experience of the car industry's demise in SA in particular. While that industry provided thousands of good paying jobs over many decades, the key decision-makers in its future were multinational corporations who organized their production according to their global strategic profit-making needs.

In the case of the development of navy vessels of all types for the defense of the continent of Australia (rather than the war interests of a big power), the ownership of the shipbuilding needs to be in Australian government hands, not those of multinational corporations. On this front there is work to be done to give more security to the idea of "sovereign build".

For example, half the ASC is now leased to Britain’s BAE for decades to come and BAE is in charge of surface vessel construction and maintenance such as for frigates and possibly  destroyers down the track!


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