Striking Australian Esso Workers Battle for 230 Working Families Who Were Fired and Offered 40 Percent Pay Cuts

The Texas AFL-CIO had the honor of meeting with four superb union delegates from Australia who are getting out the word about their nearly year-long strike against Esso (ExxonMobil).The strike began when Esso fired 230 oil rig workers and offered to rehire them for 40 percent lower wages and reduced benefits. After issuing that engraved invitation to walk out, the company hired foreign replacements and kept union activists under surveillance. After it became clear that major Australian media were not going to cover major developments in the strike, including a march that attracted more than 120,000 people, the unions decided to send ambassadors to the U.S. to tell their story. We first met these union Brothers at the AFL-CIO Martin Luther King Jr. Civil and Human Rights Conference in Houston earlier this year. They returned to Texas to make their case at the annual ExxonMobil shareholders meeting in Dallas, but they were excluded even though a union had provided them with a proxy.

When we listened to the stories of Troy Carter of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, Dane Coleman of the Electrical Trades Union, Steve Solomon of AMWU and Andrew Ross of the Australian Workers Union, we were moved greatly by how they discussed the sacrifice that their children, some too young to understand much about what is going on, and spouses make in a long strike. We were moved to anger by yet another example of a multinational corporation that negotiates in good faith with unions in some locations while turning against unions in other locations when it thinks it can get away with bad behavior. Of late, the unions are raising legislative questions in Australia about tax breaks ExxonMobil has received even as they subject workers livelihoods to decimation.

WATCH the union reps discuss their families and the effect of the strike. Click to Play.

After a two-hour discussion in our Conference Room, Texas AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Montserrat Garibay led all of us to a Poor People's Campaign rally in front of the Capitol. The union Brothers are headed to Houston tomorrow and expect to meet with union members from the Gulf Coast ALF and United Steelworkers, among others. 

Brother Carter, who is responsible for amping up crowds at union rallies, said quietly that what little family time he has had during the strike gets eaten into because he always must remain on call to 230 union members via cell phone. "I just can't turn the phone off," Carter says. "The poor kids...This is what it's like after 300 days."

 ABC Australia Radio interviewed Carter today about the progress of the trip to Texas, asking him at one point how long the strike can go on. 

 "As long as it takes," Carter said.

We will follow up on the progress of the Esso strike as it develops. The one-year anniversary will take place on Friday, June 22.