Over 1000 people packed the streets of Port Kembla on Saturday as unions, Labor Party members, anti-war activists and the local community marched to oppose plans for a nuclear submarine base—and the $368 billion nuclear submarines as well.
The South Coast Labour Council moved this year’s May Day rally from nearby Wollongong in protest at news that Port Kembla was the preferred location for a $10 billion east coast base for the AUKUS nuclear submarines.
But as Greens Senator David Shoebridge told the crowd “they picked the wrong town”. Chants declared Port Kembla a “union town”—and one with a long anti-war tradition.
Flags and contingents from a raft of unions including the Teachers Federation, the MUA, CFMEU, ETU, NTEU, the Australian Services Union, as well as firefighters and nurses all joined the march.
A contingent of local Labor Party members and the Young Labor Left were joined by Labor members from Sydney with “Rank and file Labor—No nuclear” placards. The Port Kembla Labor Party branch was one of the first to pass a motion against the plan for nuclear submarines following Anthony Albanese’s announcement of the $368 billion cost in March.
Unionists and other activists also travelled from Canberra and Sydney, with a car convoy of at least 70 people gathering at Wollongong train station.
Unions pledged to make sure the submarine base is never built and to fight the appalling waste of hundreds of billions of dollars on the nuclear subs.
Allen Hicks, National Secretary of the Electrical Trade Union, explained that the plan for a nuclear submarine base threatens thousands of jobs in the burgeoning offshore wind industry locally and pledged that “we’re not going to allow the future of renewable energy here to be stopped by a nuclear base”.
“Our union has had a policy against uranium mining and against the nuclear fuel cycle since the Second World War. And I’m here today as the National Secretary of the ETU and commit the ETU again to that policy”, he explained.
“I want to read out extracts of that policy so you can understand from ETU’s perspective why we’re opposed to the nuclear base in Port Kembla: We’re opposed to the mining and export of uranium. We’re opposed to the use of nuclear fuel for power generation. We’re opposed to use of nuclear fuel to power any equipment or vessel, we’re opposed to the provision of uranium enrichment facilities, the manufacturing of nuclear weapons, the erection of any nuclear power stations and the importation of nuclear waste in Australia.
“Should the Albanese government not change their mind with respect to nuclear-powered submarines and building a base here at Port Kembla they better be ready for one hell of a blue”, he warned, promising to ban any work on construction.
“We will work with the community in the Illawarra to make sure that a submarine base is not built in Port Kembla, and under my watch it won’t be built with ETU labour.”
Alexander Brown from Wollongong against War and Nukes told the crowd that, “The $368 billion that this government is gifting to the warmongers is $368 billion being ripped out of social services, of the NDIS, of healthcare, housing, and meaningful action on climate change.”
David Shoebridge added that the cost had grown further already, explaining that “my office together with the Parliamentary Budget Office started looking at those numbers. The $368 billion just gets us the first five of these AUKUS subs, to actually get all eight it’s going to come close to half a trillion dollars.”
Alexander explained that, “We’ve already had some important victories… three weeks ago the Assistant Minister for Defence Matt Thistlethwaite announced that no decision will be made on a base until after the next election”, he said. “This week he tells us that the government will not honour Morrison’s shortlist and that an east coast subs base is no longer a government priority.”
“But this obfuscation and delay is not good enough. We demand that the government rule out the subs base here in Port kembla, rule it out in Newcastle and Brisbane or anywhere on the eastern seaboard—and tear up the AUKUS agreement.”
The rally was a further sign of the opposition within the union movement and the Labor Party to the nuclear submarines. It was the biggest show of force against the AUKUS pact since its announcement.
Activists are planning further protests when US President Joe Biden visits Sydney on 24 May for the Quad meeting—another war alliance against China. With Labor set to ramp up arms spending even further in this week’s budget, the need for an anti-war movement is urgent.
By James Supple