Livelihoods and Liberation Struggles: 30 years of Australian worker solidarity For Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA by Dani Cooper (2015)
Book review by Chris White
Unionists, labour historians, students, and the general public will find this a great read. Dani Cooper writes in an engaging style telling stories with 25 interviews covering 30 years’ of APHEDA (Australian People for Health, Education and Development Abroad). Website http://apheda.org.au
I like the photos of APHEDA leaders and activists excited with success in projects.
Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA is committed to social justice, solidarity and to self-reliance, not charity. 60 successful aid projects in 15 countries (some in this review) assist the struggle for liberation, against inequality, poverty, denial of labour and human rights, civil conflict and war.
Sharon Burrow, former ACTU President, now General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation: “The work of APHEDA can inspire new generations of activists, unionists and campaigners for global justice, in Australia and overseas.”
Video of Helen MCue http://apheda.org.au/about-us/
Helen McCue’s story of why she was motivated to set up APHEDA is an inspiring beginning. Helen McCue, a social justice and union nurse in late 1982 is with thousands of desperate refugees in the aftermath of Israeli PM Begin’s killing of 15,000 Palestinians. Experiencing extreme desperation to rebuild livelihoods and advance freedom, Helen McCue reacts with a vision to contribute more than rebuilding bombed hospitals and health care. She has a great desire to establish an on-going aid programme for nurse training.
“True solidarity meant support that endured and giving locals the skills to restore their own lives after the emergency has passed.”
Norwegian People’s Aid, the overseas aid arm of the Norwegian trade union movement is the model.
These stories follow APHEDA’s Middle-East projects throughout the next 30 years, developed in the most difficult of repressions and continuous war. In July and August 2006 Israel unleashes a furious bombardment on Lebanon. APHEDA partner Olfat Mahmoud recounts her extreme difficulties surviving and developing the Palestinian Women’s Humanitarian Organisation working with the many refugees.
APHEDA Palestine projects then face the cruel twist with the Israel policy of building the Separation Wall as a land grab and further fragmenting Palestine. APHEDA’s partner is the MA’AN Development Centre with Sami Khader who is opposed to the Wall but deals with this reality with food security projects, training in fertilizers, land rehabilitation and vegetable planting and survives despite the Wall. Lee Rhiannon, now Greens NSW Senator, after an APHEDA tour, recounts the terrible story of the woman assisted by APHEDA to grow rabbits for income and then an Israel rocket kills her and her family. This injustice is one of many.
In late 1984 Helen McCue tours the Middle East and establishes training Red Crescent workers to staff a new ambulance station. In October 1984 APHEDA tours to Australia eight Palestinian and Lebanese nurses, a worthwhile cultural and political exchange with stories from the nurses and on returning they work for community nursing in the refugee camps.
In 1992, Helen McCue is now back in the field and her story is with Olaf Mahmoud establishing the Palestinian Women’s Humanitarian Organisation run by women, with challenges from men and threats from Al Qaeda. They soon are providing childcare, elderly care for women and training women care workers in the refugee camps. This is decisive. While these projects do not turn around the causes, many families benefit. Next with Sam Khadir Anglican Church the MA’AN Development Centre is started with literacy course for women, an extraordinary story. It is still going with 500 staff with agricultural programmes. Sami and Mahoud tell how development aid is political in helping Palestinian resistance and they see only the right of return as the answer.
In the 30th year, from July 2014 the Gaza strip is bombarded for 51 days, 2160 killed, devastation, and amongst this APHEDA’s agricultural and hospital projects are destroyed. New CEO Kate Lee and President Angelo Gavrielatos tour the destruction. They advocate plans, for the rebuilding of Gaza projects (later APHEDA receives Government aid funding). They stress the political solution to change the current regimes.
Chris White and Kate Lee at APHEDA book launch
In this review I first read the Middle-East stories. I now turn to each chapter.
ACTU Secretary Cliff Dolan’s decisive leadership is the key to Helen McCue’s work establishing APHEDA. Together they represent an historical illustration of what determined union leaders achieved. Cliff Dolan not only championed the idea but also ensures ACTU financing. APHEDA starts on 6 January 1984 in a small Sydney Trades Hall office with health training projects in Eritrea and with Palestinian nurses. Soon unions are financially supporting specific projects directly – projects workers relate to. After some concern from right-wing unions that the left unions are dominant,APHEDA’s key political strategy to develop humanitarian projects is supported by both left and right unions. In 3 years Helen McCue has 13 of the 16 projects sponsored by specific unions putting in practice her ‘worker to worker’ link.
Chapter 2 Fighting for freedom
Helen McCue argues the basics are solidarity with National Liberation struggles and partnerships with local grass-roots organisations. Her initial work with the Palestinians leads to more work in liberation struggles.
Eddie Funde, the ANC African National Congress newly arrived representative in Australia, meets APHEDA in February 1984 and the book relates wonderful solidarity stories and interesting valuable projects.
In August 1984 Cliff Dolan and Helen McCue, both earlier opposing the Vietnam war, meet the Vietnam Health Minister through Stan Sharkey BWIU and Tas Bull Seaman’s Union. Thus begins “laying the cornerstone of one of the agency’s most successful partnerships.” Then an APHEDA tour to Vietnam leads to developing training projects for remote health workers. Helen McCue lobbies the Australian government to restore aid to a milk farm.
APHEDA supports liberation activists in the Philippines, in Nicaragua, Jose Ramos Horta from East Timor (but no opportunity is available as the Australian Government supports the Indonesian occupation) and the Kanaks in New Caledonia.
Helen McCue goes to Cambodia witnessing the aftermath of the annihilation of civil society from the brutal fascist Pol Pot regime. APHEDA begins rebuilding health care services with assistance. Labor Foreign Minister Bill Hayden commits at the APHEDA fundraiser. Funding for a fulltime education officer Claire Aitchinson is negotiated. There is the story of Australian nurse Tess Godio working in the Philippines for APHEDA during the Marcos dictatorship and she starts by establishing traditional herbal gardens.
In 1985, APHEDA looks to funding for the longer term. At the ACTU Congress Cliff Dolan’s passion condemns apartheid and supports the ANC and secures financing for APHEDA. Audrey McDonald describes how APHEDA drives the new ANC Support Committee. The campaign becomes highly effective in educating the public, mobilising unionists, and joining alliances with community groups and Churches. Cliff Dolan introduces Eddie Funde to PM Hawke at an airport and argues for sanctions against apartheid and for assistance that is assured. There is the story of APHEDA and the Labor government’s touring of Oliver Tambo ANC representative in March 1987 with a stirring reception from unionists and wonderful singing from the Solidarity choir. Soon the Amandla Cultural Ensemble has a sell-out tour.
By 1986, 85 unions assist APHEDA. Greg Combet then at the Lidcombe Workers Health Centre starts his long-term involvement, strong in the WWF and as ACTU Secretary strengthening APHEDA’s union base. Support groups are established in the states and regions. OHS worker Cathy Bloch goes on an APHEDA East Timor tour and returns by establishing more local union support groups. “What makes us different from other aid agencies is where we come from, our union base and that 85 cents of every dollar raised goes on the ground…for Decent Work.”
Terri Daktyl SA Miscellaneous Workers Union (my former union) goes on a tour group to Vietnam and then supports HIV programmes. When she is tragically killed in a car accident, SA APHEDA activists now hold memorial dinners to raise funds and establish in Vietnam the Terri Daktyl Friendship Clubs for HIV sufferers.
Chapter 3 People Power
Father Brian Gore, a social justice priest in the Philippines jailed by President Marcos, addresses the 1986 APHEDA fundraiser and at first microscopes in Philippines health-training project are organised. Jenny Ashton, a Quaker, begins as the project officer in Phnom Penh as she is the only one who has been inside Cambodia. Donna Burns is posted to Tanzania to teach English to South African refugee children. Bill Leslie NSW Teachers Federation builds on his solidarity work with the Kanacks and with unionists John Halfpenny AMWU and ACTU Bill Richardson they develop awareness of the Kanack Independence Front against the French in New Caledonia. A key project is a new radio station. Training of Kanacks is in Australia in 1987 with the ABC, SBS, 3CR and the Alice Springs aboriginal media. The story tells of trained journalists speaking English returning to assist the Kanack struggle in 1989. The ABC’s journalists in BackGround Briefing become familiar with these Pacific stories.
The story moves on to successes with four nurses in Gaza and community training and health clinic, applauded by the UN. But in 1987, after Labor cuts the aid budget, APHEDA receives an increase to 3% of the ACTU budget and specific unions donate more to projects. Soon 100 unions support APHEDA (now less after amalgamations).
Phillip Hazelton recounts the challenges in devastated Cambodia. One is the struggle faced with the international embargo that means no aid and caught in geo-politics. Life is even more difficult to recover from the genocide. Ashton with the BWIU starts the building and staffing of the Health Worker Training School. In late 1987, under Philippines President Cory Aquino’s regime, AMWU and APHEDA support the National Federation of Sugar Workers with workshops to train for new farm tools and strengthening farmer co-operatives.
In 1988, Peter Jennings a Parish priest working in poor areas of the Philippines joins APHEDA as education and fundraising officer. Phillip Hazelton an activist with the Philippine Australia Union links starts as project officer for Asia Pacific. Their interesting stories are told. Both play a critical role in the next 20 years and both are leading APHEDA after Helen McCue retires. Peter Jennings’s experience leads to a deep understanding of the dynamics of poverty. He discusses with networks of Australian union activists on ways to deal with poverty that links union projects to skills development. By the end of 1988 with 31 projects APHEDA is ”punching above its weight.” Phillip Hazelton recounts beginning in Vietnam and in Cambodia where the Australian government does not have an Embassy. APHEDA assists in the long peace process.
Chapter 4 Safety first
APHEDA’s focus on OHS is illustrated in 1988 when Adelaide OHS trainer Mick Gallant is sent by APHEDA to Zimbabwe to deliver OHS seminars for the South African unions. Later training is in South Africa and appreciated by South African workers suffering high accident rates and health problems. Similar OHS programmes on workplace hazards and train the OHS trainer develop in Cambodia and the Philippines.
Slowly Phillip Hazelton introduces HIV training programmes as a workplace issue. This story is how to overcome social prejudices. These great challenges in South Africa take time. Over time, support is for HIV treatment from a new Treatment Access Campaign. The global union movement takes more action on HIV. APHEDA faces similar challenges in New Caledonia and the rest of the Pacific. HIV prevention training success gradually comes.
Chapter 5 Death and Freedom
In early 1989 the Kanack Liberation leader Jean Marie Tjibaou is assassinated, a devastating blow and independence is set back.
By contrast, the ANC steps up tours in Australia with great public support. The question of racist sport is on the agenda. Gareth Evans supports APHEDA’s strategy as professionalism and capacity to deliver good programmes is proven. He ensures $1 million through their International Development Assistance Bureau. The ALP government, although not able to directly support the ANC, does so through APHEDA without being accused of supporting armed struggle.
Just before Helen McCue retires she is with Eddie Funde in South Africa working on further aid programmes and putting successful arguments to the Government. Then the Nelson Mandela release news in February 1990 comes through. Soon Nelson Mandela meets Helen McCue warmly ‘good morning comrade’ in the ANC office lift. In May Gareth Evans meets Nelson Mandela and Government aid soars, with $5 million to APHEDA projects, $2 million for the repatriation of ANC refugees. Quickly projects are up and working well – training, literacy, radio, cooperatives, workers’ rights and OHS, HIV and capacity building. The projects build people’s capacities to improve their own communities. APHEDA is involved in the democratisation of sporting organisations. There is a lot of resistance, but Helen McCue attends the first ever multi-racial youth sports carnival and is elated.
A highlight recounted is Nelson Mandela speaking to 30,000 on the Opera House steps a wonderful celebration. Then Helen McCue at the crypt of St Mary’s Cathedral welcomes him with a wonderful speech.
Nelson Mandela, Letter to Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA, 3rd February 1993 and meeting in Sydney:
“APHEDA’s development assistance programmes have made a very significant contribution. Assistance is not only material, or helping realise the ultimate goal of freedom in South Africa. Assistance is about people, about people in Australia caring enough about our people to contribute financially, to contribute their time, their skills and their emotions. This is what sustains us. This is what is irreplaceable in human endeavor. This is the true meaning of solidarity.”
In June 1990 the Board appoints Phillip Hazelton as CEO. Helen McCue leaves pleased with the health of the organization. She is warmly praised. Donna Burns is the new Asia-Pacific project officer.
Phillip Hazleton takes over when the Liberal opposition, Senators Kemp and Bishop, in Parliament launch ferocious political and unjust attacks on APHEDA, on the Middle-East and South African projects. Gareth Evans rejects them as ideological. While defending the organisation at home, the stories continue of the South African projects such as media training, breaking down racial divisions.
Chapter 6 The path to peace
Building on his Vietnam experience, Phillip Hazleton enlarges 5 training projects and with partners the Vietnam’s Women’s Union is training trainers first in tropical medicines. In Cambodia, unions support new vocational training and Peter Jennings stresses re-developing teaching skills of Cambodians. Later these teachers become like TAFE teachers and change teaching from a passive method. Rebuilding the curriculum for TAFE teaching is challenging and rewarding. Barbara Fitzgerald, an Australian teacher, tells this story as country coordinator. She teaches English and supports domestic fish farming, reforestation and by lobbying for grants skills training in hotels and restaurants. In provinces literacy courses and garment-making for poor women are started. Then is work for the development for elections. The story is told of peace keeping efforts with tensions due to the Khmer Rouge. Gareth Evans and Paul Keating supporting peace efforts come to Cambodia and praise APHEDA. Finally there is a new Cambodian Constitution with “no death penalty, respect for human rights and personal freedom, equal pay for equal work and the right to strike“ and a new Cambodian government.
Chapter 7 Friends in high places
Gareth Evans tours in 1991 South Africa townships and supports APHEDA projects seeing what was happening on the ground “very important and heart warming” and later accepts Helen McCue’s invite to visit Lebanese camps, and acknowledges the people to people aid.
Chapter 8 Solidarity on tour
Michelle Willsher in 1991 reports of changes in Vietnam as a market economy emerges and workers’ rights are to be won against European capitalist companies. APHEDA does training on workers compensation, enterprise bargaining and English classes. In collaboration with the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour VGCL training union trainers starts. The VGCL visits ACTU Congress and a long relationship is formed. After lobbying the ACTU, a tour goes to Vietnam, then Laos and the Thai-Burma border and this success leads to other study tours. Phillip Hazleton leads the first tour to Palestine in 1998. Tour success stories are most interesting and succeed in educating unionists about the politics and social reality. Sally McManus now at the ACTU says tours are important in building solidarity. John Cummins CFMEU Victoria in 1999 is on the first East Timor study tour “the best week of my life” and commits union resources to projects and supports a TL construction union. (See as well later, not in this book, my APHEDA tour http://chriswhiteonline.org/2011/09/apheda-timor-leste-2011-study-tour/ See also other stories put in AHEDA).
After the Earth Summit of 1992, the environmental challenges are taken up by aid agencies. APHEDA says sustainability is now a key aim. Food security permaculture projects start adapting to global warming challenges. In the Middle East MA’AN permaculture develops but Israeli forces also destroy gains. Stories are of reforestation and saving mangroves in Cambodia and work in Pacific islands with rising oceans. But setbacks come with the Howard government cutting Aus-Aid money and closing environmental projects. APHEDA Chair Tas Bull expresses strong political criticism of Howard.
Chapter 9 A decade of achievement
APHEDA gains continuing support from the Hawke Labor government and from Gareth Evans – who still supports APHEDA by launching this book at the 2015 ACTU Congress (his speech http://www.gevans.org/speeches/speech572.html). OK, some of you like me protest against Gareth Evans for his role in stealing East Timor’s oil/gas, and indeed a story is recounted here where at an APHEDA’s 10th Anniversary fundraising dinner where unionists did so protest against the speaker Gareth Evans, but then still came into the APHEDA function.
Between 1996 and 2000, APHEDA’s AusAid grants for reputable projects are stable. But then PM Howard wrongly wipes them out. Peter Jennings says this is privatisation of the aid sector for private multi-nationals. Liberals again unjustly attack APHEDA in Parliament. APHEDA rethinks. Funding projects through individual unions and individual union members is to increase. WWF Tas Bull establishes an APHEDA levy $5 once a year from members and is soon supporting projects in Vietnam, South Africa and Cambodia. In 1998, APHEDA begins work in Timor Leste, with CFMEU committing $200,000 and building a vocational training centre. In 1996 Union-Aid Abroad is working in liberation areas in Burma, with health projects, mobile medical teams, midwives and developing primary care to 270,000 villagers. From 1989 the Mao Tao Clinic is established and is still going training thousands of health workers. In the Pacific, APHEDA’s projects are in Bougainville and in the Solomons, and Chris Chevalier’s story is Community Learning Centres in 2009 focusing on skills development.
Phillip Hazleton tells how APHEDA compares with other international aid agencies that say they are political by changing the balance of resources, but in political conflicts is non-partisan. APHEDA is political against apartheid, for East Timor independence and for liberation movements taking the sides of unions and social justice social movements. AHEDA continues to actively lobby governments here and overseas on social and labour rights.
Chapter 10 East Timor erupts
Elisabeth de lino De Araujo, soon to be APHEDA-Dili coordinator, argues the Santa Cruz massacre on November 12, 1993 where her brother was wounded and the expose in the international media is a key factor in galvanizing solidarity and the fight for freedom. APHEDA wants to assist but has the problem that the Australian government supports the Indonesians. Then with new Indonesian President Habibe the Independence YES referendum change is coming. With APHEDA member Peter Murphy a project starts with the Mary MacKillop Institute.
Alison Tate tours Australian unionists and dramatically they meet Xanana Gusmao in Indonesia under house arrest and discuss solidarity from the union movement.
Xanana Gusmao former Prime Minister and President of East Timor later says: “I commend the Australian union movement and its humanitarian aid agency Union Aid Abroad APHEDA for your solidarity and support to our independence struggle and your on-going commitment to supporting us in developing health, education, reconstruction and human rights programs.”
Elisabeth de Arujo recounts, after the massive YES vote for Independence, the horrific violence by the Indonesian militia. APHEDA supports Australian union protests, bans and strikes against Indonesia. This pressures PM Howard government not to pull out but to with the UN go into Timor Leste to stop the violence and restore peace with Independence. Peter Jennings recounts the widespread union industrial actions with bans pushed by rank and file anger ahead of the union leadership. With Independence celebrations in 2001 for Timor Leste, APHEDA organises relief monies. Projects are started, medical training, rebuilding houses and the vocational training centre, teacher training, starting a community radio station, office skills training, carpentry, sewing, bamboo growing and making of bamboo products and literacy classes – these continue.
The development follows union training projects in Cambodia and South Africa. In Timor Leste Jim Mellor from APHEDA raises the dangers of asbestos and trains on OHS prevention. He supports the first unions in disputes. As defending workers rights is central, with the TL Labour Advocacy Institute, APHEDA assists unions in negotiating a good Labour Code on ILO International Labour Organisation principles. Peter Jennings: “Timor Leste has the right to strike, that our Fair Work Australia does not.“ Unionist Didge McDonald from Darwin moves to Dili in 2002 and is “the father of the TL union movement”, helping workers to start unions and organize on OHS. With local leaders, APHEDA assists the formation of the KSTL Konfederasaun Sindikatu Timor-Leste. (later see my report http://chriswhiteonline.org/2013/03/kstl-kongresu-most-democratic/
Australian unions assist their equivalents – building, teaching, nursing, maritime and transport, public service and general workers union start and become active. In 2006, APHEDA is engulfed by the Timor Leste riots and deaths, 150,000 are displaced, and Australian troops intervene again and the Fretilin PM Alkatari is forced to resign. Xanna Gusmao is then voted in as PM. An active APHEDA-Dili office restarts training projects in carpentry, radio programmes, a theatre group presenting work issues and participation in labour and civil society challenges. Later Australian Working Women’s Centres develop the Timor Leste Working Women’s Centre, now campaigning on better conditions for domestic workers.
(Later APHEDA campaigns with the Timor Sea Justice campaign http://www.timorseajustice.com/TSJC/introduction against Australian foreign Minister Downer who in the 2004 TL negotiations illegally spies on the TL PM and unfairly forces Timor Sea arrangement on oil/gas revenues making it most difficult for development. See as well http://chriswhiteonline.org/2016/02/timor-sea-justice-campaign-2016-protests-24-march/ )TSJCProtest flyer A5 (1) (1)
By 2003 with Phillip Hazelton as leader in 12 months “28,769 people are in educational training programmes, literacy, trade union organizing, and HIV prevention and health” and is in 15 countries.
Peter Jennings tells the dramatic story of APHEDA responding to the 2004 Christmas day tsunami in Ache Indonesia. ‘The sheer extent of the devastation, the sheer extent of the suffering, was just unbelievable.’ APHEDA starts rebuilding projects, water sanitation and cleaning water wells, health skills training, as well as financial appeals.
APHEDA joins with the international union body ITUC with Sharon Burrow, former ACTU President, campaigning for the ILO Decent Work theme. In Vietnam, work continues to train workers to be able to enforce on European companies worker rights and labour standards, OHS prevention and developing capacity in women workers.
With the Rudd government some merit is restored to supporting APHEDA projects. Food security works in the West Bank and Gaza and skills training in the Solomon’s. APHEDA is active supporting the UN 8 Millennium Development Goals for reducing global poverty and inequality by 2015. But the 2008 Capitalist Financial Crisis and its aftermath see governments bailing out banks etc. and not human development goals. By 2010 austerity is on the world corporate agenda to crush the social agenda, attack unions and more profits for the 1%.
Projects that stress decent work and safety and skills training for the disabled are given priority, such as in Vietnam with ‘agent orange’ sufferers. APHEDA starts HIV and mental health programmes. Bob McMullan Labor Parliamentary Secretary for International Development takes up the APHEDA disability strategy.
Elisabeth de Araujo APHEDA-Dili says close connections with partners means progress for the community can be seen. APHEDA partners with other NGOs a HIV/AIDS project in Cambodia. In Vietnam, HIV training the trainers in unions is beneficial. Work on issues with the VGCL changing from the old model into independent unions and enterprise bargaining with the private sector companies under a market capitalist economy.
Chapter 20 The silent killer
After union campaigning in 2003 Australia joins 40 countries banning asbestos. Earlier this ACTU campaign forced from producer Hardies a compensation scheme for thousands of Australians dying of asbestosis. Phillip Hazelton in Vietnam initiates the anti-asbestos campaign in Asia. Killer companies in China, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Timor Leste are profiting from asbestos and unbelievably are still claiming it is safe. Phillip Hazleton recounts the difficulties in Laos with first complete ignorance of the asbestos cancer dangers. He with local NGOs and unions through projects build up awareness for the ban on asbestos that is then debated nationally in Laos. Similarly, the campaign banning asbestos in Vietnam is slow, but making progress with Vietnamese health experts, unions and NGOs supportive and the establishment of a National Asbestos Resource Centre, that includes training. The campaign aim is similar in other countries. The International Ban Asbestos Network supports APHEDA’s efforts. Please support the ongoing campaign to End Asbestos in South East Asia go to http://apheda.org.au/ending-asbestos-in-south-east-asia/
Chapter 21 The way forward
Kate Lee and ACTU Ged Kearney see a development for APHEDA to include organising strategies relevant to union campaigns, linking activities of Australian unionists to unionists in developing countries.
The drive is for more funding to be from individual union members educated as to the benefits of international work. Strengthening worker solidarity links through the Australian union movement and its activist membership and the struggle for global justice against global inequality has a healthy future.
Please buy this book $20 or only $10 per book for more than 5.
I am an active supporter of APHEDA for 30 years.
See my APHEDA reports and support for TL unions and the right to strike here http://chriswhiteonline.org/2012/11/sjt-tl-and-the-right-to-strike-part-one/
Please be a financial member with regular contributions. freecall 1800 888 674
APHEDA website http://apheda.org.au