A new low: The Swedish Transport Workers' Union shifts position on the APMT Gothenburg Dispute

2016-11-09 Initial response to the Swedish Transport Workers' Union statement in support of the employer in the APMT Gothenburg Dispute.

This week, the Swedish Dockworkers' Union (SDU) has was informed by dockworkers´ unions around the world that officials from APM Terminals (APMT) are falsely describing the APMT Gothenburg Dispute as a consequence of in-fighting between the SDU (affiliated to IDC) and the Swedish Transport Workers' Union (affiliated to the ITF).


The SDU refutes this claim as a convenient rumor propagated by local APMT management, who face reoccurring production failures. These failures result from a lack of effort by AMPT to solve- or even constructively address- any one of many outstanding labor issues outlined for discussion during a five-month cooling-off period in the APMT Gothenburg Dispute this summer and fall.


SDU believes most/all issues at hand are vital and urgent to all dockworkers in the APMT Gothenburg terminal, regardless of trade union affiliation. SDU holds that they shared the same views on many of these issues with local representatives of the Swedish Transport Workers' Union (STWU): SDU and STWU raised and negotiated these issues together, with a single unified position against an uncompromising employer.


The statement made today by Lars Lindgren, STWU National Chairman, came to SDU as a bitter surprise and changes many things. By presenting themselves as victims of circumstance, STWU plays into the hands of the local APMT management. Lindgren's active support for APMT Gothenburg is documented in a public review of the company:


“APMT Gothenburg follows Swedish law and follows the rules in relation to its legal counterpart which is the STWU. The APMT Gothenburg is neither better nor worse than other port operators in Sweden.”


At present, SDU does not know what motivated STWU´s sudden shift in position and their nonchalance towards issued they previously campaigned to change: For instance, APMT's blatant disregard for the Annual Leave Act and the Parental Leave Act. SDU does know a large portion of the white-collar staff as well as the STWU members in APMT Gothenburg do not agree with Lindgren's characterization of the conduct displayed by current terminal management.  


SDU does recognize the STWU statement earlier today coincided with APMT´s decision to postpone new negotiations concerning the dispute until next week, which was presented alongside an unbending statement to port customers.


As the STWU statement is riddled with insinuations and mistruths, SDU feels obliged to spend effort to clarify the worst of these inaccuracies, although they would much prefer to be able to focus their attention on fighting for a decent working environment.


First, some background facts: SDU Local 4 organizes 85% of the dockworkers in APMT Gothenburg. Nationally, SDU organizes a majority of the active (non-retired) dockworkers in the industry. A diplomatic publication by Ports of Sweden, the national employers' organization, estimates SDU and STWU have an equal member-share of dockworkers in an industry with high union affiliation.


SDU has fought to become a stakeholder in the national CBA since it's foundation in 1972, and is still proposing a solution where they co-sign contracts with Ports of Sweden and STWU. Both the STWU and the Ports of Sweden have continuously rejected this. Lindgren's suggestion that we don't want to sign a CBA is therefore untrue.


Since 1972, SDU has lived with the fact they are not allowed to sign the CBA, despite organizing the majority of the dockworkers. SDU has also learned to co-exist with local employers, STWU, and to exercise influence in the ports where we are represented.


Due to the fact that SDU lacks the tools granted to the union in signing the CBA, they are forced to rely on industrial action when employer's do not respect their employees. Industrial action in Sweden is largely regulated by laws (Lindgren describes these laws fairly accurately in the first half of his second paragraph). These laws help to encourage SDU to ask for outstanding issues to be regulated in a CBA.  SDU does ask, well aware of the fact that the proposal will be rejected (as it was in the APMT Gothenburg Dispute). SDU then seeks alternative solutions as per agreed upon by their members.  


The STWU knows the struggled faced by SDU, but in its new alignment with APMT Gothenburg it appears to prefer to present these struggles as a conflict with a hidden agenda. Lindgren's statement implies the SDU is in fact looking for an office inside the terminal or to dump conditions in the national CBA by changing the local starting time from 7.00 am to 6.00 am. It should be noted that SDU has been offered an office inside the terminal on many occasions since 1990, but rejects this offer on the grounds that they prefer their union office to be located outside the terminal gates in case of a lock-out.


The STWU statement, together with a later press release stating that they now oppose further participation of elected SDU officers in Health & Safety issues at APM Terminals, is a new low.


The STWU's statement today will have long-term implications locally, nationally and internationally. However, the SDU still has a job to do. On behalf of SDU, we would like to affirm to dockworker unions around the world and curious APMT officials that SDU is not engaged in any union in-fighting. Despite STWU´s efforts to attack us, our concerns remain focused on local APMT management: They alone hold the keys to re-establishing a decent working environment for all Gothenburg dockworkers. Local APMT management will remain SDU´s sole focus until the APMT Gothenburg Dispute is resolved.


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