(en) Mercenaries recruited to break the unions

Andrew Flood (andy@tao.ca)
Fri, 12 Dec 1997 05:30:59 -0500 (EST)

A AA AAAA The A-Infos News Service AA AA AA AA INFOSINFOSINFOS http://www.tao.ca/ainfos/ AAAA AAAA AAAAA AAAAA


Brussels, December 12 1997 (ICFTU OnLine): Mercenaries recruited to break the unions, soldiers trained in Dubai in an undercover operation which, according to the ICFTU, clearly bears the fingertips of the conservative government. Australia is facing its own Watergate on the waterfront. In the meantime, the London- based International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) will today launch a major international campaign. A ban on Australian ports and that of Dubai is not to be ruled out.

As he put down the telephone receiver, John Combs couldn't believe his ears. As national secretary of the powerful Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), Combs had heard rumours that the government wanted to break his organisation, which it held responsible for preventing the modernisation of the ports by defending the dockers' rights. But mercenaries? An undercover operation, run by the army? Training at a port in the United Arab Emirates? It all seemed a bit far-fetched. Yet the man he was later to call Friend No.1. wasn't making it up and, like Deep Throat in the Watergate story, seemed very well informed. The first call from Friend No.1, was in November 1997. On November 13, a small ad. appeared in "The Army", the Australian Armed Forces (ADF) magazine, offering "diggers"(1) a "civilian career opportunity". Given that the ADF is planning to cut its staff from 57,000 to 50,000 in three years, the offer must have been tempting.

But in re-reading the advertisement, John Combs got a surprise: the skills required could be mistaken for those of many of the higher skilled workers in the Australian docks, specialists in the use of heavy equipment, the maintenance of hydraulic machinery, engine repairs. Furthermore, the jobs offered were in Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, all the big ports along the Australian waterfront. What if Friend No.1 were right? The name Mike Wells that appeared at the bottom of the ad. and the company CTMS that he claimed to represent meant nothing to him. But he began to make inquiries, with the help of Friend No.1.

It seemed that Wells was not entirely unknown. Inquiries at the Australian Securities Commission, an official, public data bank, identified him as a director of the International Port Services Training Group Ltd., a training company for port personnel, created on 13 October 1997. No-one seemed to have heard of the company, or of Fynwest Pty Ltd., registered ten days earlier, giving its director's name as?Mike Wells. It seemed that Mr. Wells had spent 14 years in the Australian army and the time he spent in Vietnam, in 1966 and 1967, had earned him several medals. But Wells is not the only head of Fynwest and International Port Services Training Group. He shares that privilege with a certain Peter Kilfoyle.

Combs found the case serious enough to refer it to the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU). If Friend No.1 was right, the story could be explosive. Kilfoyle was identified. As a specialist in unarmed combat and a VIP bodyguard, he had worked for a private security firm before joining the newly created Fynwest. Between 1975 and 1983, he was in the Army, and spent five years in the elite Special Air Service, the famous SAS.

The ACTU sought further information from Friend No.1 and other sources, and as the picture was gradually put together they found that 70 people had been recruited by Wells and Kilfoyle, that they would be "trained" at the port in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, for three months, before coming back to Australia to train another contingent of 150 men at a secret location.

By then Combs was convinced that Friend No.1 had hit the bulls-eye: mercenaries were going to be trained in a Middle East port, and they would come back to Australia to train others for an undercover operation due to begin in March next year, with the aim of neutralising the MUA. On December 3, on the eve of the departure of the first contingent, the ACTU and the MUA published the first press release: they asked the government for clarifications and produced several documents. The Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, claims to know nothing about the whole affair, but refuses to answer questions from members of parliament who are demanding to know whether government funds have been used for the Fynwest operation. The press is talking of 10 million dollars. Interviewed by a journalist from the Financial Review, Mike Wells claims he is working for an international consortium that prefers to remain anonymous and that the recruits will be working in the Pacific, not in Australia.

But Friend No.1 is there and a favourable wind has brought the ACTU and the MUA the copy of a confidential contract offered by Fynwest to the future mercenaries. It gives clear, military- style instructions. "Once operations commence (expected mid-March 1998) you will be returned to your respective City of origin/operation". Before that however the recruits will be required to conduct three weeks of "instructional training" for a second group "possibly 120 to 180 people". "This will entail you being 'locked-in' for the period of training" explains Fynwest. "The foregoing is considered necessary to obviate regular movement in and out of the site of large groups of people, which would draw attention from the locals".

As the government continues to deny it, the ADF admits that 29 soldiers took part in the first expedition. Two recruits who turned down the contract say that during the interview with Fynwest their interviewer confirmed the government was supporting the whole operation. A photo from 1994 pulled out of the archives by a local newspaper shows Peter Kilfoyle wearing a security badge and holding an umbrella for the Prime Minister of the State of Victoria, Jeff Kennett. He claims they've got the story all wrong, but thinks that introducing order into the ports would be no bad thing.

Alerted by the Australian trade unions, the ICFTU and the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) have rallied to their side. An international campaign has been launched. And John Combs is going to preparatory meetings in London and Brussels. The identity of Friend No.1 will not be disclosed for security reasons. On the waterfront, the MUA dockers are prepared. When the mercenaries leave Dubai on February 28, it may not be a triumphal return home.

But perhaps by then the government will have had to put an end to an operation which is proving a major embarrassment.

(1)"Digger" is the name given to Australian soldiers, dating back to the first world war when they were used on the front lines to dig the trenches. Contact: ICFTU-Press at: ++32-2 224.02.12 (Brussels).

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ International Anarchism http://flag.blackened.net/revolt/inter.html

Irish Struggles http://flag.blackened.net/revolt

****** A-Infos News Service ***** News about and of interest to anarchists

Subscribe -> email MAJORDOMO@TAO.CA with the message SUBSCRIBE A-INFOS Info -> http://www.tao.ca/ainfos/ Reproduce -> please include this section