Rally against IR Laws – 28 June 2006

Ignorance of a worse world to come?
Unions at SouthBank Cultural Forecourt

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s chief executive, Peter Hendy, declared the national protest a failure, as he claimed the union movement only managed to mobilise 2% of Australian workers. Under the front organisation, Employers First, East Timor-style counter demonstrations were planned against the unions – you know to hold up pro-Australian Workplace Agreement signs, to throw abuse at the unionists – nothing major like burning down union buildings, not yet anyway. Luckily the federal Industrial relations minister, Kevin Andrews, called the counter demos off at the last moment when he realised he could not even get his kids (who are share traders) to make up the numbers at the bosses demos.

In Brisbane, the best the employers could do was to have one fellow standing at the bottom of the hill going up to Roma St parklands with the sign, “It’s my right to choose an AWA.” When I saw him I wondered if he perhaps was the sole representative of the Employer First counter demonstration. The consensus amongst the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union (AMIEU) crowd was that he was either a self-employed businessman, or a (slightly deranged) Liberal Party supporter. The meatworkers’ comment in passing was: “Wait until the construction workers see him.”

In fact, a retired member of the Australian Services Union (Clerks) commented that she saw a big ruckus with a whole group of CFMEU members abusing a man with a sign, and a group of police apparently running to his rescue. She had not been able to see what it was all about, but it turned out to be the deranged AWA supporter. The Qld coppers hung around to defend this guy’s civil liberties right to the end of the march, even as the “Workers of all Countries Unite” banner went by.

One thing that I noticed about the rally was that there were a lot of women (see photo below). I think this is because women are direct casualties of the WorkChoices legislation arising from their precarious job security. Womens’ work is highly casualised and temporary. I do not think wages is the issue. I think it is job security. Managers and employers are using the new legislation to ramp up the bullying of workers in the psychological warfare produced by the government.

What are unions doing to focus on this?

There needs to be some defining moment when the issue of AWAs (currently conducted by the union leadership largely in an abstract and intellectual debate) becomes an organised struggle of opposition by workers.

The Spotlight case is a clear example of how not to conduct an industrial campaign with union officials and the ALP getting into media debates about the accuracy of the amount of money that workers are losing. Did you see that the SDA official, Joe de Bruyn, sided with Andrews on this issue? The SDA do not need members, they have enough accumulated wealth to function without union dues.

Both the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) and the Construciton Forestry Mining and Engineering Union (CMFEU) were the best organised contingents in the march. The SDA contingent was quite large and as you would expect had a lot of women in it. The ETU had a small rally in the carpark at the Boundary hotel in West End after the march. Did you hear the ETU blokes saying that they have declared the old ALP pub, the Terminus hotel, “black” because all the staff there have just been put on AWAs by management. And there is Beazley taking 10 years to come out against AWAs!

The ETU got Tommy Radonikis to speak at the Boundary. Chartered buses were waiting to take the workers to and from the pub. The ETU way of organising in a group is the way to go.

There was one aspect of the Brisbane march on the day that I am curious about.

The QCU had marshals placed at the Southbank Cultural Forecourt on the Victoria Street end just prior to the march at about 12:30pm.

It was the marshalls’ job to organise each union contingent to join the march in a orderly fashion. WorkLife were at the head of the march. They were followed by the Rail Tram & Bus Unions, AWU, AMIEU, Queensland Services Union the ETU, Builders labourers Federation (BLF), ASU and so on.

However as the marshals were waving on the National Union of Workers (NUW) to join the march, the Socialist Alliance contingent joined in the march in front of the CFMEU.

Personally I marched with a small group at the end of the march behind “Workers of all Countries Unite” banner.

This included a few wharfies who did not have an MUA contingent to march with. The lack of an organised MUA contingent in the march did not seem to tally with Combet’s claim at the rally afterwards that the MUA dispute in 1998 was a victory for the union.

No matter what union officials say, many union members like those wharfies feel comfortable with slogans like Workers of All Countries Unite.

They too had no truck with the coppers or the pro-AWA protestor. Banter like “even the SDA could not support that guy”. These workers were so comfortable marching behind this banner they ended up carrying it at the end of the march.

Why is there not some attempt by workers political organisations involved in the struggle to organise a red contingent at the end of the march in November 2006?

Ian Curr
5 July 2006

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