'We're angry and we want to fight'
Emma Murphy, Adelaide
Young people today are not just the "future work force" — many of us are already in it, while putting ourselves through uni and often supporting our family. So we know how disempowering and unfair the workplace can be, and we also know that Work Choices will make them worse.
Recently in Victoria, Spotless Catering was forcing 14- and 15-year-old workers to become independent contractors, with their own ABN numbers, their own workers' compensation and so on. And this was before Work Choices came in.
Young workers are already over-represented in casualised, un-unionised workplaces. In the last decade, more than 500 young people have lost their lives in workplace accidents. More than 35% suffered some kind of workplace bullying, and most don't feel confident enough to report it.
How much worse is it going to get for us under Work Choices? What hope do young people have "negotiating" for themselves while unions are restricted from even entering the workplace? If we ask for something to be included in our agreement without realising it's "prohibited content", will we be fined $6000? Do you think we'd be taking crap jobs at McDonald's for less than $10 an hour if we had $6000 to spare?
Young people are already over-represented among those workers being sacked since Work Choices came in. We're very concerned for the future and we're also very angry, and we're here today because we want to be part of the campaign to defeat these laws.
It was this anger that led Resistance to organise the student strike on June 1, which some 1600 students and young workers took part in across the country.
Working rights are never just given — they're fought for. It makes us angry that now we have to fight to defend the very rights which were fought for and won so many years ago. But we can and must fight — and we will win!
This is an industrial struggle. But it's also a political struggle, and I'm not just talking about elections. High school students are considered old enough to work, to pay taxes, to risk their life (and sometimes even lose it in unsafe workplaces), but not old enough to vote against Work Choices! That's crap!
This is a political fight, and we're going to take the power where and when we can. We're bringing this fight into our schools, campuses, workplaces and homes. And most importantly, we're bringing it into the streets! That's the only way we can show our opposition and defeat Work Choices.
The French students and workers didn't wait for the elections to fight their anti-worker laws; they kept fighting and struggling and striking, and they won.
That's what we can and must do here. Workers united will never be defeated!
[Emma Murphy is the Adelaide Resistance organiser. This is an abridged version of a speech she delivered to the June 28 protest against Work Choices.]
From Green Left Weekly, July 5, 2006.
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