BY JULIAN COPPENS
MELBOURNE — The Victorian branch of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union decided at its August 22 state council meeting to demonstrate outside Prime Minister John Howard's October 3 "Inaugural Ceremony and Dinner Address" to the Commonwealth Business Forum.
The CBF has been organised as an opportunity for Commonwealth governments to meet with corporations prior to the October 6 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Brisbane. CHOGM will be the final major meeting of governments before the launch of the next round of trade talks at the World Trade Organisation, expected to be called from Qatar in November. CHOGM includes 40% of the governments that will be represented at the WTO talks.
The Melbourne CBF is a chance for governments to "network" with corporations. This kind of "networking" can be particularly profitable for corporations looking to snap up bargains in Third World Commonwealth countries currently being forced to privatise public assets by the International Monetary Fund.
"The CBF is a meeting of people who we know aren't doing us any favours", AMWU state secretary Craig Johnston told Green Left Weekly. "They will be meeting to push through their economic rationalist and corporate globalisation agenda. We are protesting against that agenda and all that goes with it — workers being enslaved; child labour; a lack of trade union or human rights in many Third World countries; and the continuing attacks on trade unions and civil liberties in Australia as well."
"We think a focus on Howard is important because we see him as the face of the free market; he is anti-worker and anti-union", Johnston added.
The Howard government has recently called a royal commission into the building industry. The terms of reference indicate that it is likely to be used as an opportunity to attack militant unionists.
"This royal commission", Johnston said, "is a political attack on well-organised bunches of workers so they can try to crush us and then say to corporations: 'Look come and invest here 'cos you can exploit workers'."
Mainstream media coverage of the planned three-day blockade of the CBF by the O3 Alliance is being stepped up — spurred on by the highly visible Friday night blockades of the Nike superstore on Swanston Street. The planned protests against the CBF were featured the cover of the August 17 edition of the free newspaper MX and O3 Alliance spokesperson Sarah Peart was interviewed on radio station 3AW on August 20.
Johnston admits that not all members of his union support the protests against the CBF: "When you talk to workers about it... they identify with workers getting done over in other [countries] but of course they are constantly being bombarded with the capitalist media saying that the anti-corporate protesters are all mad.
"Among the more active, well-read workers there is a lot of support. Unfortunately, there are a lot of workers who believe a lot of the bullshit in the Herald Sun. In order to combat these ideas we have many stewards meetings and mass meetings. It is basically talking to workers and going through the issues.
"[Most] workers do understand that the Herald Sun and the Age are run by the likes of Packer and Murdoch. These are the same people who attacked the Maritime Union of Australia in 1998; attack the meatworkers; are the ones behind this royal commission and so on."
Johnston rejects the view that, because the Howard government aims to vilify militant unionists, the AMWU should play a less public role in political protest: "We say politics is life and if you don't play a political role then you don't play any role at all. We think the more active, committed and educated layers of workers are the ones who are at the forefront of most community protests."