The Victorian Socialist Alliance's lead candidate for the Senate, Margarita Windisch, gave this speech to the monthly meeting of the Melbourne branch of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA).
Thank you for the invitation to address this meeting. Some of you might be familiar with the Socialist Alliance, having seen us at many protests, meetings and picket lines. We don't just pop our heads up at election time — we are an activist party all year round, involved in many issues affecting ordinary people.
Voting is very important but, as MUA comrades know best through your own experience, we can't rely on politicians to fight for our rights — we have to do it ourselves. That's why the Socialist Alliance has been the backbone of many social movements, such as the anti-war movement; works closely with Indigenous activists; has helped organise actions around climate change and the anti-terror laws; and works in union solidarity groups.
We have many members active in their unions, from blue collar to white collar, from rank-and-file activists to officials, including in the MUA. The unions are fundamental to a healthy community and today are really the only mass organisation of people we have in our society.
Our party is pretty young, only six years old, but our commitment to defending the right to have a union and to help build the union movement has earned us respect across the board. Already the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, Electrical Trades Union and Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union have given us support for this election campaign.
Talking to many people, and seeing the experience of Your Rights at Work campaigners, has confirmed that Work Choices and climate change are the key issues people most worry about.
There is scientific evidence that if no serious and drastic action is taken in the immediate future, we might not be able to save the planet or offer our children a decent future. We have the technology and the know-how to move away from fossil fuels but we lack a government that has the will to prioritise stopping global warming.
Instead we have a government that is looking after its big business mates at the expense of people and the planet.
Climate change is the most serious threat before us and it needs united action by all the different sectors, such as unions, peace activists, environmentalists and others.
Our specific policies are:
1. Emergency action on climate change . Our climate change
charter outlines how we can preserve the planet and not just save but create new and better jobs through retraining and factory retooling. Here public ownership of the power industry is critical to direct the overall conversion effort to sustainable energy. Also, just look what happened when electricity got privatised in the La Trobe Valley — it destroyed the community!
We support the phasing out coal and would have heavy investment in renewable energy with massive job creation to maintain employment and communities.
2. On the industrial relations front we say tear up all of Work Choices. Remove all regulations that affect people's right to organise on the workplace. We don't agree with Labor's decision to keep AWAs [individual contracts] and the Australian Building and Construction Commission (even just for some years) nor their support for restrictions on the right to strike and unions' right of entry to workplaces. This is anti-union and only benefits the bosses.
On other issues of concern to working people:
Casualisation and underemployment is a massive issue, disguising the real unemployment figures. The Socialist Alliance supports any moves by unions to force employers to convert casual jobs into secure permanent jobs.
The Socialist Alliance believes that the old apprenticeship ratio should be reinserted into awards, to force employers to train the next generation of workers. Bosses can't have it both ways — complaining about a skills shortage but then refusing to train apprentices
In the maritime industry, the Socialist Alliance is opposed to the abuse of loopholes in the Navigation Act that allow governments and employers to undermine cabotage.
[Cabotage is a system where only Australian seafarers can crew ships registered in Australia that carry cargo between Australian ports. The government is issuing single voyage permits allowing foreign vessels (often flag-of-convenience ships) to trade on the Australian coast, with a crew which is paid well below local standards.]
We also support the 2003 High Court ruling that stipulates that if a ship is in the Australian coastal trade or operating in Australian waters, Australian workplace laws, customs and tax laws must apply irrespective of what flag a ship flies, what nationality the crew is or what country the shipping company or employer is based in.
The Socialist Alliance wants all troops withdrawn from Iraq and Afghanistan, and builds the anti-war movement in order to win that demand. Congratulations to the MUA for being an important part of that movement.
I myself am a health worker by trade and have seen at first hand the devastating effects of cuts to services on people's lives, and these cuts have been implemented over the years by Coalition and Labor governments alike.
There is something seriously wrong when banks and big companies boast about their billion dollar record profits, when the CEO of Australia Post (which is still a public company) gets $2.3 million a year and ordinary people are struggling to pay the rent, get their teeth fixed or send their kids to university.
The Socialist Alliance is fighting to change that, and we regard parliament as just one more front in that fight. Any Socialist Alliance member elected has pledged to only take the wage of a skilled worker and we would be proudly wearing our "dare to struggle, dare to win" T-shirts with the Eureka flag in the parliamentary chamber!