Thousands rally for locked-out workers



GEELONG — More than 2000 unionists rallied on August 27 to demand an end to the 15-week lock-out of Geelong Wool Combing employees.

In a colourful lunchtime rally, building workers rubbed shoulders with public servants, teachers, nurses, metalworkers and workers from almost every other industry in Geelong, to express their solidarity and outrage. Possibly the biggest rally in Geelong since the 1998 attacks on the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), it was attended by representatives of every union.

Even the workers from another local textile factory, Godfrey Hirst, came despite threats of legal action and intimidation. Godfrey Hirst promptly took the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia to the Industrial Relations Commission seeking to sue the TCFUA because the workers attended the rally. Godfrey Hirst did not receive permission to sue.

Union officials from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), the MUA, Victorian Trades Hall Council and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) pledged their support at the protest.

Martin Kingham, Victorian secretary of the CFMEU, received big applause. CFMEU members in Geelong are pledging between $20 and $50 each week to the locked-out workers.

Kevin Bracken, MUA Victorian secretary, told the rally that, "This attack on these workers is part of the same attack that is trying to take away our Medicare, our education and our right to organise", before handing a check for $100,000 to the TCFUA shop steward at Geelong Wool Combers, Glen Musgrove, for the solidarity fund.

AMWU organiser Tony Mazzaratti accompanied workers from ACI in Melbourne, who have been locked out by their company for 125 days, to the rally. He explained to the rally that lock-outs were becoming more common as employers got more aggressive with unions.

The rally ended with a noisy march around town led by the locked-out workers. Musgrove thanked everyone for their support, saying, "This is Geelong — this shit doesn't happen here. All the unions and the community are united on this, we will win this fight. GWC, Geelong's Worst Company — this fight is not over yet."

From Green Left Weekly, September 3, 2003.

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