Time to turn up the heat in the campaign against the government

June 27, 2014
We need town hall and stop work meetings around the country to organise for action. Photo: Peter Boyle.

The government is ducking and weaving in the face of combined resistance to its cruel budget.

Employment Minister Eric Abetz admitted to a Senate Estimates hearing on June 26 that the Productivity Commission's review of the Fair Work Act will now be delayed until the second half of this year.

The media say this is to allow the government to devote its energies into getting its budget measures through, and to avoid an all-out campaign by unions to "revive the spectre of Work Choices".

We can already see potential for a campaign bigger than Work Choices against Prime Minister Tony Abbott's attacks. In 2005, more than 600,000 people rallied around the country against then-PM John Howard's workplace laws on November 15. It was a Tuesday, and hundreds of thousands walked off the job to attend, risking fines and penalties for doing so.

But such was the depth of feeling against Howard's brave new world, that threats of legal action were not enough to stop them. More than 250,000 people rallied in Melbourne that day.

Today it is not just workers and unions under attack. The government has managed to unite almost every sector — except the wealthy — against his government's attacks. Let's revive the spirit of the struggle against Work Choices, but let's multiply it to defeat these attacks.


'Bust the budget' rallies are being held in Brisbane, Newcastle, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Wodonga, Adelaide and Perth on July 6. These rallies are being organised by a mix of labour movement and community groups, some of which arose out of the March Australia movement.

March Australia groups in cities across the country have already announced August 31 as a national day of action, and this could be even bigger than the July rallies, with several regional centres joining it.

There is a need to build this campaign and keep up momentum in the face of government attacks. Their cruel budget is just one front. Next will come attacks on penalty rates, the minimum wage and the right to organise.

Already, our democratic rights to protest are being severely undermined, with Queensland and Victoria passing draconian anti-association laws last year, and Tasmania set to do the same this year.

What is required is an industrial and community campaign. Unionists can and must play a leading role. Our movement has been weakened by decades of compromise by sections of the leadership. But rank-and-file workers are affected by these attacks and have shown they are ready to take action when the call is made.

To build an effective, national campaign against these attacks, we need town hall and stop work meetings around the country — to raise awareness about the attacks coming down, but also to organise in our communities for action.

Union resources need to be diverted away from supporting ALP candidates, to educating and organising members for action.

Electrical Trades Union Victorian state secretary Troy Gray spoke to a Fightback conference, organised by the Socialist Alliance in late May. Gray told the conference the ETU decided last year to adopt a political approach to their campaigns on the job to tackle the rhetoric that workers have to tighten their belts.

Gray told the conference that the union aims to build a campaign that has an industrial arm, a political arm, a research arm and a community arm and want to bring along other unions with them.

I had the pleasure of addressing the Victorian ETU's delegates conference last week, attended by hundreds of ETU delegates who all seemed ready to take up the challenge of fighting back against the conservative agenda.


Geelong Trades Hall Council (GTHC), along with other regional trades and labour councils across Victoria are either planning their own delegates meetings, or will be busing in delegates to any mass meetings held in Melbourne.

The Border TLC in Albury-Wodonga will be hosting a combined union-community meeting about the impacts of the federal budget and GTHC is also planning one in the coming weeks. GTHC is also throwing it's resources in to building the March in August rally too. These activities should be taking place in every region.

Unions are longstanding organisations of our class, and hold the lessons and history of the battles fought in the past against the bosses' interests. We have a duty to educate our members, and to bring this experience into the movement, and to link up with other sectors, including the social movement campaigners who have been fighting attacks on welfare, on health, education, housing and on our environment. There is an urgent need to build alliances between all sectors struggling — one that is non-exclusive and democratic.

The ACTU has been found wanting so far in this campaign. Part of the problem is that they still fall into line behind the ALP's electoral campaign strategy and timeline. This has meant that they are unable to make quick shifts in response to attacks, and are not providing campaign leadership.

This has been illustrated in Victoria, where a state election is scheduled for November. There are signs that some unions want to slow the campaign down to string it out to coincide with the state and then the federal election.

Victorian Trades Hall Council executive met on June 27 and are committed to building a big rally on July 6. The ACTU has requested delegates and shop stewards meetings in September to build for a national day of action in mid October.


What is needed is a ramping up of the campaign, building on the mobilisations so far, culminating in a national day of industrial and community action sooner than the ACTU's preferred date of October. We need to take the fight up to the government now. The famous phrase from the Internationale to "strike while the iron is hot" applies here. Inaction is our undoing.

The forces are not yet there to sustain a rally every week, different sectors can take it in turn to hold actions, then combine for several national or statewide days of action.

The Greens (and ALP) refused to block supply this week. This means that the weakening of pensions indexation, funding cuts to the ABC and SBS and the axing of legal aid funding have all passed. They have given a commitment to oppose individual budget measures including the changes to the pension age and changes to higher education. But we can't let the Greens and Labor off the hook.

The campaign outside parliament against Abbott's attacks cannot be allowed to be slowed down and reoriented towards bolstering Labor's prospects at the next election.

We all agree that the Abbott government has to go, but simply reelecting the ALP won't solve the problem. Any new government will need to be held to account. The only way to do this is through building a strong campaign now that continues beyond the next election. The experience of the previous Labor governments holding on to Howard's anti-worker laws and the GST shows that workers can not trust Labor to reverse the cuts or the attacks.

[Tim Gooden is a member of Socialist Alliance and is Secretary of the Geelong Trades Hall Council.]

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