Unemployed activists, with the support of the Geelong Trades Hall Council, have established a branch of the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union (AUWU) in Geelong.
The branch conducted its first action on February 6 when six activists surveyed people outside the local Centrelink office.
Among those surveyed, the biggest issues were a lack of high-quality full-time employment, the low rate of Newstart and Centrelink’s poor service, including very long waiting times. A number of those surveyed indicated their keenness for future involvement with the AUWU.
William Luxford, who was elected secretary of the AUWU Geelong Branch on February 6, told Green Left Weekly that jobseekers and workers “need to stand together”.
“Instead of social security being a way to support people who are out of work, it is just one more measure being used to turn working people against jobseekers,” he said.
“Furthermore, ‘mutual obligations’ is not about forcing people to get jobs, it is about forcing people to compete for jobs, no matter how poor the quality of the job is. [The government] wants us to be in a constant state of dread of unemployment as it makes workers more pliable and unlikely to take industrial action.
“If jobseekers owe any obligation at all, it’s to the unionists fighting for better pay, conditions and jobs. The only mutual obligation that any unemployed or working person should be interested in is solidarity with each other.”
Luxford also took aim at the federal government for “forcing people to do unpaid work and denying them workers compensation”.
AUWU activist Sam Wischmann told Green Left Weekly: “[Through today’s action] we've gained further insight into where and how to go about organising this stuff.”
“We have gotten word out about our organisation, talking with more people who are also fed up with the treatment of jobseekers. We put our positions forward and heard their stories too.
“Through my own cursory glances at the histories of different social movements I think it is clear that jobseekers together with working people can be organised as a serious political force, able to push forward real positive change in people's lives. [The AUWU] will work to build this in Geelong and beyond.”
The establishment of an AUWU branch in Geelong comes at a time when total unemployment and underemployment — people working 15 hours or less a week — in the region sits at a combined 20%, according to the 2016 Census. This figure is higher than 30% in some of Geelong’s most disadvantaged suburbs.
These figures have been exacerbated in recent years by the closures of Alcoa and Ford, which have historically provided a significant portion of full-time employment in the region.
The federal government, aided by the mainstream media, has continued to ramp up their attacks on jobseekers through targeted demonisation and increasingly punitive welfare measures. This is despite unemployment, hidden unemployment and underemployment increasing, with not enough jobs available to employ everyone.
Australia wide, there are 17 jobseekers for every job vacancy, according to the latest data compiled by the AUWU.
[You can keep up to date with the AUWU Geelong Branch by liking their Facebook page.]