Trade unionists and community activists held a forum called "After the budget, build the fightback" in Melbourne on May 24 organised by the Socialist Alliance to discuss joint actions to campaign against the federal budget.
The first panel featured four speakers, Paul Gilbert, acting secretary of the Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation Victorian branch; Kate Borland, a health, welfare and housing activist; Tim Gooden, Secretary of the Geelong Trades and Labour Council and Colin Long, president of the Victorian Trades Hall Council and Victorian Secretary of the National Tertiary Education Union.
Gooden said it was important to see the budget as an attack by the ruling class, not just by Prime Minister Tony Abbott. He said there was a clear reason for the government to privatise anything that was profitable, such as Australia Post and Melbourne Ports. This is because it reduces costs to big business, including payroll taxes and workers’ compensation, reducing wages and the push for a budget surplus.
Kate Borland outlined how 12,000 public housing properties have already been sold in Victoria. People who had lived for very long periods, some for 60 years or more, in public housing were being told to vacate their homes. She argued it is essential to retain public housing if homelessness for these people was to be avoided and they were to be kept safe. Unions needed to support such campaigns.
Long said that the education cuts would mean making students pay more, heightening the competition between educational institutions and making universities charge more fees. He said this relied on the notion that universities are like businesses and that competition is good.
But these changes will destroy the education system because it will lead to the closure of some universities and research will be diminished. It will drive students to the cheaper providers leading to less money for research. It will result in attacks on staff conditions; casualisation will rise while working conditions will be eroded. Competition ethos will undermine collaborative research especially across institutes. It means a spiral of decline and inequality of educational opportunities.
Long explained that the Victorian Trades Hall Council executive had unanimously voted to plan an all unions rally against the budget in June.
This panel and the lively discussion that followed set the tone for the rest of the day.
The final session discussed how to build the fightback against the budget. Speakers included Electrical Trades Union Victorian Secretary Troy Gray via video, Godfrey Moase from the National Union of Workers, Moreland Socialist Alliance Councillor, Sue Bolton and Joan Doyle, Victorian president of the Postal and Telecommunications branch of the Communications Workers Union.
The discussion canvassed strategies and tactics, including how momentum for a general strike might be built. A number of resolutions were passed by acclamation, calling for escalating action against the government's agenda, on how to effectively build the upcoming Victorian union-community day of action on June 12, and why the demand that the ALP and Greens block the budget and oppose any increase in the GST should be central to the anti-budget campaign.