Unionists march for the right to strike

Unionists marching down the street carrying banners and flags.
A rally defending the right to strike, in Sydney on May 29. Photo: Zebedee Parkes

About 700 members of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and other unions gathered at Sydney Town Hall on May 29, and marched to the offices of the Fair Work Commission (FWC) where a lively rally was held calling for an end to laws limiting the right to strike.

The action was organised around demands for the right to organise, right to strike and right to live.

In calling the rally, the MUA said: "Breaking the shackles on our right to organise and strike is the way workers can rebuild union strength and membership, grow wages and push back the growth of corporate power over all aspects of our lives.

"The Maritime Union of Australia, Sydney Branch, has initiated this rally in the face of multiple attacks from bosses using the ‘Fair Work’ Commission. At Hutchison Ports, bosses tried to force workers straight back into unsafe conditions following a serious industrial accident that has left a straddle-carrier driver in a coma. 

"Union officials were denied entry to the workplace in the wake of the accident. Workers have been stood down for exercising their rights under Workplace Health and Safety laws.

"Workers across the country on picket lines are being targeted and scab strike breakers are being used during ‘protected’ action to do their work, all with the backing of the Fair Work Act. The branch and officials are facing lawsuits. Nationally, the MUA faces fines or damages costs totalling more than $200 million.

"MUA members in Sydney [are] taking a strong stand on May 29 to say enough is enough. We want big contingents from all unions to show that workers are willing to stand together to fight for our right to strike, our right to work with dignity and our right to come home alive."

The workers marched through city streets to the FWC, chanting, "The workers united will never be defeated" and "One struggle, one fight, we demand the right to strike".

MUA Assistant national secretary Warren Smith told the crowd outside the FWC office: "Congratulations to all the workers at Port Botany, who have walked out today, and all other workers on strike for this action. We will continue this campaign until we win the right to strike in this country."

MUA Sydney deputy branch secretary Paul Keating said: "We have seen our freedoms slowly taken away. It is not enough to change the rules; we need to change the system."

MUA national women's liaison officer Mich-Elle Myers said: "This struggle is not just about maritime workers, it's about every worker in this country. They have been treated abominably by the bosses, the Fair Work Commission and the government.

"We need to mobilise in our communities and fight to win the right to strike."

Other speakers from the MUA joined representatives of the Electrical Trades Union; the National Tertiary Education Union; the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Electrical Union; and Greens MP David Shoebridge in calling for support for the Change the Rules campaign, leading to the abolition of the laws limiting the right to organise in Australia.