More than 1700 delegates from 40 unions attended a mass meeting at the Melbourne Convention Centre on September 25, where they voted to hold an all-unions march and rally next month.
Present were unions covering workers in the health, construction, education, public, transport and manufacturing sectors, among others.
The meeting unanimously voted for a rally on October 23, as part of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) Change the Rules campaign. The rally will focus on changing the laws that deny workers the right to strike while allowing for wage theft, job casualisation and unsafe work conditions.
The rally will also demand a general wage rise, after years of workers’ wages declining in real terms.
The meeting discussed strategies ahead of the November Victorian state election and the federal election likely to happen next year. Delegates voted unanimously to do whatever it takes to stop the anti-worker Liberal government.
Delegates were addressed by ACTU secretary Sally McManus, newly-elected ACTU president Michelle O'Neill, Electrical Trades Union Victorian state secretary Troy Gray and other union leaders and delegates.
Speakers raised various examples of how current industrial relations “rules are broken”.
This included the case of Esso workers, who have been on a picket line for 461 days to regain jobs and hard-won wages and conditions. ExxonMobil, which trades under the brand Esso, is one of 732 big companies that pay no tax in Australia.
Another example was that of celebrity chef and restaurateur George Calombaris, who underpaid his staff, in particular young workers, by $2.6 million.
Speakers also raised the ongoing gender pay gap, the high rate of underemployment and the targeting of workers in the construction sector.
While a previous mass rally in May drew 120,000 workers to the streets of Melbourne, the meeting proposed that the October 23 rally be even larger.
Speaking to the motion, O'Neill said: “Fairness is something we fought for ... Change doesn't happen by itself ... Every conversation you have is going to make a difference to help us win this campaign.”
Delegates were urged to go back to their workplaces and talk to co-workers about the campaign. A strategy of mass phone calls, train station leafleting and doorknocking was mapped out.
Speaking to Green Left Weekly, CFMEU delegate and Victorian Socialists state election candidate Tim Gooden said: "I think it was an impressive meeting and it was great to see the breadth of unions represented. I'm sure October 23 will be a massive rally.
“But I hope the ACTU is getting some cast iron guarantees from Labor about sticking to their promises to change the rules for workers because we're going to a great deal of effort to get them elected.
“I've seen too many Labor governments use their lack of numbers in the Senate as an excuse not to deliver."
[A Change the Rules rally is also being organised in Sydney on October 23.]