Unions demand worker safety, Palestine rights at May Day

May 2, 2024
Marching through the streets of Sydney on Gadigal land. Photo: Peter Boyle

More than 5000 unionists, largely construction workers, marched through the CBD on May 1 to mark May Day, the international day of workers’ struggle.

Chants of “Union! Power!”, “The workers united, will never be defeated!” rung out.

Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) NSW secretary Darren Greenfield told the rally at Hyde Park that employers need to know “If you kill a worker, you go to jail”.

“NSW is the only state not to have industrial manslaughter laws, and we demand the state government bring them in now,” Greenfield said.

The union is fighting for wage rises and better conditions, as well as government investment in the building industry to solve the housing crisis.

Chris Seet, NSW Plumbers Union assistant state secretary, said May Day “represents the continuing world-wide fight for workers’ rights.

“In Australia, building companies are maintaining unsafe work practices so the big end of town can make more profits. These builders have got blood on their hands, but this has got to end.”

Mel Gatfield, secretary of the United Workers Union (UWU) NSW branch, told the crowd “No matter what the industry, safe work practices are essential”.

He said the UWU is fighting the privatisation of state government cleaning services, in place for more than 20 years. “We must bring cleaners in schools and other industries back into public hands.”

A young doctor spoke about the impossible workloads and under-staffing in hospitals. “We urgently need more doctors and other medical staff,” she said.

Paul Keating, state secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), said May Day brings workers in struggle everywhere together “to fight for wage justice, equal rights for women, and solidarity with First Nations peoples.

“We are fighting for the right to strike, and for a general strike to change the system. And we certainly don’t need [AUKUS] nuclear submarines, which are costing huge amounts of public funds taken away from wages, welfare and public health and education.”

Keating said the money could be better used to “fight climate change and for environmental justice”.

He also called on Premier Chris Minns to get rid of the repressive anti-protest laws, and take a stand for Palestine.

“Israel is an Apartheid state … We demand a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and sanctions on Israel immediately.”

Palestinian speaker Jana Fayyad told the rally that the unions have increasing their support to Palestine, there is still not enough.

“The establishment has tried to put workers on the fringe of society, as if you guys don’t have any power in our society.

“But we know that is bullshit. You hold the power. You hold the power and you can say no to Apartheid Israel. You can say no to any kind of work that is complicit in the genocide and occupation of Palestinians. You have the power to stand up and take a stance against the genocidal state of Israel.”

Allen Hicks, NSW secretary of the Electrical Trades Union, spoke about workers’ struggle against energy giant Transgrid as part of the campaign to transform the power system towards renewables. “Billions of dollars of public money is being handed to Transgrid, while workers’ rights and safety are undermined,” he said.


Gadigal/Sydney. Photo: Peter Boyle

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