A determined and vocal crowd of more than 300 union activists packed an all-union meeting called by the Victorian Trades Hall Council on May 20.
The meeting welcomed a call by the council’s executive for a weekday “bust the budget” union rally on June 12.
Speakers from the floor were cheered as they pushed the Trades Hall Council and the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) to go further and organise mass delegates meetings, nationally coordinated action, and a clear focus on the demand to block the budget and bring down the government.
Speaking first, ACTU national president Ged Kearney denounced the recent federal budget’s cuts to pensions and other benefits, as well as the raising of the pension age, new health charges, cuts and higher fees for higher education, and cuts to state health and education funding.
“The burden is entirely on workers,” Kearney said. She said the likely improvement of economic conditions next year would encourage the government to cut income taxes, which further undermine the public sector.
Kearney initially gave no commitment to any concrete action, apart from saying that “this will be a two-and-a-half year campaign”, causing interjections from the floor calling for immediate action aimed at defeating the government before the next election.
Trades Hall campaigns officer Luke Hilakari announced the June 12 rally, materials for which were distributed, and announced a forthcoming open organising meeting for a weekend community rally to be held later in June.
The meeting was not a decision-making gathering but the council executive asked for suggestions from the floor for further consideration.
Speakers from a range of unions were almost unanimous in arguing for several key points: the June 12 rally should involve industrial action; it should be built with a well-organised mass delegates meeting such as took place in the campaign against Work Choices; the ACTU must nationally coordinate similar action; and there must be a clear demand to block the budget and bring down the government.
Most speakers were from the left groups Socialist Alternative, the Socialist Alliance and Solidarity.
Socialists, despite their differences, appear united on how the incipient anti-budget movement can win.
Speakers from the floor also pressed Kearney on the ACTU’s response. Kearney said the ACTU “were considering a national day of action, perhaps in October”. After further interjections indicated the lateness of this date, Kearney said “perhaps we’ll go earlier”.