Victorian unionists get organised to support refugees

April 7, 2017
Teachers for refugees at International Women's Day in Sydney. Photo: Teachers for Refugees/FB

Victorian teachers, education support staff, academics, nurses, midwives and allied health professionals will take action over the first week of May to support refugees who have been detained by the Australian government.

The “Bring them Here” action will involve four groups of unionists wearing T-shirts to work and elsewhere. The four unions will also hold a rally in the CBD.

The action was initiated by Teachers for Refugees (TFR), a rank-and-file group within the Victorian branch of the Australian Education Union (AEU).

The Victorian Allied Health Professionals Association (VAHPA) accepted the invitation to participate and will design its own T-shirts. The Australian Nurses and Midwives Federation also quickly accepted the invitation and will also design their own T-shirts.

The AEU passed a motion at its State Council meeting endorsing the action. The National Tertiary Education Union also affirmed its support.

More than 500 Victorian teachers wore refugee T-shirts to work during Human Rights Week last December. This was a powerful statement of solidarity with refugees in Australian schools and communities and in detention centres. The action embarrassed the government to the point that it tried to change the focus from its brutal detention policy to falling national educational test results. Some teachers were threatened, but no teacher who took action, despite such intimidation, was disciplined.

The action culminated in a rally in the Melbourne CBD. Teachers, librarians and education support staff from public and private schools took part.

Refugees are still being detained and mistreated. Refugees in the community, including young students, remain on temporary visas facing uncertain futures because of the threat of deportation, and are frequently excluded from education and work opportunities.

The government’s dishonest propaganda against refugees has created a damaging racism, which has influenced the public's comprehension of the issue.

To give refugees strength and to weaken racist ideas, TFR decided it was necessary to repeat their “T-shirt action”, this time with the support of colleagues in other industries.

During the week of action, participants will take photos of themselves and colleagues wearing the T-shirts and post them to Bring Them Here — school and workplace T-shirt action. For maximum impact, TFR suggests holding a “walk to work in your T-shirt” event, meeting at a local cafe and walking down a main street together.

Unionists are organising a rally on May 2 at the State Library, starting at 5.30pm. Teachers, VAHPA members, nurses and midwives, education support staff and NTEU members will join with others wishing to build a strong pro-refugee movement.

This action has been endorsed by the Victorian Allied Health Professionals Association, Australian Nurses and Midwifery Federation Victoria, the Australian Education Union (Victoria Branch) and National Tertiary Education Union, Victorian Division. AEU members are advised by their union that they have a right to wear these T-shirts to work, and to refer any principal opposition to the action on to the union.

[Mary Merkenich is an AEU Vic branch councillor and a member of Teachers For Refugees and the Socialist Alliance. T-shirts can be obtained online at here.]

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