More than 2000 delegates from unions across Victoria overwhelmingly supported state-wide action on May 9 as part of the Change the Rules campaign.
The April 17 meeting was one of the largest gatherings of unionists seen for some time as delegates from a range of blue- and white-collar sectors filled the Melbourne Town Hall, with about 200 more being turned away at the door.
Troy Carter, a delegate from the Esso plant at Longford, was one of the speakers. For more than 300 days, Esso maintenance workers have been on strike, since the company sacked its workforce and then offered them the same jobs at 30% less pay.
To a standing ovation, Carter told delegates: “We haven’t been out on strike for 300 days just for ourselves and our families. We’re doing it for your jobs and your families as well.”
Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus explained the tasks ahead, which include winning public opinion and challenging the myth of trickle down economics. McManus emphasised the need for a change of government and to get new industrial laws through the Senate with the help of the cross bench. But she also stressed that workers “need to build a movement that is unstoppable”.
“It is not normal in OECD countries to have 40% of the workforce in insecure work,” McManus said. A key demand for a future government, she said, is to “use government buying power to only contract with businesses that provide secure local jobs”.
With 23% of workers on award minimums, McManus called for restoring mechanisms to allow for award conditions to increase as enterprise agreements improve.
McManus also reminded delegates that Australia has one of the most gender-segregated workforces in the world and that the pay gap has not changed in 20 years.
McManus called for “a total change to the bargaining system”, for “other options” for workers to use their power to challenge multinational companies and for the Fair Work Commission to have the power to make a ruling on prolonged disputes.
Victorian Electrical Trades Union secretary Troy Gray told delegates: “This campaign isn’t about removing the government. If we do this right they will simply be collateral damage. This is about putting the union movement back where we belong.”
Victorian Australian Education Union secretary Meredith Pearce told delegates: “I want to live in a community where we have well and fairly funded education and healthcare, where refugees and people on welfare aren’t targeted.”
Victorian Trades Hall secretary Luke Hilakari reminded delegates that “big business has the money but we have the people”.
Following the mass meeting, workers marched to the Esso headquarters to show solidarity with the Longford workers in their dispute.
A Change the Rules mass union rally is planned in Melbourne on May 9 at 10am, outside Victorian Trades Hall.