'What do we want? Howard out!'


Chris Latham

Despite heavy showers, 20,000 people joined the Unions WA-organised rally in Perth on June 30 against PM John Howard's proposed industrial relations laws. Union contingents converged on the Perth Cultural Centre with chants of "What do we want? Howard out!"

The largest union contingents came from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) and the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA). Thousands of workers from the state's public sector joined the rally, after the state Labor government decided that public sector workers would not be docked pay if they took an extended lunch break to attend.

Rally speakers included ACTU president Sharan Burrow, Western Australian Premier Geoff Gallop and ALP federal industrial relations spokesperson Stephen Smith. The rally heard greetings from the Southern Initiative on Globalisation and Trade Union Rights conference that had been meeting in Bangkok and had led a protest at the Australian embassy to condemn the Howard government's attacks on workers' rights.

A series of protests across regional Western Australia began on June 27, when 3000 workers rallied in Karratha. Workers voted to follow the rally with a 24-hour strike. On June 28, 100 workers rallied in Geraldton, while 500 workers attended each of the protests held in Albany and Bunbury on June 30.

Chris Cain, secretary of the Western Australian branch of the MUA, told Green Left Weekly "The rally here in Perth was absolutely fantastic!", noting how the "tremendous turnouts" in the regional centres "really inspired workers all around WA and here in Perth to get on board". Cain said "the way the unions, churches, politicians, unemployed and the community came together was great".

Unions WA secretary Dave Robinson described the rally as "a phenomenal display from the community in Western Australia". He told Green Left Weekly that people "do not accept what John Howard is proposing for them" and that Howard has "no mandate to continue down this path".

Jim McIlroy reports that around 20,000 workers crammed into the King George Square in Brisbane on June 30, spilling over into nearby streets. Large contingents of up to 2000 each from the ETU, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), the construction union and the Transport Workers Union (TWU) marched from separate rallying points.

According to Queensland Council of Unions general secretary Grace Grace, the rally was the largest industrial mobilisation in Brisbane in a decade. A weekend of protest is being planned for July 30 and 31.

Labor Premier Peter Beattie pledged that his state government would introduce legislation to protect workers' conditions, but conceded that the Howard government could move to override any state laws.

AMWU member Andrew Martin told Green Left Weekly that the feeder rallies held by the AMWU and ETU at Roma Street Forum were "very impressive and militant".

"This is just the beginning. Howard doesn't realise what he's in for. We will fight till we win", AMWU organiser Tracy Bradley told the rally. There were numerous calls for a national strike from the rank and file.

Susan Austin reports that at least 3000 people attended an indoor rally in Hobart's City Hall on June 30.

Simon Cocker, secretary of Unions Tasmania, encouraged everyone to speak to their workmates and others, to complete petitions, and "work to influence the moderates and the decent conservatives to convince them that these proposals are wrong". The mood of the rally was defiant and many people took away campaign material and pledged to organise their workplaces.

Tasmanian MUA secretary Mick Wickham told Green Left Weekly that 500 people rallied in Devonport on June 30. Members of the Australian Nursing Federation, the Health and Community Services Union, meatworkers and the MUA all walked off the job to protest.

According to Wickham, "This was a great turnout and considering a lot of people aren't even aware yet of how these laws will affect them, it means the campaign is off to a very good start, and will grow a lot in the next month". He said that unions in the north of Tasmania are meeting weekly to organise the campaign and are planning actions every three weeks.

More than 2000 workers protested in Darwin on June 30, reports Kathy Newnam, including a large contingent from the Bechtel Gas plant at Wickham Point. The rally heard from Unions NT's Nadine Williams, who welcomed the protest as the "beginning of a long campaign".

NT treasurer Sid Stirling, who joined the rally along with all members of the territory Labor government, declared that his government would "stand with every unionist in the NT and see the fight through and see it won". He promised that employees in the NT public sector would be spared from Howard's industrial relations changes, because "as an employer, we won't have it".

Stirling told the crowd that the NT government's legislative power is limited, as territory legislation can be overruled federally, but that the government is seeking constitutional advice on "whatever laws are necessary to protect workers".

The rally also heard about 30 contract workers at the alumina refinery on Gove peninsula who held a 24-hour stoppage after Alcan attempted to prevent them from joining the Gove rally.

James Caulfield reports that more than 500 unionists descended on the Hyatt Hotel in Canberra on June 26 for a rally outside the federal Liberal Party council meeting.

From Green Left Weekly, July 6, 2005.
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