Calls for a NSW union defence coalition

April 27, 2005

Susan Price, Sydney

Since PM John Howard came to power in 1996, many successful coalitions against injustice have formed — for refugee rights, against the war on Iraq, in opposition to Australia's theft of East Timor's oil, for gay and lesbian rights and against corporate greed. Howard's planned attacks on workers, and the failure of Unions NSW to involve NSW workers in campaigning to prevent them, has prompted the call for a coalition to defend our unions.

Green Left Weekly spoke to Socialist Alliance member and one of the initiators of the call for a "Defend our unions" coalition, John Gauci.

"It's a pity we need to look interstate for inspiration", Gauci said. He explained that the Victorian Trades Hall Council has organised mass delegates' meetings in Melbourne and several in regional areas of Victoria, while Unions WA has called a mass delegates' meeting for May. A Defend Our Unions Committee has already been established in Queensland and met on April 9. "Their campaigns are involving workers in the defence of their rights. Unions NSW has ignored the request from rank-and-file members for mass delegates' meetings. With continued pressure they may change their minds."

The Victorian Trades Hall Council has also announced a June 30 day of action and is calling upon other unions across Australia to hold similar actions. A number of blue-collar unions in WA have been pushing for united action in solidarity with the Victorians. An Australian Manufacturing Workers Union state secretaries' meeting recently decided to call a national stoppage and protest on 30 June. However, "Unions NSW has thrown cold water on the idea", Gauci said.

Gauci explained that the March state council meeting of his union — the NSW Teachers Federation — voted unanimously to call upon Unions NSW to organise a mass delegates'/representatives' meeting as well as a day of action against Howard's industrial reforms.

"As a young union activist I felt proud of the role my union played. It's also great to see that the NSW National Tertiary Education Union has called for mass delegates' meetings and for action on June 30."

Gauci described Unions NSW's lack of response as "deafening". He said: "Indeed, from the discussion taking place at the Unions NSW meetings you'd assume nothing was happening in Victoria. It's almost like they want to keep the lid on the Victorian June 30 action and restrict the NSW campaign to lobbying and media work. While these play some role, they don't actively involve members and utilise our greatest strengths — solidarity and industrial action.

"My greatest fear is Unions NSW calling a token rally, Howard's IR reforms going ahead and then being told by our union leaders that our only hope is to vote ALP next federal election."

The Socialist Alliance has initiated an open meeting inviting all unions, workers and activists as well as community, church and student groups to discuss the impact of these industrial reforms and plan strategies for workers to resist the attacks.

The meeting will start at 7pm on May 10 at the Gaelic Club in Sydney. A follow-up meeting on May 21 will begin organising a fight-back against the attacks on unions.

If you are interested in helping to establish a Defend Our Unions Coalition in NSW, phone John Gauci on 0413 310 452, Susan Price on 0400 320 602 or the Socialist Alliance on (02) 9690 2508.

From Green Left Weekly, April 27, 2005.
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