Central Melbourne was filled with union flags, political banners and home-made placards on June 12 as about 25,000 protesters marched through the streets in a “bust the budget” rally organised by the Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC).
The rally combined the colourful and humorous placards and diversity of participants seen at recent March Australia rallies, along with a much more substantial and organised union presence.
The VTHC had built for the rally through leafletting, posters, social media and phone banks — drawing on its substantial network of activists organised under the “We Are Union” banner.
There were concerns earlier in the year that the We Are Union campaign would focus solely on pro-Labor campaigning for the upcoming Victorian elections, and that the VTHC did not appear interested in organising against what was always going to be an appalling budget.
But once the budget was handed down on May 13, the VTHC swung into action, calling an open meeting on May 19 that attracted 300 activists, and from there building the June 12 rally.
The building trades unions called a shutdown of the industry across the city and consequently a large proportion of the rally was building workers. There were reports of workers being harassed, including the alleged videoing of workers by agents of the Fair Work Building and Construction Inspectorate.
Most other unions organised for workplace delegations rather than a full stopwork, but this still led to many substantial contingents including those of firefighters, nurses and midwives and members of the National Union of Workers.
Speakers included Troy Gray of the Electrical Trade Union, Lisa Fitzpatrick from the Australian Nurses and Midwifery Federation and Damien Oliver of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union.
Speakers differed in their response to how much of the budget should be opposed. Instead of demanding opposition parties block supply to try to force elections, Lisa Darmanin of the Australian Services Union said “the budget should be blocked until it is amended”.
The VTHC has announced a community rally will be held, most likely on July 6, the same day Unions NSW has called a rally. Actions in other cities on the same date also appear likely.
Union activists are pushing the VTHC to call a mass delegates meeting to discuss the anti-budget campaign. They also want the VTHC to call on the Australian Council of Trade Unions to nationally coordinate protest and industrial action against the budget.
These suggestions have been reiterated in an open letter to the VTHC, initiated by members of Solidarity and the Socialist Alliance, which received a good response at the rally.