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Monday, November 06, 2006

Protest Work Choices: All out on November 30! by Troy McGuinness


November 30 is a truly national day of protest, with more than 300 rally points across metropolitan and rural Australia. Regional Victorian workers are being encouraged to come to Melbourne on November 29 to be ready for an early start the next day at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, or the “G”.

Tim Gooden, secretary of Geelong Trades Hall, told Green Left Weekly that, “It’s important there’s a massive turnout from all unions, workers and community groups because that’s the way to get the message across that we don’t accept Howard’s anti-worker laws.”

The October 25 Australian Financial Review reported that ACTU president Sharan Burrow had told the 500 delegates at the ACTU congress the day before that, “November 30 would be a case of everybody out”. She didn’t mention “strike” or “stop work”, but it was clear what she intended. Burrow also told the congress that besides the skeleton crews needed for the elderly and sick, everyone else should attend the nationwide protest.

Aemployers begin testing out Howard’s anti-worker laws, disputes have flared at Amcor, Heineman Electric, Boeing, Toyota, CSR, Finlay Engineering, Tronics and Port Campbell Gasworks in Victoria, and Alcoa in Pinjarra, Western Australia.

It wasn’t until after the huge turn-outs at last year’s November 15 national rallies that Kim Beazley committed a Labor government to “ripping up” Work Choices.

Gooden said that’s the other reason workers and the community need to mobilise in great numbers on November 30 — to keep the pressure up on Labor to follow through on its promises. “As we’ve seen many times before, Labor will have to be pushed to stick by its word. We don’t just want Work Choices repealed, we want all the other anti-worker laws scrapped as well.”

Many have said, correctly, that these laws are an attack on human rights, that is the rights of workers to join together in unions and organise to defend our class interests. This is also why blue- and white-collar workers have to work together in this campaign. Susan Price, National Tertiary Education Union UNSW branch president, told GLW, “In the past, a lot of white-collar workers associated industrial struggle with blue-collar workers. But now the NTEU is being targeted along with the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union because of the gains it made under enterprise bargaining.”

Amelia Taylor from the United Casual Workers Alliance on the Gold Coast told GLW that the November 30 protest “should be so large no one will be able to buy a cup of coffee afterwards, because all the cafes and shops, even the little ones, will have shut down for the rally”.

Taylor said that more than 70% of Gold Coast workers are casual, with no bargaining power. Irregular rostering has a negative effect on family life. Some casual workers are made to pay for their own uniform, docked from their first pay packet. Given that these workers are generally young and on youth wages, this often means that their entire first weeks’ pay is consumed.

The Coalition government has also passed pernicious laws dealing with the building industry. Workers who take “illegal” industrial action risk fines of up to $28,600. Workers who don’t answer questions, fail to turn up to an interrogation, or reveal the contents of an interrogation by the Australian Building and Construction Commission face an automatic six months’ jail term.

Other anti-worker laws that work hand-in-glove with Work Choices include: the “welfare to work” law, the “anti-terror” laws that compromise freedom of speech and assembly, and the laws that allow bosses to employ guest workers on section 457 visas on below-standard wages and working conditions.

Price said that some of the most exploited workers in Australia now are refugees on temporary protection visas and guest workers. “Recently, the CFMEU organised for some Indian and Korean guest workers to address a public meeting. These workers are experiencing the most gross exploitation from bosses in the construction industry. They ended their speeches with the call for workers of the world to unite. November 30 should also be about fighting for the rights of these workers.”

The scale of the attacks haven’t been seen in more than 100 years, Western Australian Maritime Union of Australia assistant secretary Ian Bray told GLW. “We’ve got to show that we’re not just worried about the laws for ourselves, we’re worried about their impact on our kids.”

According to Gooden, the other reason why a massive turn out on November 30 is important is because “it gives workers the confidence that they can defy Howard’s laws … There is nothing the government can do because it can’t fine or jail everybody”. Bray agreed, concluding: “We’re in for the fight of our working lives. A big mobilisation on November 30 will demonstrate that workers are angry, and will fight until these laws are abolished.”

[Troy McGuinness, a former postal worker, was one of hundreds victimised by Australia Post for participating in previous national union protests against Work Choices.]

From: Australian News, Green Left Weekly issue #689 8 November 2006.

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