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Monday, April 23, 2007

Workers Rocking for Our Rights but what about Rudd's Work Choices? by John/Togs Tognolini

Over 40,000 people attended the Rocking for Rights protest at Sydney's Hyde Park and SCG. It was a great turn out with people travelling for all over New South Wales, the North Coast, South Coast, Newcastle and Hunter Valley. On the specially Unions NSW booked train I was on from the Blue Montains and Lithgow, not only did we have people from Bathurst, but we also people from Dubbo, who had started their journey at 3am and returned home at midnight. There was a great feeling of confidence through out day especially on the march from Hyde Park to the SCG.There was even three fantastic Mexican Waves across the grandstands.

However, there was no mention of Kevin Rudd’s watered down version of Work Choices from Unions NSW’s Mark Lennon and John Robertson. There was not even a mention from Peter Garret. When Rudd was elected as Labor leader, he promised that he would maintain the vow to “rip up Work Choices”. He told the National Press Club that a Rudd government would keep most of Howard’s Work Choices legislation, in particular, the attack on the right to strike.

The right of workers to strike is a fundamental human right. It is not fair or just that workers are only allowed to strike during the bargaining period for a new enterprise bargaining agreement.

Rudd’s announcement means that regardless of whether a Rudd or Howard
government is elected, it will be illegal for workers to take industrial action in response to unfair employer practices such as victimisation of union activists, restructuring of the workplace or unsafe work practices.

Even protected industrial action wouldn’t be automatic under Rudd. Workers could be forced to wait weeks for the electoral commission to conduct a secret ballot, giving an employer plenty of time to stockpile goods or contract out work. Employers can also block union applications for secret ballots, preventing workers from even voting for industrial action during a bargaining period. Rudd made no reference of any penalties for employers who lock out workers or sack workers and replace them with cheaper workers.

Even the return of unfair dismissal rights is very limited. The proposed 12 month probation period is too long. Job security for workers is a basic human right. The Labor Party should repeal the laws. These laws are already being used to undermine union agreements by forcing unemployed workers to sign AWAs which give away all their rights or they face the prospect of losing unemployment benefits for 8 weeks. This is what happened in the Coles-Myer dispute in Melbourne.

Therefore, the ALP must also repeal the work to welfare laws.

Only days after his announcement which leaves working people totally vulnerable and helpless, it was disgusting to see images of Kevin Rudd snuggling up to Murdoch in New York on their way to lunch. The gist of the lunchtime repartee is not hard to imagine with Rudd smiling pompously confirming ideological proximity to big business moguls.

Workers in this country have not been scared to mobilise against Howard’s Work Choices, but one thing that has been holding the campaign back is the peak union leaderships’ relationship with the ALP. Was Mark Lennon and John Robertson’s silence about Rudd's Work Choices a form of consent?

Clearly working people have not got much choice between the two majors parties over work place laws. With Howard it’s like some one attacking us with a gun while with Rudd it’s like being attacked with a knife, although I think we need to have our backs turned before he is game enough to use it. We need to defend our rights from both major parties. I noticed the anger from people yesterday to Rudd. People are putting the time into the Your Rights At Work Campaign to defend unions and communities, not to be part of an ALP cheer squad with a watered down version of Work Choices.

[photos by Peter Boyle]

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