One hundred and fifty people attended a second lively rally to save jobs at Sensis, Telstra’s directories arm, in early April. Sensis workers again took unprotected strike action for the rest of the day. But as the date for redundancies gets closer, things are getting more serious by the day.
Greens Deputy Leader Adam Bandt announced at the rally that he will move legislation in parliament to make it a condition of Telstra’s licence that its directories work is done in Australia. At the least, Bandt’s motion will be an opportunity to expose the Labor government and expose Telstra’s shameless job cutting.
AMWU members are writing to their MPs to ask them to support the motion. The legislation will be an opportunity for another major action. A strike around the same time would have a strong impact and the officials could still fly a small delegation to Canberra. Whatever happens to Bandt’s motion, Sensis workers need to escalate their action to win.
Strike to win
Further work bans will be useful, but won’t be enough by themselves. If bans are effective eventually management will move to stand down those implementing them, and we will then be faced with the same question—escalate or back down.
At some point, there will need to be a longer strike, with visible picket lines, and active attempts to build solidarity among other unions.
Some have argued against a strike on the basis that members won’t want to lose more pay and that there are around 70 (many part time) remaining Julia Ross temps who would do our work.
To deal with the first concern, we need to start collecting for a strike fund now to prepare for the battle ahead.
About the temps: it is now clear that management is keeping the temps because they are scared Sensis staff will strike. Sensis bosses first claimed the temps had gone, now they say they will be kept through the transition. They have even admitted that the temps had been employed for the last two months athough they “had been twiddling their thumbs”. And this is a company that is meant to be desperate to cut costs!
We need to build support for action among the temps. There is every reason for them to refuse to cross a picket line. After all they are getting paid up to $10,000 less than permanent staff. If we save our jobs, we will also save theirs. We should also demand permanency and higher pay for them, as we did in EBA negotiations.
Melbourne members have already taken unprotected action twice. Union membership is strongest in Melbourne. If Melbourne votes to strike, we can expect solidarity action in other states. But Melbourne will have to take the lead.
It would help enormously if union officials led the way. But they are dragging their feet, emphasising difficulties and doubts rather than supporting industrial action and building wider support.
The Sensis delegates and campaign committee sent a letter to the AMWU calling for a Telstra-wide union delegates meeting to plan joint industrial action and for Sensis delegates to address other AMWU workplaces.
State secretary, Steve Dargavel, said the officials have done everything they could for Sensis, but there are worrying signs. At the AMWU state council, printing division state secretary Nadia Machlouch argued against the Telstra-wide delegates meeting, saying we didn’t know what we wanted from it. Machlouch also said “off-shoring was a long term fight”; but we only have five months.
Almost all the proposals for the campaign have come from delegates and activists, not officials.
The CEPU, however, has responded to the delegates’ letter for a Telstra-wide delegates meeting.
The next mass meeting will be crucial to step up the fight.
We are going to have to build wider support from the ground up. An AMWU organiser told delegates that the union had brought large numbers to the 457 rally in March, but not for Sensis, because Sensis was a single workplace and argued that to get wider union support, we need to reduce the emphasis on Sensis, and play up wider issues like “local jobs”.
At the state council meeting, state secretary Dargavel said there was widespread disquiet over unemployment, but in the discussion about Sensis, he said that redundancies have become common and they don’t attract much response from unaffected workplaces.
That has to be turned around. Delegates and activists will need to step up their own efforts to win the support needed. Leafleting other Telstra workplaces would be a good start to make contacts and win support for Telstra-wide action.
The fight at Sensis can be won. But we will have to keep up the campaign’s momentum to build for the industrial action that will be needed in the future.