Union delegates in NSW have voted to hold a union-wide stopwork rally on Wednesday 18 October to step up the fight against the Turnbull government’s war on workers.
A combined union delegates’ meeting at Sydney Trades hall of 250 workers, mostly construction union delegates, backed a motion from the CFMEU construction union to call the day of action.
Unions NSW Secretary Mark Morey seconded the motion and spoke in favour of it. But the peak union body, the ACTU, backtracked on earlier suggestions it would co-ordinate the October rally as part of a national day of action.
ACTU Secretary Sally McManus addressed the meeting, but would only say, “We need to be ready to mobilise nationally, and we will do that at some point”. She said the ACTU was working on a list of demands as part of its campaign against inequality and unfair work laws which would be ready, “either at the end of this year or early next year”. It wants to wait until this is ready before organising national mobilisations.
McManus and the ACTU are clearly focused on a campaign around the next federal election, delaying any day of action until closer to the election date. The focus of her speech was on the “need to win public opinion” through finding examples of worker exploitation that, “demonstrate how unfair those [work] laws are”.
But Turnbull’s laws targeting construction workers, through the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) and the new Construction Code, are already making life harder for construction unions. The cuts to penalty rates in retail, hospitality, pharmacies and fast food came into force on 1 July. Unions need to begin fighting these attacks on workers now, not simply wait to elect a Labor government at the next election, still up to two years away.
The meeting heard updates from a range of union campaigns, showing how the industrial regime of the so-called Fair Work Act is stacked against workers. In higher education the NTEU is challenging rampant casualisation, the ASU is fighting the refusal of the Fair Work Commission to grant domestic violence leave, and there is an important industrial campaign by Kone lift workers. Oddly, there was no report from the bus workers in Sydney’s inner west facing privatisation.
It is by mobilising now that the union movement can both defeat the attacks and make sure the Turnbull government is booted out when the election comes. It is also the only way to keep the pressure on the Labor Party to reverse the attacks on workers if they get elected.
Defying the law
In moving the motion, Denis McNamara, from the CFMEU Committee of Management, said, “I’m a bit disappointed the ACTU and Sally McManus didn’t mention a day of action or a date”.
“It’s good to talk about how bad laws need to be broken but we can’t just talk about it.”
Construction unions have already held two nationwide stopwork rallies in March and June to fight the ABCC and the Construction Code introduced by the Turnbull government.
As McNamara said, “The CFMEU, in our two rallies, we’ve broken the law. We went on strike and we marched out in the street. We got letters telling us if we did it we’d be fined. We threw those letters away. Not one of us has been fined.”
“We showed that if you stand up to them there’s nothing they can do.”
He was backed from the floor by other speakers including John Henry from the firefighters’ union, who said, “The only way you can win is by withdrawing your labour. We need to stop work, everybody, every union.”
The push for October stopwork rally in NSW came from a combination of pressure from the CFMEU construction union, backed by rank-and-file unionists from other unions. Activists brought along petitions with the signatures of 550 unionists calling for a delegates meeting and a union-wide stopwork rally.
There will need to be a push within many affiliated unions to make the October day of action a success. Delegates at the meeting came overwhelmingly from the CFMEU, with only a handful of rank-and-file members from other unions.
Amending the official motion, Denis McNamara moved for another combined delegates meeting in mid-September in a larger venue. This can be an important step in pulling more unions into active support for the October day of action and calling for action from the ACTU.
Delegates’ meetings in other states could also push for similar stopwork action in October and beyond. An ongoing campaign of stopwork action can stop Turnbull implementing his new Construction Code, kick the ABCC off building sites and stop the cuts to penalty rates.
Unions NSW Secretary Mark Morey, told delegates, “I’m proud to say NSW is leading the way and leading the country”. Other states need to follow this example.
By James Supple
Full resolution passed
This meeting of Unions NSW affiliated union delegates declares their readiness to take on the challenge to defend and improve the conditions of workers in all sectors and industries.
We find ourselves as a cross-roads where near non-existent wage growth, and conservative governments empowering corporations against workers has resulted in growing inequality and uncertainty for many.
As a movement it is our responsibility to fight back and ensure the rules are changed.
To this end:
This meeting of delegates supports the ACTU campaign to change the rules. The current system is broken. This is the beginning of an ongoing campaign.
This meeting of delegates calls on Unions NSW and affiliated unions to call a stopwork Day of Action/Rallies on Wednesday 18 October 2017 so that we have sufficient time to mobilise the maximum number of union members to participate. This mobilisation of workers needs to be supported with easy to distribute and understand material, both in printed and electronic format, informing workers and the general public of the important issues.
This meeting of delegates calls on planning for and scheduling regular joint Delegates meetings in the future, with the next meeting in mid-September.
The day of action will have an Indigenous speaker to do a welcome to country and speak about the First Nations Workers Alliance campaign.
Denis McNamara will be speaking alongside Paul McAleer, MUA Sydney branch secretary at Solidarity’s Keep Left conference on Saturday 12 August see the conference website for tickets and more info