Up to 20,000 marched across the country on Sunday 6 July to bust Abbott’s budget, as part of a national coordinated union day of protest.
The largest rallies were in Melbourne, with around 10,000 people, and Sydney where 5000 marched. Sydney’s Town Hall square was packed with people, making it almost impossible to move. Speakers led the crowd in chants of “Hands off Medicare” and “Bust this budget”.
Demonstrations were held as far afield as Newcastle, Canberra, Darwin and Perth.
Speaking at the Sydney rally, ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver said, “this budget is…sending our country down the same path to where the United States is today…they have a country that is divided by a nation of haves and have-nots.”
It’s clear the union campaign needs to be stepped up to cause the kind of political crisis that could force the Senate to block Abbott’s budget, and force him to resign or call another election.
Waiting to vote Abbott out in three years’ time is not enough. By then immense damage will already be done to schools, hospitals, Medicare and welfare.
While the rallies were a welcome first step, it was not the kind of all-out union mobilisation that is possible. At the Sydney rally many unions had only small organised contingents.
Unions NSW Secretary Mark Lennon pointed out that this is the most hated budget in 30 years. The continuing raw anger against the budget two months on is almost unprecedented. So far leaders have not been unwilling to lead a fight that matches the scale of people’s anger at Abbott.
At the height of the Your Rights at Work campaign under Howard, unions mobilised 200,000 people in Melbourne and tens of thousands around the country for a weekday demonstration. This could happen again if the unions were willing to pull out all stops.
Melbourne’s stopwork rally on 12 June was larger than the weekend demonstration on 6 July, because it was boosted by thousands of construction and manufacturing workers who walked off the job.
More importantly, the day of strike action hit the profits of the people behind Abbott’s budget—the big business barons who wrote his Commission of Audit and have been calling for cuts since the government was elected.
Speaking at the Sydney rally, ACTU secretary Dave Oliver said the protests were “only the beginning of the fight back against the budget”.
Pressure on the unions will be needed to make sure that fight escalated into larger demonstrations and stopwork action that Abbott and the new Senate can’t ignore.
By James Supple