Melbourne got a taste of the power that could stop Abbott when over 20,000 workers joined a weekday stopwork rally to bust the budget on 12 June.
Marchers took over the centre of Melbourne, stretching for almost a kilometre through city streets.
Construction workers led the way with building sites in the city shut down so workers could attend. Some stopped work to come from as far away as the Latrobe Valley.
As Trades Hall Secretary Brian Boyd told the rally, “Building workers are here in defiance of the ABCC”.
Building industry watchdog Director Nigel Hadgkiss had blustered that this was illegal strike action and those attending without their employer’s permission, “could be brought before the courts”.
But construction unions have defied these threats before. Tens of thousands stopped work against WorkChoices under John Howard, and 10,000 struck again last year following the collapse of a wall on Grocon’s Swanston St site that killed three people.
The NUW and AMWU also brought large contingents, with the AMWU saying it had brought 20 buses and 2000 members to the rally.
“I have come out today because the budget is an attack on workers, elderly, the sick, the poor, the unemployed,” AMWU delegate Stephen Wise told Solidarity.
“We need more of this, it will send the message clearly to them that people aren’t happy and will stay unhappy while this budget is in place.”
Most other unions sent only small numbers of delegates or union officials. Even amongst the stronger unions, it was not an “all out” call. Stephen told Solidarity, “There’s several of us here representing our workplace, but the employers were very nasty in their attitude towards the rally and people attending.”
The AMWU tried to get workers in bargaining periods, who can take legal strike action, to attend. But this effort to work within the law backfired when one company took the union to the Fair Work tribunal arguing the action wasn’t protected because the notices were defective as it was “political” strike action.
To bring out hundreds of thousands, as the unions did in Melbourne over WorkChoices, we will need mass defiance of the law.
The 12 June was the largest rally against the budget to date, and showed that it is possible to defy the law and stage illegal strike action to fight Abbott. The union fightback against the budget has now begun.
But to escalate the pressure on Abbott we will need larger and broader stopwork action. This kind of action has the power to shut down workplaces and cost business millions of dollars.
Trades Hall has now called a weekend rally against the budget on Sunday 6 July together with VCOSS, Get Up, Council of Churches, Trades Hall, March Australia Melbourne, Environment Victoria, and Friends Of The Earth.
The slogan “Bust the budget” has been replaced with the weaker “Our community counts—march for a fairer Australia”.
Nonetheless a huge turnout on the day will add to the political pressure on the government and the Senate, and give confidence to unions to take further strike action.
Union activists are circulating an open letter to Trades Hall initiated by Solidarity and Socialist Alliance, calling for a mass delegates meeting to plan a state-wide strike against the budget.
It now has the signatures of over 250 union members, including organisers and officials.
Mass delegates meetings were called to build the huge strikes against John Howard’s Workchoices legislation.
For the kind of fight we will need to bust Abbott’s budget, we need to keep pushing within the unions for a mass delegates meeting to deliver an all-out strike as the next step after Sunday 6 July.
For a copy of the letter to circulate in your workplace, email melbourne at solidarity.net.au
By Chris Breen