Unionists from across Sydney gathered in a mass delegates meeting on 12 June to launch a major rally against the budget for Sunday 6 July. This is a chance to bring the kind of social weight to the fight against the budget that we need—and which could see far larger numbers on the streets even than at Sydney’s 10,000-strong March in May.
Over 500 people from across the union movement gathered at the meeting, with good contingents of rank-and-file members from the MUA, firefighters union and the CFMEU, as well as NTEU members. The involvement of the unions in fighting the budget is a major step forward.
But the conservatism of senior union officials was also on full display. The turnout paled in comparison to the early days of the Your Rights at Work campaign, when the unions packed out three separate venues across Sydney. Many unions simply sent a delegation of officials from the union office.
Unions NSW did practically all it could to avoid discussion of what the unions might actually do to fight the budget. Most of the meeting was taken up with a long and often dull summary of the budget measures.
It was clear that Unions NSW’s main focus was on re-electing Labor at the next election, instead of fighting to stop Abbott implementing the budget full stop.
Lecturer Shaun Wilson referred to a campaign focused on the election in “two and a half years’ time”. Unions NSW Secretary Mark Lennon, introducing the official resolution, told delegates it “commits us to a long campaign”, code for a focus on the next election.
Push for strike action
Debate on the resolution was kept until the final minutes. Speakers from the MUA and firefighters union both gently raised their support for a campaign involving industrial action against the budget.
But when Susan Price from the NTEU was allowed to speak, she both called for industrial action and tried to put an amendment to the motion, to call on the ACTU to organise a nation-wide day of industrial action. Mark Lennon was having none of it, moving to close the speaking list and refusing to put the amendment to a vote.
But the response from the floor showed it had strong support. The room exploded into uproar when the chair tried to brush the amendment aside and simply put the original resolution.
The original motion was declared carried, but with barely a third of the room actually voting in favour of it. In the confusion most delegates didn’t vote at all.
Afterwards, CFMEU delegate Dennis McNamara, who interjected calling for the amendment to be voted on said, “Industrial action is the only way forward, it’s the only thing that’s ever worked for us in the past. We can’t rely on parliamentary politics to solve our problems, it’s not good enough to elect Labor and believe they’re going to solve our issues. “What are Unions NSW afraid of? Are they afraid of people taking part in struggle and getting a taste for it?”
With even a basic level of rank-and-file organisation across different unions, it might have been possible to win the meeting’s support for industrial action. This brings home the need to push inside the unions for a much more active fight against Abbott and his hated budget.
The mood in the working class and the wider community, demonstrated in the rallies already held against the budget in the past month, from March in May to Medicare to the student rallies, shows many are willing to fight. We are going to need to build much stronger socialist and rank-and-file organisation in the unions to force this to happen.
By James Supple
Solidarity and Socialist Alliance have initiated an open letter to Unions NSW calling for a week-day stopwork rally. You can read the open letter here. To sign please send your name and union position to jsupple05 [at] gmail.com