Tony Abbott’s budget has been met with outrage right across the community. Students have held angry protests. There have been rallies to “Save Medicare”. Pensioners are mobilising.
The weekend after the budget, at least 10,000 people joined Sydney’s March in May demonstration. At least 15,000 people joined a Melbourne Bust the Budget rally at just four days’ notice. Polls show that Abbott would lose in a landslide if an election was held now. Polling shows that over 60 per cent of people oppose the attack on Medicare, the deregulation of university fees and raising the pension age.
Today’s delegates meeting in Sydney is a great start to beating back Abbott. And the call from Unions NSW for a “Bust the Budget” rally on 6 July is another opportunity to mobilise the community anger.
Over the next few weeks we all have to do whatever we can to ensure it is as big and broad as possible. We need to get leaflets into every suburb, workplace and classroom to make sure that everyone who hates Abbott’s budget is there on the day.
But Victorian unions are one step ahead. Today in Melbourne, the unions are holding a rally and march that will see thousands of workers walk off the job to take the fight to Abbott and his big business backers. This is the kind of action that can make Abbott and the bosses think again. Unions elsewhere need to set a date for week-day rallies and marches.
But one demonstration in Sydney or Melbourne will not be enough to force Abbott to back down. We need to call on the ACTU to hold nationally coordinated industrial action until Abbott backs down.
Don’t rely on the Senate
If Labor and The Greens voted together, the Senate could easily block the budget completely. But neither Labor leader, Bill Shorten, nor The Greens’ Christine Milne are willing to vote down the budget and force a new election. Shamefully, The Greens have also said they will support the Coalition and pass the increase in petrol tax.
Both are too committed to playing the parliamentary game; but a strong stand from the unions can send a strong message to Labor and The Greens to stand up to Abbott.
After July, Clive Palmer will control the Senate balance of power. But it would be a mistake to think that a millionaire mining baron can be trusted to stand up for the interests of workers and oppose the budget or Abbott’s anti-union legislation.
That’s why we need more demonstrations and more industrial action.
To beat Abbott, we need a repeat of the early period of the Your Rights at Work campaign, when the unions organised mass week-day rallies against Howard’s WorkChoices legislation.
These saw tens of thousands of workers take strike action and demonstrate against the Howard government. In late 2005 around 200,000 people in Melbourne and 30,000 in Sydney City (with thousands more at other Sydney venues) joined the largest of the days of action.
These were launched from mass all-union delegates meetings hundreds strong, that brought together the key union activists to begin mobilising for the protests.
Today Unions NSW held a 600-strong combined unions delegates meeting. Unionists in Melbourne need to pressure Trades Hall to call their own mass delegates meeting during work hours to step up the fight against the budget.
Abbott is ruling for big business and the rich. The blueprint for his budget agenda was drawn up by the Business Council of Australia, in the government’s Commission of Audit. Strike action hits business where it hurts, cutting off their profits.
Ongoing strikes can shut down the country and create the kind of political crisis that could bring Abbott to heel.
Continuing the fight
Some of the union leaders are already talking about a “long campaign” focused on electoral campaigning in marginal seats in the run up to the federal election two and half years away.
This is the same dismal strategy that failed when the union leaders shifted away from industrial action at the end of the Your Rights at Work campaign back in 2006-7. When Labor was elected, all we got was WorkChoices Lite.
It has been a shot in the arm to see Bill Shorten opposing some of the worst elements of Abbott’s budget. But just a year ago, he was part of a Labor government that forced through cuts to single parents’ payments, increased the pension age and cut public service jobs.
The only way to break Labor from its commitment to neo-liberalism is to build a stronger union rank-and file and stronger grassroots social movements to keep up the fight.
A campaign of strikes and demonstrations can build union strength and ability to organise, so that the unions emerge in a stronger position to fight and hold Labor to account.
Photo above: Victorian Trades Hall Council