The Guardian 4 May, 2005

May Day marches
focus on Howard’s IR changes

This year’s May Day marches were marked by larger numbers than last year and stronger and more colourful trade union contingents. As always the banners, placards and T-shirts took up many pressing issues including peace, international solidarity, human rights, workers’ safety, refugees and Indigenous rights. But the overriding theme of the Day was universal opposition to the industrial relations changes about to be unleashed by the Howard government.

Adelaide led the way last Saturday with numbers up from last year. Hundreds of workers carried their flags, banners, placards and balloons from Victoria Square past the main shopping precinct to Rymill Park where they were greeted by songs from the Trade Union Choir.

Cheryl Scopazzi of the SA Unions May Day Committee introduced the program. Human rights activist Hassan Varasi spoke of what he calls the “TPV regime” — the bureaucratic limbo of the Temporary Protection Visa that many asylum seekers live in which prevents them from getting on with their lives. They are unable to sponsor loved ones and live in fear of adverse reviews. Of course, the harshest situation is suffered by the “mums and dads who escaped hostile regimes only to be locked up for years and years in Baxter Nauru and elsewhere.”

AMWU SA state secretary John Camillo read parts of the 1828 Master and Servants Act which allowed for the whipping of workers for forming unlawful associations (unions) to advance their interests. He outlined the major changes that could well be inflicted on Australian workers after July 1 that would return us to something akin to those very dark days. Huge fines and stiff jail terms would replace the cat-o’-nine-tails, but the same bullying spirit lives on in the heart of the Howard government. He reminded the gathering of the eventual victory of the early unions to prevent the bosses’ “freedom of contract”, even after some crushing defeats in the 1890s.

John also warned of possible negative consequences of a free trade agreement between China and Australia for manufacturing workers and encouraged workers to support the Building Trades Federation’s rally the following Wednesday to further protest Howard’s IR changes.

Five thousand rallied and marched through the streets of Fremantle with more than double the number of last year.

Dr Carmen Lawrence, Labor MP for Fremantle, called for the widest possible campaign against Howard, for the proposed IR laws not only affect unions, but all workers, particularly women and the lowest paid.

A speaker for the Noongar people reminded the audience of how much they had suffered in stolen children and stolen wages. If Howard can carry out the laws many workers would suffer from stolen wages too.

The head delegate of the 62 on strike for nine weeks at West Farmers coalmine at Collie told of the growing solidarity of the men and the wide support they had from many workers. Their stand was an indication of the readiness to fight Howard and Andrews.

A leaflet and poem were issued recalling the widespread strikes in 1969 against the jailing of Clarrie O’Shea, secretary of the Melbourne Tramways Union. They freed O’Shea and won the right to strike without penalties for some time.

In warm autumn weather in Sydney around 5000 workers marched on Sunday. Many union contingents turned out, each with flags flying, creating a brightly coloured frieze moving through the city centre. Many solidarity organisations also joined in. The theme was Build a United Front — Struggle for Workers’ Rights. Speakers were John Robinson, Secretary Unions NSW, Maree O’Halloran, President of the NSW Teachers’ Federation, Greens Senator Kerry Nettle and Dr Hannah Middleton from the peace movement.

May Day Committee secretary Warren Smith said, “we’re sending a message to John Howard that we’re not going to cop it, we’re going to fight.”

In Melbourne around 3000 workers marched from Trades Hall in the suburb of Carlton to Treasury Gardens. There the main theme was “We CAN defeat Howard’s laws”.

In Brisbane, an estimated 10,000 marched on Monday May 2, Labour Day, followed by celebrations and speeches in Roma St Parkland.

They marched under the banner Unions Make Work Safe, calling for safe jobs, security of employment, protection for wages and conditions. As elsewhere, marchers expressed strong opposition to Howard’s anti-worker offensive.

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