The Guardian 11 May, 2005

Workers prepare for Howard's IR attack

Bob Briton

Well attended rallies of building workers in Melbourne and Adelaide last week kicked off the long campaign to defeat the federal government's proposed industrial relations law changes. Thousands of workers in Melbourne and over 1500 in Adelaide left their jobs in an act of defiance against the so-called Building and Construction Industry Improvement Bill. The Bill contains retrospective provisions dating back to March 10. These outlaw all industrial action during the life of an agreement and boost fines for unsanctioned industrial action to $110,000 for organisations and $22,000 for individuals.


The rallies followed on from well supported May Day activities across the country which also had the reactionary legislation as their main theme. In Sydney, unions reported the biggest participation of rank and file members in the parade for many years. The success of these recent events is a good indicator that plans being developed by the labour movement to build the broadest possible resistance to the IR changes are on track.

As South Australian secretary of the CFMEU Construction and General Division Martin O'Malley pointed out last week, the forms of struggle against the attack will be many and varied. Speaking in praise of the many workers from the service sector that attended the Building Trades Federation rally, Martin pointed out that it is often more difficult to organise industrial action in their workplaces than on building sites and that the task before all workers is to devise the most effective form of opposition possible. Flags and banners from the Australian Services Union, Australian Nurses Federation, Miscellaneous Workers Union and the Finance Sector Union were prominent at last week's Adelaide rally.

All over the country, unions and peak union organisations have been calling meetings of delegates to develop a powerful campaign. The ACTU has made resources available for an extensive union training program entitled Your Rights at Work Worth Fighting For. Affiliated unions are considering a levy on members to fund a nationwide TV advertising campaign costing $8 million.

In line with campaigns being developed elsewhere, delegates to the Victorian Trades Hall Council are urging workers to take these first steps and to get active in their workplace and their community straight away:

  • Pass a workplace motion opposing the Government's proposals and calling on your employer to guarantee that your current wages and conditions will be maintained and that they will respect your right to collectively bargain.

  • Make an appointment with your local federal member of Parliament and present the motion to him/her. Let them know how the changes will disadvantage you and your family.

  • Talk to your workmates who are not in a union about why there has never been a better time to join and why if the government gets their laws through, we will have to stick together to keep our livelihoods. Work towards majority union membership in your area by talking to people and educating them about how these changes will affect them.

  • Stay informed and involved through checking the Trades Hall and ACTU websites for regular updates (http://www.vthc.org.au or http://www.actu.asn.au) and becoming involved in your union.

  • Take your message to the community. Ring talkback radio and tell them how your life and the life of your family will change for the worse if you have to work harder and longer for less pay. Speak at your local sports club, parents group, community group etc. about the changes. Your union and Trades Hall will have material available to help you explain these changes to others.

    Unions are building for a week of activities involving workers and their families leading up to rallies on June 30. On July 1 the Coalition will get control of the Senate and will be in a position to start its anti-worker blitzkrieg when the new upper house first sits early in August.

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