The Guardian 6 July, 2005


A wonderful start!

The massive turnout of workers and trade unionists across Australia is an impressive start to the campaign to defeat the Howard government’s industrial relations agenda. The breadth of the opposition and protest is at least at the level of former great struggles of the trade union movement in Australia. Unions with every type of leadership joined in the marches, meetings and stoppages.

Trade union leaders have recognised that it will be a long campaign which will continue to be built in future months and perhaps over years. This is the clear experience of the long trade union campaign that ultimately led to the defeat of the anti-trade union "Pains and Penalties" legislation of the 1960s. It took years of action by a number of trade unions against this legislation before it led to a massive walk-out across Australia. The legislation, although not repealed, was not used again by employers.

The present campaign could end with the defeat of the Howard government by forcing an early election as the Australian people, the fighting core of which is the working class, reject not only the legislation but the attempt to introduce voluntary student unionism, whittle away health and educational services, sell off Telstra, attack state rights and much else.

At the present time the concentration has to be on the further education and mobilisation of the workforce across Australia, including the majority of workers who are not members of trade unions and are unorganised. As time goes on they will also feel the lash of employer-dictated individual work contracts, AWAs, and the demand that they "sign on the line or you’re out the door!"

No form of struggle should be ruled out.

The winning of the wider community to understand and support trade union actions is another step that needs to be taken. This has also been recognised by the peak trade union body, the ACTU.

A magnificent example of this was during the 1998 attack on the Maritime Union of Australia. Tens of thousands of other workers and community activists rallied to the MUA pickets and undoubtedly played a significant part in beating back the long-planned offensive of Patrick Stevedores, the National Farmers’ Federation and the Federal government.

The confident and enthusiastic feelings of workers at the rallies and demonstrations this past week showed that workers are ready for more action and expect their trade union leaders to take a firm and fighting stand against the coming legislation — and this has been promised by trade union leaders from the ACTU down.

To a certain degree this strong support for action has been building up for a long time, given that the workers have suffered many years of apparent retreat in the face of a steady whittling away of conditions and rights. These include the winding down of awards, the loss of penalties for overtime, the lengthening of working day, the casualisation of many jobs, the introduction of hire company labour to a number of jobs, the erosion of job security and the forced introduction of individual work contracts.

The demonstrations are a wonderful start to what must be a sustained, militant and long campaign.

Every communist and every reader of The Guardian is urged to find a way to become involved, not from the outside of this massive workers’ movement, but by becoming involved together with the workers and their organisations.

The Guardian and the Party’s leaflets have already played a positive role and will continue to do so. At stake is the very future of the trade unions and their independence and ability to represent workers in the unrelenting struggle for their rights, conditions and a more democratic Australia.

Back to index page