The Guardian 6 July, 2005

Wave of protests
to defend trade union rights


Close to a quarter of a million people took part in rallies and marches across Australia on June 30 and July1 against the Howard Government’s industrial relations agenda.

Seven hundred people braved rising flood waters in Lismore, southern NSW, to join more than 100,000 across the state. Although their city had been declared a disaster zone, people battled to several venues to hear about the campaign on a Sky Channel broadcast that linked 220 venues on Friday July 1.

Local organiser Michael Flinn said although people were subdued because of their circumstances, they were determined to play a role in the campaign.

The 200 who gathered at Lismore Workers’ Club made an impromptu march to the local National Party member’s office after the meeting, although the official rally had been abandoned because of the flood. Another rally is planned for July 19.

In Sydney, 20,000 people gathered at Town Hall to hear rank and file workers speak out in defence of rights to collective bargaining and access to unjustified dismissal. They filled the upper and lower halls and the overflow filled the square.

After the speeches they marched the historic "Hungry Mile" to Circular Quay.

As well, people were dispersed in various locations around the inner city. The Sydney of City RSL, South Sydney Leagues, and venues in Surry Hills, Coogee, Drummoyne and Stanmore linked into the main meeting.

The NSW action came hot on the heels of rallies around the country. Brisbane had 20,000, Perth had 15,000, Adelaide had 5000, Hobart had 3000 and Darwin had 2000.

The Sydney rally wrapped up a week of action that started on the Monday with almost 3000 mining and construction workers in the Pilbara in Western Australia striking against the Federal government’s proposed industrial relations changes.

Big turn out in Melbourne

Last Thursday up to 120,000 workers and union supporters took to the streets. The Melbourne CBD was brought to a standstill by the march, which stretched from Flinders St Station all the way back to Trades Hall in Lygon St, a distance of 1.5kilomtres.

Union leaders and state and federal Labor politicians led the march and addressed the rally outside Federation Square, praising people for coming out despite cool conditions.

Victorian Trades Hall Council Secretary, Brian Boyd, said the rally was one of the biggest trade union demonstrations Melbourne has seen in the past decade and highlighted the importance of the trade union movement in Australian history.

"John Howard has to remember that some of the most important achievements in this country have come about from the work of the trade union movement."

He told the massive assembly that trade unions were national icons responsible for many important benefits for working men and women that would not be given up easily.

"We’ve been here for over one hundred years and we’re not going anywhere", he stated.

Other speakers included state industrial relations minister, Rob Hulls; ACTU Secretary, Greg Combet; Father Peter Norden; Ethnic Communities Council representative, Phang Ngyuen; and Kemalex worker, Danna Davic.

In Wollongong over 7000 workers and retired unionists met at the Wollongong Entertainment Centre (WEC) to hear the latest in the campaign via Sky Channel broadcast. Following the broadcast people from various industries, including the maritime, construction, retail, nursing and teachers explained how the changes would affect them and their fellow workers.

In what was billed as the largest demonstration on the South Coast since the 1987 workers’ compensation changes, the meeting then marched up to the Wollongong Mall Ampitheatre chanting slogans calling for workers to be united to defeat Howard.

In Nowra another 3000 workers marched in the main street to the headquarters of the Liberal Member for Gilmore Johanna Gash and another 1000 marched at Batemans Bay.

Adelaide South Australia

Campaign co-ordinators at SA Unions have sent out messages of congratulations to the rank and file unionists responsible for the great success of the June 30 protests in South Australia. An estimated 12,000 people participated in the rallies.

SA Unions had taken a less conventional approach to protesting the Howard/Andrews IR onslaught. They decided to hold numerous protests at different times during the day at the offices of the state’s various Liberal politicians and pro-"reform" bosses’ organisation Business SA.

Over 5000 attended the very vocal protest outside the King William Street (Adelaide) offices of Alexander Downer, Robert Hill and Ferris Ferguson. It was organised by members of the CFMEU, CEPU, RBTU and MEAA.

The Australian Nursing Federation, Public Service Association and Firefighters led a noisy demonstration involving 2000 people outside the Flinders Street office of Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone. Another 2000 answered the call of the AMWU to protest outside the Business SA building. Large numbers turned up at short notice to "welcome" Peter Costello to the Adelaide Convention Centre where he addressed a business gathering.

Perth

Twenty thousand marched on the Thursday through Perth streets in anger and protesting at Howard’s proposed industrial laws.

The CFMEU, the MUA, AMWU, CEPU and the police un­ion rallied at different places and marched to swell the mass rally at PICA in north Perth.

President of ACTU, Sharan Burrow declared the unions would fight for their rights as long as it takes to win. She had been to an international trade union meeting, and expected support for the Australian unions against Howard.

Lisa Baker of WA Council of Social Services told the people that 30,000 needy people were not getting help and Howard’s laws would put them back to the USA model; where the poor and disadvantaged were on their own.

Labor Premier Geoff Gallop told the workers he was for balance and fair play in industrial relations but there could not be that under Howard’s proposed laws. There could not be good government if there was no trust in working people.

Queensland

On June 30, Brisbane and regional rallies drew thousands of protestors in a day of action. In Brisbane an estimated 30,000 took part and further north there were successful rallies in Rockhampton (2000), Gladstone (2000), Cairns (2000), Townsville (700) and Mackay (1200).

King George Square in Brisbane was packed out with a highly successful rally organised by the Queensland Council of Unions. Three groups of unions converged on the Square to join other protestors. The electrical union and CFMEU marched from one location, the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union from another and from the third location the MUA, Transport Workers Union and Rail Bus and Tram Union marched under the banner of the Queensland Transport Unions Federation.

As they marched they chanted "Workers united will never be defeated".

One of the striking features of all the actions was the bread of the unity as various unions and political forces joined with the common aim of defeating Howard’s legislation and defending the rights, jobs, wages and working conditions of workers across Australia.

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