The Guardian 23 November, 2005

IR rallies bigger than expected

An estimated 550,000 workers and supporters rallied around Australia last Tuesday in Australia’s largest ever national workers’ protest against the Howard Government’s new Industrial Relations legislation. The Federal Government dismissed the rallies as a "hysterical overreaction by the union movement".

The massive turnout at the rallies shows there is a huge level of concern not only by workers but across the Australian community about the Government’s proposed legislation.

ACTU President Sharan Burrow said, "Today’s protest is the first ever to be broadcast nationally and this proved to be a huge success. The union broadcast was screened in more than 300 locations across the country, with many regional venues packed to the rafters."

"People I have spoken to today know that their living standards and job security are under threat. They know they will lose protection from being sacked unfairly and they know that their wages and conditions are at risk by the Government’s changes."

The crowd at the Melbourne Rally was by far the largest in the nation with approximately 210,000 people attending.

People attending the Melbourne protest flooded city streets, with the march stretching more than 18 city blocks and taking more than one and a quarter hours to pass.

A further 25,000 people attended rallies and events in other parts of Victoria.

In NSW, more than 150,000 workers, students and others attended rallies at more than 263 venues across state in what was the largest gathering of its type ever held.

Unions NSW Secretary John Robertson said: "This is just the beginning of what will be a long term campaign to protect the future of workers’ rights in Australia."

In some parts of West Australia workers braved temperatures over 40 degrees in order to attend the National Day of Community Protest. An estimated 35,000 workers, family and friends poured onto The Esplanade in Perth, with several thousand more at 13 locations around the State.

Dave Robinson, Secretary of Unions WA reminded those in attendance that the IR legislation was not their only worry — the proposed terror legislation could make such an anti-government rally an act of sedition.

Up to 20,000 then marched noisily through the streets of central Perth with onlookers cheering the marchers on.

When the marchers returned to The Esplanade they were greeted by a feisty address by Willy Madisha, a senior member of COSATU, the peak union body of South Africa. "You must fight and fight even harder."

He urged people to organise their communities and their churches as well as their workplaces. In Queensland 25,000 people attended the Brisbane rally and further 35,000 in other parts of the State.

In South Australia unions estimate up to 40,000 attended the Adelaide rally and march with a further 10,000 attending in other parts of SA. The 600-strong rally in Whyalla was the biggest ever witnessed. "Shame Howard Shame — Union Protected Area", read one placard.

In Darwin around 3,000 people attended a protest meeting and a further 2,000 in Alice Springs, Katherine and other NT locations.

In the ACT around 5,000 people attended a protest meeting at the Canberra Racecourse.

In Hobart unions estimate 6,000 people attended a rally and a further 5,000 in other Tasmanian locations.

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