The Guardian 25 April, 2007

Big rally for Your Rights At Work



About 40-50,000 people attended a rally in Sydney’s Hyde Park to hear a range of trade union and other speakers and to then march to the Sydney Cricket Ground for a rock concert.

John Robertson Secretary of Unions NSW welcomed the large crowd and condemned the Howard government for ripping away the rights of working men and women. He declared that on election day working men and women would be "coming after you John Howard". In this crucial year there was a chance to get rid of this "rotten, stinking and miserable" government he said. He called on marchers to be "loud and proud of where we are and what we stand for".

John Robertson welcomed the participation of the artists who were to perform at the Cricket Ground concert saying that they had all given their time free of charge because they wanted to have their voices heard; they wanted to be part of the campaign.

On AWAs and $85 dollars worse off

George Wong, a Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers’ Union delegate working on Sydney’s monorail told the crowd of their experience with Howard’s IR laws and their "outrage". They had previously been covered by a collective agreement but the owner of the monorail has refused to renegotiate a new agreement. Instead, the company had put the workers on AWAs and they are now $85 per week worse off having had their penalty rates, rest breaks and public holidays cut. The monorail is operated by the French transnational corporation Veolia which, said Mr Wong, had made a profit of $625,000 in Australia last year and $9.7 billion world-wide.

Bernie Banton who became well-known in Sydney because of the battle waged by the Asbestos Association with James Hardie told the large audience that "we had a victory [against James Hardie] but there now needs to be a bigger victory, to say goodbye to the Howard Government". He thanked the trade union movement for its support during the campaign for compensation for those affected by asbestos.

Asked by The Guardian why she was at the rally, Sharon, a teacher and member of the NSW Teachers’ Federation, said that she and her colleagues wanted the right to go to work, have their rights protected and be safe in their jobs.

Young people

Dave, a retired teacher, said that he attended the rally to support the campaign and defend the conditions that his father and grandfather fought for and were now in danger of being lost. Asked about the large number of young people attending the rally he said he was "very encouraged" by this.

Aaron Robertson a postal worker and member of the Communication, Electrical and Plumbers Union said he was participating because it was "very important to protect my working rights not only for myself but for my young son". Aaron’s father Jim, standing by his side and a retired member of the Maritime Union, said it was a very good sign that so many young people were at the rally and taking an interest in their future.

At the end of the rally the large gathering marched to the Sydney Cricket Ground for a multi-band rock concert.

In an attempt to belittle the trade union movement, Joe Hockey, Howard’s Minister for Industrial Relations, sneered that the trade unions couldn’t get a crowd without rock bands. The fact is that young people are some of the main victims of the anti-worker legislation even if they are not yet in a trade union. Hockey should be concerned that many young people are already a wake up to his government’s agenda.

Throughout its history the working class movement has always expressed its aspirations and class struggle through song and music. That’s why the Internationale, We Shall Overcome, Blowing in the Wind, Joe Hill, Waltzing Matilda and many other songs which express resistance to exploitation and repression remain favourites among working class men and women.

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