Build the Blacktown rally

The labour movement in NSW has been divided about what to do on the ACTU's day of action on June 28. UnionsNSW initially wanted no rally. The CFMEU, AMWU, NUW and MUA pushed for a central Sydney rally. Blacktown emerged as the compromise that many unions have welcomed through gritted teeth.

A lack of democracy at delegates' meetings was necessary for UnionsNSW to ensure that the Blacktown option was kept tightly controlled. However, real unity is built through democratic discussion, involvement of the rank-and-file in decisionmaking and united action. Despite an overly bureaucratic hand on decisionmaking, we must unite behind the Blacktown rally and fight for a political strategy to combat the Howard government.

Phil Sanford reports on a May 21 rally in Sydney's west to build for the ACTU day of action on June 28.

The Howard government's anti-union laws will mean a dramatic decline in the standard of living, the secretary of UnionsNSW, John Robertson, told a meeting of more than 100 people in Toongabie in Sydney's west on May 21.

The meeting was called to help build the June 28 rally against the laws at nearby Blacktown, one of the major industrial centres in Sydney.

An enthusiastic audience of trade unionists and community members listened to four speakers condemn the Howard government's anti-union laws. This was followed by a lively half-hour discussion from the floor and a barbecue.

Robertson said the values that define Australia are under attack by the Howard government in the interests of big business. Some 27% of working people now have casual jobs and this is expected to rise to 35% in the next five to 10 years.

"If you are unemployed and you knock back a job you lose your benefits for eight weeks _ even if it means signing a contract with no rights."

Robertson said that rural and regional areas were very hard hit by the laws "because changing a job means uprooting your whole family to move to another area".

Robertson said that the campaign against the laws will continue to build over the coming months "so that by April 2007 we will have 150,000 to 200,000 on the streets".

"The campaign is not simply about kicking out Howard because the ALP's position is not where it should be," he said. "The Labor Party has to adopt an industrial relations policy based on fairness, equity and decency."

CFMEU state secretary Andrew Ferguson told the meeting: "We're going to make June 28 the biggest workers' rally ever seen in Western Sydney."

He said that the government had enacted special anti-union laws in the building industry. These included a task force which has greater powers than the NSW Police, with no right to silence and no protection against self-incrimination. Building workers had been interrogated because they had participated in the nationwide mass protests on November 15 last year.

"It is now unlawful to have union meetings on building sites, even on issues concerning workplace safety. The union can be fined $110,000 for each company on a site and workers face a fine of $22,000 a head for attending a meeting."

"These are some of the worst anti-labour laws in the world," Ferguson said. "If the government gets away with this attack on building workers it will spread to all industries."

Sharon Canty from the Parents and Citizens Association of NSW warned that young people were particularly vulnerable to WorkChoices. She said the legislation had to be seen in the context of other attacks on basic rights such as the welfare to work laws, the introduction of voluntary student unionism and the changes to occupational health and safety.

Sister Libby Rogerson, the Social Justice Co-ordinator for the Diocese of Parramatta, said there were no choices in WorkChoices. "Rest, relaxation and family time are under assault from these laws,'' she added. "They impact on those sections of the community least able to defend themselves such as women, young people and migrants."

The wide range of unions, church and community groups represented at this meeting suggest that the June 28 rally will be an important step forward in the campaign to defeat Howard's reactionary laws.

Phil Sanford is an HSU delegate at Cumberland hospital


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