Michael Janda from the Sydney Uni Labor Club was in Melbourne for a NUS conference. Michael comments:
"I was in Melbourne at the National Labor Students conference and NUS National Education Conference last week. I had never been to a union rally in Melbourne before and there is no experience quite like it. National Labor Students ended up marching sandwiched between the CFMEU and the MUA although, surprisingly, our contingent of 50 was the loudest group there. The scene in Bourke Street Mall was incredible as one gazed down the hill and up again towards the Victorian parliament; all you could see were people, flags and banners. This was the largest rally I had been on since the anti-war protests of 2003, and it would have been worth going to Melbourne just to go to it."
executive committee member
Sydney University Labor Club
We also carry a report from UNITE's Anthony Main:
Labor Tribune welcomes this Melbourne roundup from Anthony Main, leader of the new retail union body, Unite.
While we do not agree that "more strikes" are the answer in themselves or that significant space is opening up outside the ALP for a "principled left opposition" at this time, we welcome his call for a serious discussion on the future of the campaign against WorkChoices.
Strikes and elections must be considered for what they are: important tactical strings to a strategic political campaign. Neither should be elevated to the level of strategic importance.
Melbourne turns it on
Workers hit the streets to say no to Howard’s laws. writes Anthony Main, UNITE secretary
Close to 150,000 people attended the mass demonstration in Melbourne as part of the June 28 national day of protest against Howard’s industrial relations laws. Large contingents of workers from blue and white collar unions were in attendance. Many families and young people joined the march as it was a school holiday in Victoria.
The mood of the demonstration was notably more sombre than the previous mass protests of June and November last year. The turnout was marginally smaller, especially compared to the demonstration of November 15. Federal industrial relations minister Kevin Andrews jumped on this, claiming that the smaller than expected turnout was a disappointment to the unions and reflected their irrelevance to most ordinary Australians.
This is obviously not the case: 300,000 people on the streets is nothing to be scoffed at. However, the reasons as to why the protests were smaller need to be raised in the movement. Discussions with workers on the march revealed that many were somewhat disillusioned with the campaign strategy of Victorian Trades Hall and the ACTU. Trades Hall secretary Brian Boyd said three more rallies were scheduled for the next 18 months, with up to five possible before the next federal election.
Many workers are asking “will continued protests be enough to defeat the laws?” Some seem to have concluded that this will not be enough and decided to stay at work. Mass demonstrations are a key part of the campaign but these alone every six months linked to a marginal seats campaign to re-elect the ALP is by no means enough.
Kim Beazley and less so Steve Bracks received a reasonable response from the crowd when they spoke from the main platform in Bourke Street. This was mostly due to Beazley’s recent announcement to scrap individual contracts should the ALP win the next federal election. Beazley’s back flip on individual contracts should be welcomed and has, without a doubt, galvanised support for the ALP in the labour movement. But still many workers are not comfortable with the idea that the ALP will save us. Memories of the previous federal Labor government and the fact the ALP state governments continue to attack workers leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many trade unionists.
This was highlighted by the contingent of firefighters who were less than impressed with Bracks’s hypocritical speech. Bracks said he was there to speak up for the rights of Victorian families, declaring that penalty rates, annual leave and overtime entitlements were all under threat. At the same time the state government is in dispute with the firefighters over pay parity for country and metropolitan workers.
By far the best response on the day was for the rank and file speakers who shared their horror stories about the IR laws. While Labor has received a short term boost in support, among active trade unionists and more generally throughout the working class, some believe that support for a principled left opposition to the ALP is growing.
The demonstration on June 28 was a fantastic show of workers' strength. Even VECCI, Victoria's bosses’ organisation, said the rally cost $30 million in lost trade and absenteeism. But the movement now needs to seriously discuss how to best take this campaign forward. If the campaign is not escalated workers will quickly become demoralised and withdraw from activity. To succeed in defeating Howard’s IR laws the good work done so far on the propaganda front and the mass demonstrations need to be linked to a serious campaign of industrial action.