“Stand up! Fight back!”
This was the message at rallies and marches across Australia on March 9 as tens of thousands of trade unionists and political and community activists gathered in capital cities and regional centres.
There were actions in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra, Gold Coast, Coffs Harbour and Darwin. The Perth rally will be held on March 21, having been held over until after the WA elections.
Almost every trade union joined the protests. Construction workers had downed tools and walked off the job under threat of hefty fines.
A vocal crowd gathered in Victoria Square in Adelaide to protest against the recent decision of the Fair Work Commission to slash penalty rates for many low-paid Australian workers and the passage of the bill in federal parliament to re-establish the Howard era Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).
Protesters made their way from “Ark’s Park” to the Commonwealth offices at 100 King William Street to make their feelings known.
SA Maritime Union of Australia secretary Jamie Newlyn led the crowd in chants before introducing Aaron Cartledge, SA secretary of the General and Construction Division of the CFMEU. He warned workers present that, if the ABCC is re-established, dodgy practices and workplace deaths would increase the same way they did the last time the anti-union secret police force operated.
MUA WA state secretary Christy Cain referred to the victory of the CUB workers over a proposed massive 63 percent wage cut when speaking of the sort of action and unity that will be needed to defeat the latest attacks on jobs, pay and conditions.
Speakers at the Sydney rally outside the Commonwealth offices at Governor Phillip Tower in Sydney also took up the themes of unity and action.
Dave Noonan, national secretary of the Construction Division of the CFMEU said, “Our members go to work in a high risk industry, we try and work safe, we look after each other. But almost once a week we see a construction worker lose their life.”
Noonan warned that this attack isn’t going to stop at penalty rates. He described the rally as the “start of a great struggle”.
CFMEU construction delegate Luke Allan said he didn’t want his four kids to grow up with less rights, entitlements and opportunities than ourselves.
CFMEU state secretary Brian Parker had a strong message for PM Malcolm Turnbull: “Keep your hands off our wages and our conditions.”
NSW assistant secretary of the Nurses and Midwives Association Judith Kiejda focused on penalty rates. “I can tell you the prospect of these cuts is particularly hard to swallow – they target the most vulnerable in our workforces and polarise the growing divide between rich and poor …”
Kiejda made the point that people who lose penalty rates stop spending and have no extra capacity to spend. It is not the way to create employment.
“We cannot allow the Liberal-National government, propped up by the narrow-minded One Nation … to continue leading us own the US path of rising inequality, working poor and social dysfunction,” Kiejda said.
“It paints a very bleak picture for our future and the futures of our kids and grandkids – unless we fight.”
Natalie Lang, NSW secretary of the Australian Services Union, raised the question of corporate profiteering from rape. The Turnbull government is attempting to privatise 1800 RESPECT, the only 24/7 rape and domestic violence centre. The centre is run by specialist counsellors and is highly regarded for its provision of support services to rape and domestic violence victims.
The Turnbull government brought in the multinational health insurance company Medibank Health Solutions to put it out to tender. Staff were contacted and given less than a week to lodge an “expression of interest” in delivering the service they had been delivering.
ACTU president Ged Kearney read from a heart-wrenching letter from Labor Opposition leader Luke Foley highlighting the plight of a 32-year-old rigger Tim McPherson, who was killed on site at Barangaroo. He left behind a pregnant wife and 14-month-old son.
Kearney finished by saying, “We didn’t ask for a war but we’re damn well going to fight it!”
The rally unanimously adopted a resolution with the raising of fists and waving of banners.
“This meeting demands the abolition of the ABCC and Code, the restoration of Sunday penalty rates and a halt to the attack on jobs and living standards of Australian workers,” the resolution said in part.
“We commit ourselves to a united, coordinated and concerted campaign with the whole Australian community to defeat these unjust laws by whatever lawful means necessary including defeating this anti-worker Government at the next election.”