The Guardian • Issue #1989

Sydney community rallies in support of booksellers

  • by E Lennon
  • The Guardian
  • Issue #1989

The Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU) organised a protest in Sydney’s Camperdown Memorial Park, rallying the local community to support staff in an ongoing fight for better working conditions.

More than 150 supporters joined the booksellers on 19th November, including members of the Communist Party of Australia, unionists, workers, students, and community members. The demonstrators circled the block in the Sydney suburb of Newtown, walking past the store itself.

The demonstration comes after the Better Read Than Dead ownership group Parkstone Funds Management reneged on its initial agreements reached earlier this year in July.

The workers are in the first retail industrial action in over fifty years. Workers since the stoush have been calling the business group “hypocritical” due to the irony of it profiting on a progressive slogan and image.

Zachary Moore-Boyle worked at Better Read Than Dead from 2016 to late 2020. He and other workers in the store came together when the bookstore’s conditions reached a breaking point. He said that in his time as a bookseller there, he witnessed workers put into uncomfortable positions, precarious employment, divided by favouritism, and given unrealistic work demands.

Moore-Boyle addressed the crowd at the Camperdown Memorial Park rally and said that an enterprise bargaining agreement was the only way they could “codify an equitable workplace.”

“An employee at Better Read Than Dead was expected to be a Jack of all trades,” said Moore-Boyle. “Those not comfortable doing more than being a bookseller were looked on disfavourably.”

The workers decided to engage in collective action because they believed it was otherwise impossible to secure fairer working conditions.

Moore Boyle went on to say that the best the Better Read Than Dead owners can do is delay the inevitable.

Stella Babidge, a member of the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union and bookseller, spoke at the rally saying that the fight against the employers is indicative of a greater struggle of workers against capitalism.

Babidge says that the initial in-principle agreement that RAFFWU and the workers achieved was a “huge” win; however, the employer’s attempt to backtrack has meant a setback in winning better conditions.

“Since [the first negotiations] our bosses have stalled and reneged on their agreement,” said Babidge.

Lexie Eatock, a junior book buyer at Better Read, disagrees with the action, telling the Sydney Morning Herald that the workers were “taking on a small business”coming out of lockdowns.

While Better Read Than Dead may be a boutique business, it’s hardly a “mum and dad” small business. The bookstore is owned by Parkstone Funds Management, a group of investors who own retail stores Australia-wide. The owners cannot cry poor when they generate millions of dollars in revenue across their national portfolio.

The workers deserve more and are asking for nothing more than the bare minimum: secure work, increased pay, and an end to workplace harassment. They’ve demonstrated that the only way to achieve these things is through collective action.

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