- The Guardian
- Issue #1998
If it has not already become apparent to the average punter, the Australian working class has been involved in some intense industrial actions across the country.
From teachers, nurses, and rail workers – workers from across different industrial sectors faced intense struggles to win better pay and conditions.
Last month, teachers threatened to strike over planned changes by the NSW government to suspension and expulsion policies in public schools, this included halving the length of maximum school suspensions and ensuring that students were not sent home more than three times a year. The council of the NSW Teachers’ Federation qualified the policy changes as “ill-conceived and flawed,” stressing that these changes would only “place an already strained and disaffected teaching service under even greater pressure.” Additionally, the NSW Teachers’ Federation believes the policy will jeopardise the safety of teachers and create a larger workload.
Tensions rose when NSW nurses and midwives protested in Sydney’s CBD over pay and working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic. In protest to these conditions – which have gone far beyond the limits of any reasonable workplace environment – the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association defied an order on 14th February, issued by the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC), to call off the industrial action. Speaking on the situation, Kathy Triggol a nurse stated that “It’s gotten to the stage that every hospital is the same […]. We’re talking about nurses in the ICU and emergency department who can’t even stop to go to the toilet. It’s just ridiculous.”
Perhaps the most public industrial relations spat happened when management failed to come to an agreement with the NSW Rail, Tram, and Bus Industry Union (RTBU). The next day, the 21st February, management locked out rail workers who had turned up expecting to work. In an attempt to apply pressure on the RTBU to accept a subpar agreement and divert the anger felt by the public onto the union, the NSW government, through the NSW Transport Minister, David Elliott, likened the situation to a “terrorist-like activity,” insinuating that it was workers – not the government – were responsible for the dilemma.
To win or maintain even the most baseline conditions intense workers’ struggles are required. It does not matter how urgent additional funding or improved wages and conditions are required, in particular, during the COVID-19 pandemic, struggle is necessary.
The struggles of the RTBU members, teachers, nurses, and midwives confirm the importance of trade unions and the necessity of militant trade union struggle, solidarity, and working class unity. Workers united will never be defeated!