More than 300 fitters and electricians are on strike at Toyota’s Altona plant in Melbourne. The strike began on Wednesday in defence of an AMWU shop steward and was quickly deemed ‘unauthorised action’ by the Industrial Relations Commission. Union officials have been injuncted off the picket but the workers have been joined by many members of the community in an assembly outside the plant.
AMWU shop steward, Tony Brooks a senior delegate, was discriminated against after being guaranteed his job at Altona by Toyota during the Port Melbourne consolidation. During the consolidation process 795 employees from Port Melbourne had been given an option of either transferring their job to Altona or taking redundancy.
Tony was the only employee not offered his existing position. He was locked out on 29 August and offered a lower skilled job on the production line, he refused and his fellow workers have rallied around him. Moving Tony to another area would mean he would be sidelined from his union activities not to mention the issues of the deskilling of his position.
Victorian Police were used on Wednesday afternoon to prevent striking workers setting up an effective picket line and even talking to fellow workers. Picketers were prevented by police from assembling on driveways and they were unable to effectively communicate their concerns to truck drivers delivering and receiving parts. The police threatened picketers with arrest for stopping trucks and even for leafleting workers in the plant driveway. Police also instructed workers they couldn’t have a fire and even tried to stop a caravan being parked near one of the gates.
The level of police involvement in this dispute has not been witnessed in Melbourne for some time. Some of the production workers were still working yesterday and picketers wanted to discuss the issue with them. At the end of shift management directed the production workers straight out of the car park and police then directed workers through the picket at high speeds. Police directed the traffic against red lights and had drivers banked up on Grieve Parade as the operation took place.
Many thousands of leaflets were distributed however thanks to some clever manoeuvring and the craftiness of the strikers. Toyota management has obliviously planned for this strike for some time, both the police and management were well prepared.
The task now for our movement now is to mobilise hundreds of workers at the gates in opposition to Toyota’s attacks on our shop stewards. Shop stewards are the back bone of our movement; if Toyota is allowed to sack delegates unfairly it sends a message to other bosses that this behaviour is ok. We need to rally around this dispute in a big way.