Thousands oppose Howard’s IR laws

The bosses and the media miss the point!

About 60,000 attended the rally at the MCG yesterday and 250,000 people attended other rallies around the country as part of a national day of action against John Howard’s IR laws.

More than 10,000 teachers took part in the rally with many schools closed down for the day. The Master Builders Association (a union for employers) claimed that the rally had cost construction bosses $20 million with up to 15,000 construction workers in attendance.

Whilst the rally was perhaps smaller than anticipated it was still a fantastic show of workers strength. Despite the fact that the bosses now have laws that help them sack workers at their whim, many still stood up and came out in opposition to the Howard regime.

It was reported that up to three train lines, mostly coming from industrial areas like Dandenong and Frankston, were down simultaneously. This undoubtedly had some effect on the numbers as many workers would just have found it impossible to get to the venue.

Workers heard speeches from union leaders and politicians and were entertained by comedians Dave Hughes and Corrine Grant from the Glass House. Jimmy Barnes also played a couple of songs for the crowd. There was then a march to Federation Square in the city centre for more speeches and entertainment provided by band The Conch.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, some of the gutter press decided to highlight the fact that some of the MCG’s light towers were daubed with graffiti the night before the rally. It is also unfortunate, but not surprising, that some conservative elements in the trade union movement have tried to pin the blame on UNITE members for this act.

UNITE states clearly that none of our members were involved in painting slogans around the ground. We believe that this act was inappropriate on the day. As a small union that is trying to get of the ground it would be both stupid and irresponsible for us to engage in such an action. We are trying to build bridges in the movement not burn them down before they are even finished.

Apart from the fact that the word ‘unite’ was painted on one light tower, none of the slogans were anything close to those that UNITE uses in its work. The idea that only the UNITE union could be responsible for using such a common word is just ludicrous.

It is clear that the growth of UNITE poses a threat to both the employers and their yellow mates in the union movement. This is why UNITE will continue to face these kinds of attacks. UNITE is about boosting the pay of fast food and retail workers. This will cause major damage to the profit margins of the bosses, not minor damage to a few light towers.

Whilst UNITE wants to build on the positives of the rally yesterday it also wants to flag that the sole strategy of having rallies and relying on the Labor Party at the next election will not be enough to defeat the laws. It is clear that the rallies are getting progressively smaller. This is both because of the effects of the laws and that many workers are uninspired by current the state of the campaign.

Workers are much less inclined to go to a rally where they will lose pay and risk losing their job just to be told to vote for the ALP. The stunt of changing the aim of the campaign from ‘fighting’ to ‘voting’ is a major mistake. Most workers rightly see the federal ALP as in disarray and barely different to the Liberals.

UNITE calls on the union leadership to open up a genuine debate about which way forward for the campaign. Much more discussion needs to be had about putting all of our eggs in the ALP basket. It is our opinion that the union movement must also develop an industrial strategy to fight any attempt by bosses to use the laws. This should include strike action in defence of jobs and pay cuts. Hitting bosses in the hip pocket is the best way to make sure they don’t use the laws.

Let’s build on the mass mobilisations to ensure that we both get rid of the IR laws and the Howard government.