Over half a million workers marched across Australia on 15 November, protesting against John Howard’s new Industrial Relations laws. The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) called the national community day of protest with meetings and rallies in all major cities.
Below, Anthony Main, Socialist Party National Organiser, and a leading activist in the Metal Workers’ Union, reports on the day of protest in Melbourne. Anthony also reports on an important union meeting on political representation, which he chaired, held after the walkouts and mass rallies in Melbourne.
15 November “a brilliant display of workers’ strength”
“The biggest march and rally was in Melbourne, in the state of Victoria, with over 250,000 workers marching in the city. Given Australia’s population of 20 million, the more than half a million strong protests across the country are very impressive. They show the power of the organised working class.
“Huge anger from below pushed the Australian Council of Trade Unions [ACTU] leaders to call for the action. Even though the protest was limited to marches and video link-up meetings, the response from workers across Australia was magnificent
“The government tried a media campaign against workers going on strike. In some cases, bosses threatened workers with fines of up to $22000 if they took action.
“In a shift to the left, at least in words, ACTU leader, Greg Combet said he would refuse to pay fines for standing up for workers’ rights. ‘We must look the Government in the eye and stare them down,’ he said. ‘I will be asking other union leaders to adopt the same stance.’
“The Socialist Party was present on the demonstrations around Australia, including in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth. In Melbourne we sold our paper, ‘The Socialist’, and sold over 5,000 anti-Howard stickers. Many hundreds of badges and other literature were also sold on the day.
“The mood on 15 November was serious. The legislation is now in place and it won’t be long before the attacks start in the workplaces. The Socialist Party got a good response on the day, especially with the call to take bold and determined mass industrial action to defeat the government’s new laws.
“Whilst the demonstrations were a brilliant display of workers’ strength, now is the time for industrial action to be stepped up. The Socialist Party is calling for a one-day national general strike, as the next step in the campaign.
“Later, we took part in a public meeting, organised by the ETU electricians’ union, in Melbourne - ‘The Great Debate: Howard is against us – Who is for us?’; ‘Labour? Greens? Independents? New Party?
“Around 150 people turned out, to discuss political representation for working people. Importantly, there were young workers in the audience.
“The speakers included unions that represent electricians, postal workers, plumbers and fire fighters and also Steve Jolly, the Socialist Party councillor in Yarra Council, in Melbourne, and a representative of a huge public housing estate in Richmond, Melbourne. I was asked to chair the meeting.
“The meeting felt the opposition Australian Labor Party had let down workers over many years but some speakers said workers have no choice but to “reform” the Australian Labor Party (ALP) from inside.
“Steve Jolly argued the neo-liberal Australian Labor Party no longer represents workers. He called for a new mass, workers’ party and got a good reception for this.
“The meeting was definitely worth having. It was an important step forward in the discussion on political representation for workers and youth. The Socialist Party continues to call for a new workers’ party.”
“The mass action of 15 November will help to radicalise more workers and youth. Events like this will mean our call for a new workers’ party will get a stronger response.”