Protesters held a successful demonstration in downtown Melbourne, on Wednesday 13 September, in solidarity with 500 plus locked out shop distribution workers in New Zealand. The workers are employed by a company called ‘Progressive Enterprises’, which is owned by Woolworths Australia. Progressive Enterprises bosses said they would lock out the workers until they drop demands for a collective union agreement. The workers are fighting for decent pay rises and pay parity across three New Zealand distribution centres.
UNITE, the fighting union for fast food and retail workers in Victoria State, Australia, organised the action outside the QV Centre, which is one of Melbourne’s busiest shopping areas. QV is home to both Big W and Safeway, which are also owned by Woolworths.
UNITE supporters were joined by members from unions and community groups, including a union apprentice committee that closed their meeting to attend the action. Delegations were also sent from several other unions. Other groups also participated, including socialist groups, like the Socialist Party (CWI), which initiated UNITE.
During the two hour action, over 2,000 leaflets were distributed to shoppers and hundreds of names were collected on a support petition. The city corner was also plastered with posters attacking Woolworth’s’ union busting activities.
UNITE called on shoppers to consider not shopping at Woolworths outlets while the company treat their workers in this way. Consumer boycotts can be a replacement for workers’ organisation and action, but protests like this can play a useful auxiliary role to industrial action. Australian unionists let the NZ workers know they are not alone.
UNITE supports the idea of direct solidarity action, including solidarity strikes. Union activists in Australia will continue to keep the pressure on Woolworths, by organising more actions.