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Workers rally in response to Turnbull’s war on workers

Marcus H.

On the morning of Tuesday June 20, 2017, more than 30,000 workers descended on the streets of Melbourne to oppose the Turnbull Liberal Governments attack on working people. The protest was part of a National Day of Action, with workers uniting under the theme 'Stand Up, Fight Back – Stop the War on Workers!'

The march commenced from Victorian Trades Hall, the oldest continuing union building in the world where Unionists have gathered, proceeded past the Eight Hour Monument, and continued down Victoria Street and into Swanston Street, with the protesting workers converging on the intersection of Flinders Street.

Construction workers from the CFMEU, ETU, AWU, Metal Workers and Plumbers Union comprised the greatest representation in the day of action.

With the reintroduction of the Australian Building and Construction Commission and the impending new Construction Code to be introduced on September 1st, construction workers and their Unions are subjected to a different set of laws from all other workers.

Under the proposed code, Union clothing, stickers, posters and flags would be banned from construction sites. Clauses in Enterprise Agreements protecting contractors and limiting the use of casual labour are also set to be banned. The hard fought and won conditions of the 36 hour week, the RDO calendar, Christmas and Easter shutdown periods and inclement weather clauses are also under attack.

Prior to the March, the ABCC had issued threats to the Construction Unions, warning them against taking part in what the conservative government labels ‘unprotected action’.

And just as new Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Sally McManus, has stated; “Bad laws need to be broken”, the workers were not deterred, defying the ABCC’s threats and streaming off building sites all over Melbourne to attend the rally, demanding an end to the most vicious anti-union attacks from any Government in decades.

Outside Trades Hall, John Setka, Victorian Secretary of the Construction Division of the CFMEU, emphasised the right for construction workers to have safe working conditions on-site, highlighting that under the previous ABCC, deaths on construction sites across Australia spiralled, with 330 workers killed on the job in that period. 

Setka questioned the need for the taskforce against construction workers and their Unions, when it was a fact the Australia has the safest and most productive workforce anywhere in the world. Setka concluded; “If we spend $50 million on fines, but we save one worker from being killed, then it’s all been worth it”

Earl Setches from the Plumbers Union was then joined on stage by Setka and his deputy, assistant secretary of the CFMEU, Shaun Reardon. Both Setka and Reardon have been subjected to years of demonisation by the right-wing and corporate owned media for their part of being effective leaders of the Working Class. 

Setches reassured the workers; “John bleeds for construction workers, both he and Shaun have put the union movement before themselves, but today we’re putting them before us”. In response to the threats from the ABCC, Reardon reminded the protestors; “They can’t lock us all up!”

The workers in struggle marched alongside a large Eureka Flag, the symbol of fighting back against oppression, bad laws and tyrannical Government.

The rally concluded at the intersection of Swanston and Flinders Street, where the Victorian leader of the Electrical Trades Union, Troy Gray explained the current situation “This is what we need to fight a war on workers, a war on workers initiated by the Turnbull Government”, he then added “In a recession no one does it harder than workers, but under this Government, after twenty-six years of successive growth, what have we got? We have the lowest wages outcomes in Australia’s history, we have the highest casual labour rate ever in the history of Australia; low wages, high casual rates; that means a lower living standard, that’s part of the attack, that’s part of the war on workers initiated by this Government”

The ETU leader then went on to state “Under the leadership of this Government corporate companies have been given the green light to attack workers and to initiate the war on workers” Gray then highlighted three examples of attacks on working people under the watch of the Turnbull Government.

The first of such examples was the attack on the Alcoa ship, the MV Portland, where workers, members of the Maritime Union, were dragged from the ship in the middle of the night, and replaced with a foreign, exploited crew, on a reported $2 an hour. 

Gray then spoke of the 2016 CUB Dispute – The Battle of the Brewery – in which the plant's maintenance fitters and electricians were sacked, and then offered their positions back at a cut wage rate of 65% less per hour. Following a six month campaign the workers, members of the ETU and AMWU, won the dispute and were reinstated.

The third example of attacks on workers given is the current, CUB style of tactics being used at the Casino to displace the facilities electricians.

Others to speak at the 'Stand Up, Fight Back – Stop the War on Workers!' rally were Ben Davis from the Australian Workers Union, Luba Grigorovich from the Rail, Tram and Bus Union, Craig Kelly from the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, and Rupert Evans from the Community and Public Sector Union.

 

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