“Solidarity is the tenderness of the people” – standing with our construction workers
On Wednesday 17 April well over 1,000 construction workers held a demonstration through the business and retail heart of Adelaide's Central Business District. The demonstration was part of the union movement's Change the Rules campaign.
I am not a construction worker but being a member of another union for many years I thought it was a chance to show solidarity with construction workers and their union the CFMMEU as they had been targeted by big business and governments of both Liberal and Labor persuasions ever since I could remember.
I was also interested to see how many construction workers would turn up, realizing that they had more to risk than other workers due to being subjected to not only the anti- worker Fair Work Act laws but also the special "construction police'' which I think are called the ABCC.
When I arrived at the starting point of the demonstration in Adelaide's main square called Tarndanyangga/Victoria Square about 15 minutes before its scheduled start time, there were only a handful of construction workers with their flags and a couple of CFMMEU T-shirts there. I thought, "bloody hell, what's going on here!"
Then out of nowhere from three or four different directions, I saw large groups of workers marching towards the Square, with many colourful union flags and lots of chanting like "I SAY UNION, YOU SAY POWER" and "What Do We Want? Change the Rules! When Do We Want It? Now!”
In the next 15 minutes, the numbers had swelled to well over a thousand!
Then a person who looked like one of the Organizers of the demonstration saw that I was wearing my union cap and carrying my union flag and came over and thanked me for coming along! I also saw him go round and speak to other people who were from other unions too!
I thought that was pretty good of this Organizer and it made me think that all the stuff the media says about the CFMMEU construction union calling them thugs and other names was a load of rubbish!
I got talking to a couple of the construction workers and asked where all the workers suddenly appeared from! They told me that these workers came from all the major sites in the city proper and that their union leaders had gone around and told the bosses that this was how it was going to be. Workers had a right to protest in what is meant to be the land of a fair go for all.
Once all the construction workers had walked off their city jobs and arrived at Victoria Square, we all started marching down the main street, King William Street to the steps of Parliament House in North Terrace. On the way, the construction workers chanted, smiled and waved to the people on the footpaths who were out and about during their well-earned lunch breaks. There were also a lot of shoppers looking on as we got near the main retail area near the famous Beehive Corner.
I have been to demonstrations on different issues. Sometimes the onlookers seem disinterested but on this occasion I could tell that a lot were paying quite bit of attention to the chants, the flags and banners.
Again I thought to myself how wrong the corporate media were about the construction workers and the CFMMEU! The people on the footpaths were interested in what was going on here!
The public reaction was the same when we got to Parliament House steps and the speeches started. Passers by were not booing or turning the other way. They were listening to the speakers and were curious! The speakers varied quite a bit in background. The CFMMEU first speaker was very clear in his message and did not beat around the bush. He said what workers in Australia were involved in now was a class struggle. On the one side was the minority ruling class of capitalist big business and the other side were the hard-working workers, not just construction workers, but workers of all different occupations. The CFMMEU national leaders who spoke told true stories about extreme workplace harassment of a young woman construction worker and the tragic loss of life of construction workers recently at their workplaces.
Even though it was a construction workers demonstration, the CFMMEU welcomed speakers from other unions and SA Unions to the microphone and they all expressed solidarity with the CFMMEU and construction workers and congratulated them all for having the courage to walk off the job to stand together in support of the Change The Rules campaign.
After the demonstration and speeches finished, I thought what a great experience it was to be part of this. I reflected again on how the mass media of big business try to paint the construction workers as thugs and standover merchants! But what I saw in practice at this demonstration was the solidarity of these workers and a living example of solidarity being defined by I think people from Central or South America as "the tenderness of the people".
I thought to myself that no matter what the outcome of the federal election, it is this solidarity of the workers that will win the hearts and minds of millions of working people.