Thursday, November 30, 2006

Workers Rally Against Federal IR Laws

Waiting for the rally to begin, with his family next to him, this construction workers proudly wears a t-shirt emblazoned with a cobra, and the militant challenge "If provoked...will strike..."

More than 100,000 workers rallied yesterday throughout Australia against the Federal Government's Industrial Relations laws.

The essence of the laws has been the shift from collective bargaining and union representation in the workplace to individual un-Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs), resulting in loss of many hard-won working conditions and entitlements. 

The ruling class has particularly singled out building workers, who have been in the forefront of the class battle for many years. One hundred and seven building workers in Western Australia have been individually fined $28,000 for taking what would have once been regarded as legitimate and protected industrial action. Many face the prospect of gaol for being unable or unwilling to pay the fine.

These are Australian families that are being attacked by an Australian Prime Minister. As Henry Lawson, Australia's finest poet wrote: "When they gaol a man for striking, it's a rich man's country yet!"

Here in Adelaide we didn't quite get the numbers of the big Kathmandu rally (see post below), but a respectable 10,000 still left their workplaces to show their opposition to the IR laws. The massive rally at the MCG in Melbourne was beamed into the Adelaide rally, and into other rallies around the country in cities and regional centres.

Community-based organisations are emerging in this struggle to stand alongside the unions. One such, the Southern Workers Defence Committee, based in the southern Adelaide suburbs, carried a banner commemorating the late John Cummins, a solid Marxist-Leninist and leader of the construction workers union in Melbourne.

The nationwide rallies, organised by the Australian Council of Trade Unions, could have been a gift for the Labor Party had not its various factions decided to renew their public brawling. Labor leader Kim Beazely looked supremely confident as he addressed the Melbourne rally, pledging to "rip these laws up" if elected to office next year, but many must have wondered if this was something of a swan song on his part. Australian rock legend Jimmy Barnes, resplendent in a Eureka t-shirt, fittingly closed the Melbourne rally with an exuberant version of his anthemic "Working Class Man".

At the end of the Adelaide rally, participants held a march through the city.

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