The November 15 union and community protests against the Howard Government’s vicious anti-union laws were a magnificent show of working class anger and unity. More than 600,000 people mobilised to say “no” to the grossly misnamed Work Choices laws as well as to other connected attacks on working people, such as the Welfare to Work legislation (see editorial Time to halt the race to the bottom). The size and determination of these actions demonstrated that working people not only want to resist Howard’s anti-working class agenda, they want to stop it.
To stop the laws was always going to require more than a lobbying exercise. Howard has the numbers in both houses of parliament and — notwithstanding the populist rhetoric about “saving Christmas” from National Party Senator Barnaby Joyce — the bosses got more from Howard than they could have ever dreamed of. But the size of the protests must have made the ruling class nervous, especially the declarations by union leaders such as Greg Combet that they would not pay fines. Employers are watching and waiting. What the union movement does now is crucial.
If the energy of the movement is funnelled into a re-elect the ALP campaign, the message to the bosses will be to use the laws for all they’re worth. Yes, we want to get rid of John Howard and his anti-worker crew at the next election. But we must remember that, despite Beazley’s vow to tear up the laws, he hasn’t committed to scrapping individual contracts.
We need a mass movement that is politically independent from both parties — prepared to take industrial action and build a fightback in defiance of these laws. When workers strike, this it is a powerful weapon and one the movement must use. Many unionists are campaigning to push the ACTU to hold a national stoppage and mass union-community protest on 1 March, the day the new laws are enacted. This would be a great start. We must also be ready to swiftly defend the first unionists targeted under these laws, making the price of using them too high. Ultimately, by stopping work in every industry across the country until the laws are withdrawn, workers would defeat them once and for all — and tell Howard, or whoever, not to mess with us!