The June 30 union and community demonstrations against Howard’s planned Industrial Relations laws were magnificent. The Melbourne rally drew 120,000. More than 100,000 participated across New South Wales the next day. Determined protests drew 20,000 in both Perth and Brisbane, 7,000 in Adelaide and many thousands more in Darwin, Hobart and regional centres such as Geelong, Newcastle, Townsville and Cairns. The combined total would easily top 300,000 marchers — many who took stopwork action to be there. These were the protests the ACTU leadership initially didn’t want to have but which militant unionists around the country agitated for and made happen. The rallies were huge because working people know that the Howard Government’s aim is to crush the ability of workers to organise collectively. Workers want to fight back.
ACTU “plan.” But the leaders of the ACTU are counterposing advertising campaigns and community organising to industrial action. Well-targeted advertising campaigns can help, and the union movement needs community support. But these things alone cannot win this campaign. Sympathetic front page coverage of mass rallies in The Age beats any paid ad. And the 1996 Maritime Union dispute was proof positive that the best way to mobilise community support for unions is to lead a fightback and provide a magnet for the community angered by government actions.
What now? If these laws are passed, we will have to take action to stop them from being used. But unionists need to take action now to stop these laws being enacted, because their clear aim is to make it more difficult to organise. We need mass mobilisations and strike action to demonstrate to the Howard Government that it does not have the consent of the majority. Nobody voted to allow workers to be dismissed unfairly, to prevent union organisers entering workplaces and to take back more than a century of hard-won working conditions. If we do not like what the government is doing, then we have the right to resist. This is democracy! Let’s start with another round of national stoppages coupled with union -community protests on 9 August, the first day that the new Senate sits. Ultimately, though, we need more than single-day stoppages and protests. The strike is the most powerful weapon that working people have. Let’s push for workers to walk off the job and stay out from the day after the bill is introduced in Parliament. That is how we can defeat this attack, and kill the anti-union bills.