Victoria’s health workers and teachers give lessons on how to fight WorkChoices

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Women workers are leading the resistance! Paid far less than their counterparts in the rest

of Australia, nurses, allied health workers and teachers have ignited a spark in the union

movement. They are showing other unionists, battered by Howard’s vicious anti-union

legislation, the how and why of sheer defiance. Victoria’s nurses and teachers saw out

2007 with the most awesome industrial action seen in years!

It started with the nurses. The state Labor government of John Brumby arrogantly

rejected the Australian Nursing Federation’s (ANF) claim for a 6.5 percent pay rise,

refusing to move from its insulting 3.25 percent “offer.” Labor’s contempt was

practically unbridled: it demanded greater numbers of patients per nurse, substitution of

medically untrained personal carers for professional nurses and even more exhausting

rosters. Threats and harassment didn’t stop nurses from carrying out nine days of

industrial action. Their stopwork on October 16 filled Melbourne’s huge Dallas Brooks

Hall. When they went ahead with work bans, Brumby used WorkChoices to dock the pay

of 600 nurses, even though they were on the wards caring for patients.

The ANF did this just before the November 24 federal election and won strong

community support for their stand. Union officials usually stifle pre-election strikes,

claiming that industrial action harms Labor’s chances of a win. ANF leaders didn’t play

the game this time — and Brumby caved in! Nurses won pay increases of up to 6 percent,

the retention of nurse/patient ratios and a government promise to fund 300 more nursing

positions. Sure, they didn’t get the full increase they first demanded. But they laid the

ground for further struggle by demonstrating what militancy can achieve.

Their win fortified teachers, who have been campaigning for a 30% pay increase,

reduced class sizes and the abolition of contract teaching positions. Brumby dug in: 3.25

percent, “productivity gains,” blah blah blah. The Australian Education Union (AEU)

went through the WorkChoices hoops. A bureaucratic stuff-up disenfranchised thousands

of members, yet in the compulsory secret ballot, 92% voted for strike action. Three days

before the federal election, 10,000 teachers packed Melbourne’s Vodaphone Arena.

The unanimous vote for a further strike on February 14, and rolling regional stoppages

to follow, showed the determination of teachers to emulate their nursing sisters and

brothers. Wearing bright red AEU ponchos to stave off the freezing rain, they marched on

state parliament to press home their determination.

It doesn’t stop there. On December 20, physiotherapists, social workers, occupational

therapists and other allied health professionals held a snap strike over pay and career

structures. Members of the Victorian Health Services Union, they defied an Industrial

Relations Commission order not to strike. Again, Brumby is using WorkChoices to stop

further industrial action. At the time of this writing, the union is going through the red

tape of applying for a secret ballot on future stoppages.

Militancy, solidarity and tenacity are the first principles of unionism. Education and

health workers are taking a courageous lead and showing the entire union movement

what is possible. Wherever we are, workers should step in with them. Then nothing can

stop us!

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