Finally, after approximately 7 years the Victorian Trades Hall called a general meeting of unions to discuss a united response to the recent Abbott/Hockey budget. Built on a lie about the condition of the Australian economy and sold under the banner of equal and fair burden for future prosperity, the Coalition’s budget is the end of an ever strained social contract established in the aftermath of the Great Depression and the Second World War. As Ged Kearney tonight said, to commodify the exchange of medical services one bit – even with a 50c or $2 fee – is to end universal healthcare and to cut off the most needy from vital services. We are also looking down the barrel of a GST increase prompted by the withdrawal of $80bn of health and education funding to the states while community services are either gagged by new funding arrangements (community legal centres) or left defunded (Friends of the Earth).
Seeing the union movement groan into action was at once alarming and fantastic, especially as for many people of my age (mid-20s) this will be the first time in our adult lives we have seen the union movement mobilise. During the Your Rights At Work and anti-workchoices campaign, many of us were too young to be involved or understand what was going on and one hopes that there will be greater efforts to ensure continuity and the sharing of experiences from previous campaigns with newer unionists and activists. The disconnect and ignorance of contemporary activists with campaigns even five years old is a major problem for the Left and one that will continue to grow if left unaddressed. And, as one of the speakers later in the evening declared: we must make a concerted effort to bring younger workers into the union movement and help them to become active members in their workplaces and in the community.
The all-unions meeting began with a statement from Ged Kearney (ACTU President) on the impact of the Budget and of how noticeable the rejection of the Budget has been in Australian society over the past week. This was then followed by the showing of a new video produced by the Victorian Trades Hall Council entitled “Best Budget Ever” which will be shared around the Internet and (I think) aired on television. The video can be viewed here.
Discussion was then opened to the floor and submissions taken from unionists and others present about how the movement might respond to the budget. From the first speaker onwards was the call for strikes and it was soon agreed that the protest march called for June 12th should be organised with the intent of producing a state-wide strike. It was also declared that Victoria should hope to provide a rolemodel for unionists in other states and to support regional and interstate unionists (not to mention disabled, night-shift, women and young workers) to take part in the action. Speakers from
Socialist Alternative pushed the idea of an all-delegates meeting [Correction: a speaker from Solidarity raised the initial proposal for an all-delegates meeting; this was supported by Solidarity, Socialist Alternative, anarchist and other speakers] to be held very soon in order to allow the dissemination of information and preparation to the workplace and shopfloors (and thus build the movement) and with the exception of one or two speakers (one who seemed opposed to the idea of the delegates meeting, the other of whom was concerned that blue-collar workers on the fringe of the city would not be able to attend such meetings due to work commitments) the idea was well received. It did not take long for the idea of a general strike to be raised (and loudly supported) and one speaker announced that a petition had been prepared against the VTUC that called for them to plan for a general strike or else move aside as the workers organised for such an activity anyway.
As drastic as this seemed it was a point worth raising, as Ged Kearney’s response did indicate some reluctance to move quickly. Such is the character of the Ents. When she mentioned that the ACTU executive had been looking towards a national day of action in October there was something of a stunned silence: we the workers have recognised the need to block the budget and stop its passage quickly. To hold a national day of action in October risks a loss of momentum and, on a similar or greater level of urgency, the loss of numbers as people succumb to the effects of the Budget. There are many of us whose economic and physical survival cannot be assured for October if the budget is allowed to pass unheeded in the meantime.
For now we wait for the response of the ACTU executive but, in any case, organising will continue. The risk of complacency far outweighs the risk of fighting and we owe it to younger generations and future generations to ensure they do not have to work and die in 19th century living conditions.
For more information about upcoming actions and to join in preparations please visit bustthebudget.com