“How many more people will we have to clean off the tracks when people lose their jobs and have to go half a year, every year, with no money”, asks one of my co-workers. We’re talking about the social security cuts announced in the budget and she’s referring to the suicides that occur every month on railway tracks. We work at Flinders Street Station.
She wasn’t the only person at my work who was angry after the budget was announced. “We’ve got to get this bastard, squeeze him and his piggy friends into a little box, close the lid and sit on it until they take back the budget or die,” said another.
When others in the lunchroom laughed at what they saw as uncharacteristic aggression she said, “No! It’s true. He wants us to pay to see the doctors. I’m not bloody going to pay. And make medicine more expensive? What about my husband [who is dying of cancer]? What are we going to do?”
While her last question was posed as much in despair as anything, it’s the question that socialists and political unionists have to try to answer.
It started on budget night for me. As soon as Hockey had finished his speech my co-workers took to Facebook. I joined in, shared my own angry response and started making political arguments: we can’t rely on anyone in “official” politics to save us; we need to get active, force our union to demand that Labor and the Greens block supply.
I put it to my union (the Rail, Tram and Bus Union) that it needed to relate to the anger of its members. The union’s initial response to the budget had been to highlight the lack of spending on public transport infrastructure. This was a fine thing for the public transport workers’ union to point out. But in many ways it missed the mark.
My co-worker, also a union member and single parent, was clear on what the budget meant for her. “I earn $400 a week and have three children living under my roof. I rely on government support to get through. They want to take that away? What am I supposed to do – kick the kids out?”
This budget is a major attack on the working class. Unions need to lead the fightback. In every union, at every work site, we need meetings to talk about the budget and our response to it. We have to use all our strength to get union members out onto the streets and push for a serious response.
Over the next days and weeks, along with other rank and file activists in my union, I’ll be visiting work sites covered by the RTBU to hand out information about protests and collect signatures on a union petition calling on the Greens and Labor to block the budget. We’ll move motions to this effect in upcoming branch meetings.
The union has agreed to have RTBU contingents at upcoming protests against the budget and to get delegates building for them. This is a start and something to build from.