Port Kembla May Day march opposes AUKUS
Port Kembla May Day march opposes AUKUS)

Thousands of anti-war activists and trade unionists marched through Port Kembla in the NSW Illawarra region demanding peace not war on Saturday 6 May. The South Coast May Day Committee held its annual rally in Port Kembla to oppose any plans to house the AUKUS nuclear submarine base in the harbour just south of Wollongong. A nuclear submarine base would be a disaster for people in the area and represents another escalatory step towards a war with China.

A contingent from Wollongong Against War and Nukes (WAWAN) marched alongside broader activist networks. “The people of Wollongong know how to fight nuclear and the war industry”, said WAWAN activist Alexander Brown in a speech. Working class anti-war activism has a long history in the Illawarra. In the 1930s, wharfies in Port Kembla harbour went on strike to oppose pig iron being shipped to Japan for military use. When anti-Vietnam war activist Lou Christofides was imprisoned in 1969 for refusing to register for the draft, wharfies here struck demanding his release.

“We must demand that the government rule out the subs base here in Port Kembla, anywhere on the eastern seaboard and tear up the AUKUS agreement”, Alexander said.

Unions ranging from the Maritime Union of Australia to the NSW Teachers Federation and the Australian Services Unions marched in the demonstration. Allen Hicks, national secretary of the Electrical Trades Union, spoke to recommit the union to its policy of “opposition to the mining and export of uranium and the use of nuclear fuel”.

Several speakers attacked the cost of the nuclear submarines. The Labor government is planning to spend $368 billion on weapons of mass destruction whilst claiming that there’s not enough money to offer serious cost-of-living relief. And the cost could rise even higher, potentially towards half a trillion dollars. (It would cost only $100 billion to fully transition to a renewable energy grid.)

 “They want to conscript our region into their war machine, but we will not have a bar of it”, Arthur Rorris, secretary of the South Coast Labour Council, insisted in another rally speech. With the mainstream press lining up to support the Labor government’s war drive, opposition from the trade union movement is important. It was positive to see a large rally organised by the unions against the submarine base.

Opinion polls demonstrate that the majority of people reject a potential war with China. More protests and union opposition, in the Illawarra and beyond, will be vital to turn this sentiment into an anti-war movement in the future.

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