Around 5,000 union members marched through Sydney on 6 September to protest against the anti-union Australian Building and Construction Commission. The mood was energetic and confident. As the crowd gathered at Belmore Park, big cheers sprang up every time a delegation of workers marched from a nearby worksite or arrived in a bus. Yet there was also a sense of seriousness about the issues motivating the rally.
For Matt, a 22-year-old recently unionised member of the Electrical Trades Union, the turmoil in the Liberal Party was a sideshow. He told Red Flag he couldn’t care less which Liberal was at the helm; for workers, it’s always “the same old crap”. “We need change” he said, “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think so”.
James, a construction worker, was direct about the issues facing workers: long hours, crap wages, and a government that doesn’t care about workers’ lives. His response: “We need to stand up for our rights”.
Many attendees commented to Red Flag about the difficulties they faced making ends meet in a context of stagnant wage growth and often precarious employment.
A speech by construction union delegate Dennis McNamara which touched on the persecution of the union in the construction industry got a particularly angry response. He recounted a story about a site where workers were receiving $150 cash in hand for 12 hours of work. Dennis and other delegates stepped in to take the workers off the job. When the ABCC officials arrived, their first question was not about the unlawful conditions or underpayment, but about which union delegate sat them in the shed.
The strategy that unions need in response to this state of constant attack was less clear. For all the talk of union power, the general attitude conveyed in the speeches was that changing the rules by changing the government is the only way. The absence of any mention about industrial action was telling.
With another rally planned for October, this won’t be the last workers’ protest against the Morrison government.