Change the Rules Rally - Melbourne
By Felix Dance and Mary Merkenich
On Tuesday the 23rd of October a reported 170,000 union members and their supporters flocked to the city for the ACTU-initiated Change the Rules rally. The rally was orchestrated to address the unfair workplace laws that prevent workers from taking industrial action, to protect OH&S laws and fight for improved working conditions and the overarching slogan was “Australia needs a pay rise”.
AC/DC cover band Thunderstruck wowed the crowd and boisterous drummers helped to create a festival atmosphere. Luke Hilakari, the Trades Hall secretary, pointed out that trickle-down economics hasn’t helped working families. He added that while productivity and profits have gone up, the vast majority of Australian workers have not received a real pay rise for many years. Additionally, 40% of Australian workers are on contracts, meaning they lose many of their entitlements. Twenty-one workers have been killed on the job so far this year and others injured. Over 700 large companies in Australia have paid no tax at all.
The rally was address by other big-league union leaders such as Lisa Fitzpatrick from the ANMF, Troy Gray from the ETU and Sally McManus, the Secretary of the ACTU.
The speakers roused the striking workers by pointing out that the union movement is 1.5 million members strong, and has the numbers to throw out the federal liberal government and prevent coalition state opposition leader Matthew Guy from taking power in Victoria. The unionists marched from the Eight Hour Monument at Trades Hall filled Swanston St to Federation Square.
Despite all the inspiring words about their uncompromising fight to change the workplace rules, nearly every union leader exhorted the crowd to vote for the ALP at both federal and state elections as a solution. Daniel Andrews posing for selfies in front of the cameras in the midst of the rally was testament to their mutual interests.
However, the Andrews government has a very mixed record on workers’ rights. Andrews has fully committed to the neoliberal project, such as selling off the Port of Melbourne and has attempted to privatise disability services in Victoria. Similarly, during EBA negotiations between Andrews and teachers, he refused to fund smaller classes or support improved conditions for teachers. In 2015 Andrews took train drivers to court in an unsuccessful attempt to stop a strike rally.
At the rally on Wednesday there were no calls for continued strike action, or mobilising the workers against the greed of the bosses. An effective mobilisation would not just defer to elections but would show workers how to get involved in concrete steps to improve their conditions.