Protests across Sydney fight for workers’ rights through the COVID-19 crisis

Trade unionists and students took action across Sydney today to defend the livelihoods and health of workers and the community through the COVID-19 crisis.

The protests were organised by the May 1 Movement, a committee established to organise for a major stop work rally on 1 May this year and strengthen union, climate and social justice struggles.

The planned mass May Day stoppage, which had the support of unions including the MUA, CFMEU, ETU, Plumbers and School Strike for Climate, has been postponed due to the COVID-19 crisis. However, the committee saw an urgent need to respond to the unfolding health and economic disaster and put a call out for a decentralised day of action to defend workers’ rights.

Demands for the day included an end to all sackings and stand-downs and reinstatement for sacked workers. The Morrison government could implement a wage guarantee, as demanded by the ACTU, to ensure all workers remain employed through the crisis. There were also demands for special leave for all workers affected by COVID-19 and associated disruptions.

The strongest protest was a car convoy led by the MUA, which descended on the NRMA head office in Homebush. The NRMA own Manly Fast Ferries and Fantasea Cruising, who have just sacked more than 100 workers. Scores of cars jammed up the road while sacked workers spoke from the back of a ute about the devastating impact on their families. Workers said they are expected to work harder for no more pay in busy periods, so should not have to cop the sack from rich companies just because things are slowing down.

A student-led action outside Qantas demanded that 20,000 workers stood down by CEO Alan Joyce are reinstated and the company is nationalised. Protestors condemned the more the $700 million in support for Qantas from the Morrison government, with no conditions that workers remain employed.

At the University of Technology Sydney, a small group of staff dropped a banner from the building demanding “Stop the job cuts—guaranteed pay for all staff through the COVID-19 crisis”. Large scale job cuts are looming at UTS, and across the university system, as faculties sack casual staff they see as unnecessary as courses are moved online. A number of university workers also took “selfie” protest photos while working from home, pointing to the untenable increase in workloads that has come with the shift to “online learning”.

Wharfies at Hutchison Port Botany held small protests across two shifts to support the day of action. A number of other workplace protest photos were shared on social media.

A protest at Marrickville Centrelink pushed the demand that the new coronavirus Centrelink supplement payment begin immediately, apply to all groups relying on welfare, and that all activity requirements cease. The May 1 Movement is demanding benefits be extended to people from New Zealand and all migrant workers, international students, refugees and asylum seekers on bridging visas. The rate should be further increased to guarantee life’s essentials.

A protest at the Rental Institute of NSW, a peak body for landlords, called for a freeze on rent payments and evictions. A “Scomo makes us sick” action at Morrison’s Cronulla electorate office called for an immediate mass testing program, a crucial measure to control the virus, while also demanding a massive expansion of public health funding and that private health and research facilities be taken over for the public emergency effort.

Paul McAleer, Secretary of the MUA Sydney Branch said, “It is essential that the community fight back against the attacks we are all facing. Even with the limitations imposed by the virus the May 1 Movement will be undertaking safe protests to ensure that every employer who attacks their workers throughout this crisis understands there is a movement waiting to attack back”.

More protests are being planned, including further car convoys and decentralised and workplace actions to mark 1 May.

By Paddy Gibson

See more photos and video at the May 1 Movement Facebook page here


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