Unions NSW used a meeting of around 250 delegates to announce plans for a community-based state election campaign. But a group of rank-and-file activists won a resolution calling for a “Your Rights at Work style campaign including regular mass work-day rallies and stoppages and combined unions delegates meetings to oppose Abbott’s budget measures”.
Unions NSW has decided to move away from a campaign against Abbott’s budget and instead focus on a “Jobs, Rights and Services” campaign to elect Labor in the NSW state election. Unions NSW Secretary Mark Lennon called on the meeting to participate in “189 days of action”—the number of days, minus Christmas and Boxing Day, until the election on 28 March.
The strategy mirrors that of unions in Queensland and Victoria who are focusing on their own state elections, and the ACTU’s focus on the next federal election. The ACTU called off a day of action against Abbott’s budget initially floated for 23 October.
Leading up to the 17 September meeting, activists decided to get organised following a previous delegates meeting in June, where discussion of industrial action was bureaucratically shut down.
NTEU activist Sam Russell put the motion, backed up by a rousing speech from CFMEU delegate Dennis McNamara, who declared, to much applause, “there is lots of discussion here about a fight—well, we show them our fight by getting on the streets and taking industrial action!” He said, “The ACTU underestimates our willingness to fight” and that given the lead, “we’ll follow.”
This time, rather than shut down the debate, Unions NSW rushed the motion through, with no one prepared to speak against. Its success will help increase the pressure for a more serious budget campaign.
A fuller discussion was shunted to another meeting to be held at Unions NSW on Thursday 23 September. Union activists now have to mobilise for this meeting to turn the motion into reality.
The mood is firmly on our side. Thousands have joined the March Australia demonstrations and Bust the Budget rallies. Up to 20,000 marched in Melbourne on a weekday in June, with many taking “illegal” stopwork action.
Tarring NSW Liberal Premier Mike Baird, who leads Labor 54-46 in the polls, with the brush of Abbott’s attacks on Medicare, universities, the jobless and pensioners can help dent his support. But we will need to build stronger rank-and-file networks and campaign groups like Save Medicare to force the hand of the union leadership.
By Amy Thomas