After March: Grassroots resistance and union action can drive out Abbott

Every week Tony Abbott’s government unveils new horror plans. Thousands of jobs have gone at Qantas, Alcoa, Holden and Toyota, yet all Abbott will do is blame the workers for having wages and conditions that are “too high”.

He is lining up more attacks on workers’ rights and unions’ ability to defend wages and conditions. He has already moved to re-establish the anti-union Australian Building and Construction Commission and a launched Royal Commission to justify a new round of union bashing.

When asylum seeker Reza Berati was killed and almost 80 others injured in an attack on the Manus Island detention camp, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison blamed the asylum seekers and tried to cover up his responsibility. But it soon became clear that there was blood on the government’s hands.

And there is more to come.

The Liberals want to cut wages and welfare for us, while they boost the profits of the mining companies and the banks that are making billions in profit. Abbott rules for the 1 per cent and it’s clear the Liberals will impose cuts in the May budget. They have launched a “Commission of Audit”, a big business razor gang headed by Tony Shepherd, head of the Business Council of Australia.

Hardly a day goes by without a government Minister denouncing spending on welfare or health as “unsustainable”. In January the Liberals floated plans for a $6 fee for Medicare visits to see the doctor, and are still claiming Medicare spending is “out of control”.

Don’t rely on Labor

But Abbott’s popularity has also dropped at record speed. He has no mandate for cuts, failing to mention these plans during the election. Opinion polls show he would lose an election if it was held now.

The phenomenal success of March in March around the country is a sign of the growing anger against Abbott.

But Labor has been hopeless at providing effective opposition. This is most obvious over refugees. Despite the blood on Scott Morrison’s hands over Reza Berati’s death on Manus Island and the farcical media blackout, Labor has nothing to say. It supports Morrison’s efforts to “stop the boats” and has even tried to brag about being the ones who sent asylum seekers to Manus Island.

Labor’s talk of opposing Abbott’s cuts or defending jobs isn’t believable. After all it was Labor that cut single parents’ welfare payments and university funding just before they were voted out.

We can’t rely on Labor to take the fight to Tony Abbott—or to provide any real alternative if they get back into government.

Grassroots resistance

To get Abbott out, we need to build ongoing grassroots resistance.

Today’s demonstration is a fantastic start. And last month 1000 people joined a protest in defence of Medicare, plus another 15,000 around the country joined vigils and demonstrations following the murder of asylum seeker Reza Berati on Manus Island.

Grassroots campaigning was key to finishing off John Howard in 2007. A sustained refugee rights movement turned the tide of public opinion in favour of refugees. By 2005, Howard was forced to bring all the asylum seekers remaining on Nauru to Australia, despite his claims they would never set foot in Australia. He also released long-term detainees and children from detention.

Most importantly, he was unable to use the issue in the lead up to the 2007 election in the way he had in 2001 over Tampa.

But central to defeating Howard was the union campaign against WorkChoices. The unions mobilised hundreds of thousands in demonstrations against the Liberals’ attack on rights at work in 2005 and 2006. Both these movements successfully turned public opinion against Howard, ensuring his defeat.

The Your Rights At Work campaign showed the importance of union action. The unions remain the largest organised grouping of activists in the country. When they mobilise and fight, the unions expose the class division in society between the Liberals and their friends in big business and the working class majority.

The unions can also bring hundreds of thousands onto the streets, as the campaign against WorkChoices showed. Most importantly, workers’ strike action has the power to shut down corporate profits and to stop ‘business as usual’. This is the kind of strength that can defend Medicare, fight for jobs and force Abbott to abandon his plans.

To get this kind of action, we will need to organise to pressure inside the unions and through social movements to show how it is possible to mobilise and protest against Abbott. There are already ongoing campaigns to defend Medicare, to stop Abbott’s cuts, and to fight for refugee rights. Mass resistance from below, and the power of strike action, can beat Abbott.

We need more people involved in them to extend their ability to fight Abbott into every workplace and every suburb. Everyone who marches against Abbott today, can march again in the 13 April Palm Sunday rally for refugees and on May Day.

But more than, we need to build socialist political organisation that argues to link up the campaigns and the union struggle that can beat Abbott and the system that he represents.


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