What a day. A hundred thousand supporters of unions hit Melbourne streets today, to kick off the national wave of stoppages and marches of the ACTU led Change the Rules campaign.
As the street-wide mas of people crossed the centre of the city, banners and flags moved through the centre of the city, more were taking off from the starting point outside the Trades Hall building in Carlton.
A turnout of this size is a big blow to Malcolm Turnbull and his government. Nothing could make it clearer that public opinion is shifting decidedly against them, and this is likely to cast a shadow on any sympathy the government might have got from yesterday’s budget.
Stoppages and rallies move to other state capitals over the next week. Actions will also take place in regional centres, and they are likely to be big too.
The main concern is that today’s industrial relations system has been increasingly weighted against the worker. It is causing a backlash. Not only shown in the numbers coming out in Melbourne, but in the level of anger shown in the streets.
Anger was also shown by the range of speakers. While it was repeatedly said that the rules must be changed, it was done so, in terms that showed the understanding that the only guarantee, is to make it happen on the ground. A better Australia means a stronger union movement.
It was more than this too, as was expressed into the popular slogan “union Power.” This means that working Australians need to rely on their collective strength to assert their interests.
Halfway through the march, the crowd stopped outside the Magistrates Court, to show support for the two union officials, John Setka and Shaun Reardon, on trial today.
The case underlines the nature of the industrial relations system now operating in Australia. It is deliberately designed to deny union activity and criminalise it, to de-unionise the workforce. And this is to decimate wages and working conditions, expand the causualisation of work, and create an army of desperate people, whose dignity has been stripped away and who are forced to become virtual slaves for a pittance.
Setka and Reardon are on trial, because they insisted that an employer must fix a health and safety issue in the workplace.
Although it was acknowledged that the defeat of the Turnbull government is important, it does not stop there. To make the change, a broad movement like never seen in Australia before must be built.
If built, it will bring together the union movement, churches, community organisations, groups and individuals from all walks of life, in a tide that will penetrate every corner of the nation.