Perth’s anti-ABCC demo

Perth’s anti-ABCC demo

The December 2 ABCC demo over here was very good; well over 2000 present maybe as much as 3000. Biggest contingents were from MUA and AMWU at around 1000 each.

Some observations:

The MUA contingent was huge considering the union only has a bit under 3000 members, a third of which don’t live anywhere near Perth and at any given time half the seafarers are at sea. Means about 90% attendance from those who could attend. State secretary Chris Cain went all out to get every single member there. We all received two text messages and he visited my workplace four days in a row to spruik the importance of attending!

The AMWU attendance was also very big considering its membership is much more spread out than the MUA. Under the EBAs at the two biggest stevedoring companies (Patricks and DP World) the union was entitled to claim a four hour paid Annual General Meeting which was used to get all the wharfies there. However, AMWU members had to take an RDO/early lunch/sickies etc. The day before the rally it was defending over a dozen court applications by bosses alleging illegal industrial action. Despite this whole busloads came from places as far as the Boddington gold mine (two hours drive from Perth).

Additionally there were two or three hundred from the CEPU/ETU plus a sprinkling from a few other unions and one or two hundred from the general community.

No official presence by the CFMEU… as we expected. On Tuesday last week CFMEU Sec Kevin Reynolds was telling the media that every member in the city would be walking off the job and was daring the ABCC to try and send them all to jail. However ,when the charges against Washington were dropped Reynolds was on the front page of The West Australian on Thursday saying that the rally had been cancelled. He did this without consulting the other unions, let alone our little crew of volunteers in the Community Solidarity group who had spent the last month building the rally. Chris (MUA) and Steve McCartney (AMWU) were furious and redoubled their efforts to build the rally. Some of the damage was undone when Steve and Chris were quoted in the Saturday and Monday papers respectively explaining that the rally was about still on and was about getting rid of the laws themselves.

Reynold’s bloody-minded disregard for the rest of the movement comes in the context of the WA CFMEU’s aggressive, blatant and repeated attempts to poach members from the other unions over the last five years; even while there are numerous non-union building sites dotted around Perth. Reynold’s attempt to bully the rest of the other unions into dropping the rally back-fired and he has ended up looking very conservative and silly. His ticket won the recent and bitterly contested union election with about 55-60% of the vote but only about a 40% participation rate. Clearly the opposition ticket failed to sufficiently mobilise the membership to vote. My impression is that Reynold’s core support base is found in the inner city building sites. Anecdotally we are hearing reports that out on the mine sites/resource projects is where dissatisfaction is greatest and that people are flowing to the AMWU where traditional coverage permits. At a number of these sites outside Perth, CFMEU officials were apparently booed and jeered by their own members for pulling out of the rally. In the process we have succeeded in taking “ownership” of the ABCC issue out of the hands of the CFMEU, which in WA as very much needed.

UnionsWA did very little to help build the rally but still tried to have their ‘Your rights at work’ banner lead the march. Chris and Steve rejected this and insisted that the Community Solidarity banner/contingent lead the way. Speeches were held along the way and Steve probably gave the sharpest rallying call to keep up the pressure on the Rudd government.

Unfortunately with a number of Socialist Alliance comrades away/unable to attend we were very limited in our ability to make the gains for the Alliance; especially as Justine and I had direct responsibility for rally logistics and the Community Solidarity contingent/float. Probably only about Green Left Weeklies sold when it could have been over a hundred if we’d had one or two confident sellers. We dished out over 400 Socialist Alliance flyers (all we had), could have doubled this if we’d had the bodies to do it too. Very little presence from the rest of the left and none at all from the Greens even though we asked them to attend. The Greens here seem to be determined to maintain their polite middle-class image when they could be making an absolute killing at Labor’s expense among blue-collar workers at events like this.