Sue Bolton

In August 2011, the Council of Australian Governments agreed on the need for major reform of disability services through a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). Such reform was an outcome of the Productivity Commission's inquiry into disability care and support.

Below are some proposed amendments to Socialist Alliance's policy on refugees. The changes are in bold, with the additions in square brackets, and the deletions crossed out.

Over the last couple of years, the two most consistent areas of campaign work that Socialist Alliance has been involved in have been climate work and refugee rights.

Climate

In the climate movement, we have had one member heavily involved in Climate Action Moreland and another member working for Friends of the Earth on their wind energy and coal seam gas campaigns.

Friends of the Earth took two great initiatives this year by organising a whole lot of public meetings in regional towns and centres around wind energy and then later ran a coal seam gas speaking tour with Drew Hutton through western Victoria. Some of FOE's allies in organising the CSG public meetings were people who are opposed to wind energy. Some of the local community organising has forced some companies to give up their licences.

The all-in climate movement meetings paused during the carbon tax debate. Meanwhile the activist wing of the movement set up a Quit Coal campaign during the year. Unfortunately, we haven't had any more than two members available for involvement in the climate movement.

Refugees

At the end of 2009, Socialist Alliance worked with several independence activists to re-launch the Refugee Action Collective. In 2010, we suggested to RAC to initiate a broader network of refugee groups called the Refugee Advocacy Network, which has organised the World Refugee protests in the last couple of years.

Over the course of 2011, RAC has expanded with meetings doubling in size and most of the left groups shifting their focus into refugee work. The links between the activist wing of the refugee movement and refugee communities themselves are still too weak, although this is partly because many of the émigré communities are focused on establishing their lives in Australia and also on politics in their home countries rather than the refugee movement itself.

Within the refugee movement, we have been the main link between RAC and the migrant/refugee communities, such as the Hazara community.

Egypt

At beginning of this year, during the Egyptian revolution, Socialist Alliance was contacted by the Federation of Australian Muslim Students and Youth (FAMSY) to help them organise an Egyptian solidarity protest. This approach is a result of the work that Socialist Alliance activists have done with FAMSY activists in the anti-war movement and the Palestine solidarity movement in 2006 and 2009.

Work on the loose alliance that came together to organise the Egypt solidarity protests led to the establishment of the Middle East Solidarity Group. The first meeting of this group, which was held in the Resistance Centre, involved FAMSY, Egyptians, Tunisians, Yemeni and Iraqis, as well as Socialist Alternative and Socialist Alliance. Later, this group involved the Libyan students and the Syrians.

In late October/early November, Socialist Alliance members started discussing what our approach should be to the campaign by the Australian Nursing Federation and the Community Public Sector Union Victoria.

Both nurses and state public servants were facing an intransigent government that was insisting that no pay rises above 2.5% per year would be granted unless workers were prepared to give up “productivity savings”, that is, job cuts and more intensification of work.

The Coalition Premier Ted Baillieu had promised during the state election campaign in 2010 that, if elected, he would make Victorian teachers the best paid in Australia, that he wouldn’t axe public sector jobs and that he would maintain the nurse-patient ratios. All promises were abandoned less than 12 months after being elected.

Given that both groups of workers were facing the same response from the state government, Socialist Alliance members in Geelong and Melbourne branches decided that we would focus our leaflet and petition on a call for some united campaigning of all state public sector unions so that there is strength in unity.

We took our petition and leaflet to the first two nurses’ mass meetings and got a great response from rank-and-file nurses.

Multiple unions in dispute

Then we became aware that there were a number of other state public sector unions in dispute with the state government which were also facing the same demands from the government – the Health and Community Services Union (covers mental health workers and allied health), the Health Services Union (covers cleaners, catering workers, patient care assistants and others), the Australian Workers Union and the Community Public Service Union, which jointly cover firefighters in national parks, and the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (covering ushers and workers at the Arts Centre and the Melbourne Cricket Ground).

In 2012, the teachers begin their campaign for a new EBA and they are facing the same demands from the government.

It became public that the government was considering plans to lock out the nurses and possibly some state public servants. The government took the ANF and the CPSU to Fair Work Australia, which ruled that the nurses and the state public servants had to lift their bans.

Both unions then lifted the only bans which had any bite. It turned out that both unions were scared of being forced to compulsory arbitration, like the Qantas workers, where they would lose the ability to negotiate over nurse-patient ratios and staffing levels in the public service. They are also fearful of the huge fines that could break the union.

Both unions are exploring other forms of action which might evade the sections of the Fair Work  Act that restrict industrial action.

Below is the thank-you letter that the National Union of Workers sent around to unions and community supporters for their support during the Baiada poultry workers strike.

The picket line was a true allliance of the workers on strike, the NUW officials, a range of other unions, the socialist groups and numerous other community supporters. The Occupy Melbourne Union Outreach group, which involved several NUW officials, moved from Occupy Melbourne onto the picket line. That meant that there were many people on the picket line who haven't been a part of them before.

Socialist Alliance member Dave Kerin, who is regarded as a unifying figure in Victoria's trade union movement and left movement, played a huge role on the picket line, just as he did when Union Solidarity existed. As well as beating off a police attack, the picketers had to prepare for the threat of an attack by thugs armed with knives.

Some sections of the Liberal Party had also thought that they could use this dispute as a propaganda tool to campaign for even more anti-union laws. It appears that the family that owns Baiada has strong connections with the Liberal Party.

Despite some of the anti-worker articles attacking the Baiada picketers as thugs, support for the workers was strong. Socialist Alliance took the Baiada workers' online petition onto the street where we found a lot of support for the workers.

Some people had seen the media coverage and wanted to indicate their support for the workers. Others were simply against bully bosses. While others were against cruelty to animals, the fact that the company was cruel to workers as well, was an extra reason to sign the petition.

We had only just started to get some of the key unionists from the dispute interested in running the petition with collection buckets on the streets of western suburbs shopping centres when the workers won, so we didn't really get a chance to test the depth of public support. Street stalls would have been good because there are so many factories that are unionised where the workers could gain inspiration from the Baiada workers.

Of course, the biggest thank-you needs to go to the workers. If they hadn't taken the brave action of an indefinite strike, this huge alliance of supporters wouldn't have come together. Their victory is a true inspiration to all.

Sue Bolton, Melbourne
28 November 2011

* * *

Workers Solidarity Network

Dear Comrades

We write to thank your organisation for the strong support that we received at our recent picket line at Baiada Poultry in Laverton.

Preamble

Australia’s immigration policy should be non-discriminatory on the grounds of nationality, ethnic origin, religion, language, gender, disability, sexuality, age, socio-economic background or skills.

Australia has a humanitarian and legal obligation to accept refugees.

Most refugees do not want to leave their homes. If measures were taken to stop global warming, if rich nations didn’t send troops to invade poor nations, and if rich nations stopped backing dictatorships or governments which are occupying another people’s land, then the number of refugees in the world would be far smaller. If multinationals stopped destroying local economies in developing nations, then the number of economic refugees would be far smaller.

This is a photo of the SA Moreland mobile council election campaigning team decorated van. One of our Kurdish comrades suggested the idea and got us to decorate his van for the occasion. It is a style of campaigning used by the left in a lot of overseas countries.

The official unemployment rate in Broadmeadows is 23.5% but the real unemployment and underemployment rates are far higher. Youth unemployment is higher than the overall rate. We are very close to the 30% unemployment rate of the Great Depression.

Experienced crane driver and union activist Billy Ramsay was killed on the Grocon construction site in central Melbourne on February 18. This news was buried many pages inside the Murdoch-owned Herald Sun daily tabloid.

The announcement on September 9 that Australia will accept only 12,000 refugees from Syria and that the government will seek to discriminate on the basis of ethnicity and religion is further proof that the government is lying about leading the world in welcoming refugees.

The proposed the East West tunnel in Melbourne’s inner north will be environmentally, socially and economically disastrous. It is not a solution to the problem of congestion on Melbourne’s Eastern freeway.

"We need to replace the whole punitive detention system with a humane, community-based refugee processing system. The opportunity to build the movement is now, and we cannot waste a moment."

Over the years, I have heard many left-wing activists say that mass peaceful protests do not achieve anything. Rather, “militant actions” which “take it up to the ruling class” are more important.

Moreland Socialist councillor Sue Bolton explains that Centrelink staff warned management that the 'robo-debt' notices would be wrong and the new debt recovery system would incorrectly claim overpayments.

Food giant Coca-Cola Amatil has threatened to close the SPC Ardmona fruit canning company in Victoria, unless the federal government and Victorian government give it $25 million each in assistance.

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