The turnout and energy at the March in May rallies on May 18 proved that people are not going to take this budget lying down.
Numbers were up in several cities compared with March in March. In Melbourne, Hobart and Brisbane there were sizeable anti budget rallies on the day, even though March Australia groups had decided not to organise protests.
Student rallies against the cuts to education on May 21 were bigger than any seen for a decade.
The people’s power movement got a boost on May 15 from the victory in Bentley, northern NSW, against mining giant Metgasco following the suspension of its exploration licence.
An ongoing blockade against gas exploration attracted thousands of people and thousands more converged on the site to defend it against a planned police attack, which was called off following the intervention by the NSW energy minister.
The March Australia movement has announced another national day of protest on August 31 and there is discussion among local March Australia groups about whether there should be earlier protest rallies in July, when the new Senate is sworn in.
There are positive signs that some unions are pushing for action and to link up with communities and sectors resisting these attacks. During the Your Rights at Work campaign in 2006, it took pressure from left unions and progressive rank and file activists to make this happen.
Unionists successfully argued for motions in their workplaces and union meetings, which then helped put pressure on several labour councils and the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) for mass action.
The Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC), which was one of the organisations that took a lead during the Your Rights at Work campaign, has announced it will hold a combined unions rally on June 12 to “Bust the Budget”, followed by a community protest in late June, close to the Senate changeover.
On the same day as this rally, a number of cross union delegates meetings will be held across Victoria.
Unions NSW has also announced a “Bust the Budget” rally to be held in Parramatta on June 5, and there is talk about a possible cross-union delegates meeting next month.
In Adelaide, the Community and Public Sector Union is organising a protest action on June 4.
ACTU President Ged Kearney has come under pressure over the need for combined union action against the budget now, rather than the ACTU’s plan to wait until October for a mobilisation.
Activists have been unanimous in their calls for cross-union mass delegates meetings as part of the campaign in Victoria. The VTHC committed to holding a campaign community round table in a couple of weeks, open to unionists to attend.
Regional trades and labour councils across Victoria met on May 20 and are organising community meetings around the budget, as well as local actions on June 12. Some, such as Geelong Trades Hall Council, are planning to bus unionists to Melbourne to join the June 12 protest.
The federal government is unpopular and under enormous pressure. People have got to keep that pressure on and escalate the campaign against the budget agenda. Unions around the country should join actions next month, following the example of Sydney and Melbourne.
Unions also need to put pressure on the ACTU to support these actions. Millions of Australian workers are union members, but millions more will mobilise if unions take a lead, and link up with other sectors in struggle.
A clear demand must be raised on Labor and the Greens to block the budget. “Bust the budget” is a popular slogan, but it cannot become a smokescreen for Labor and the Greens to negotiate on or vote against this or that particular budget cut, but not to oppose the budget as a whole.
It will also be up to progressive union activists and leaderships to oppose any attempts to derail the campaign into a “re-elect Labor” electoral agenda, or a purely marginal seats campaign with a few big mobilisations.
This budget is the Coalition’s ambit claim on behalf of the Australian business class. They have room to withdraw certain budget measures to take the pressure off, and to draw Labor and the Greens into negotiations.
Greens Senator Scott Ludlam has publicly called for Labor to block supply. All Greens parliamentarians should follow his lead, and also commit to blocking supply in parliament and force a new election.
If Labor and the Greens commit to blocking the budget this would potentially force a double dissolution election, which would become a popular referendum on the legitimacy of the Abbott government and its slash and burn, pro-business agenda.
A double dissolution election is the last thing Labor wants, as it does not want a spill of both houses and the risk of losing more of its Senate seats to the Greens and the minor parties. But people cannot let Labor off the hook.
Unions should also call on Labor and the Greens to commit to opposing any increase in the Goods and Services Tax, as this is a regressive tax has a disproportionately greater impact on low income households.
There are worrying signs that some in the welfare sector are calling for the GST base to be broadened, rather than progressive taxation measures such as increasing taxes on rich corporations and the millionaires and billionaires who avoid paying tax.
Most importantly, as well as pressure within the parliament, people need to build the kind of movement that mobilises the majority of Australians who are hit hardest by this budget. This movement is the best antidote to cynicism and disillusionment and is essential to busting the myth that there is no alternative to the neoliberal, pro-business agenda of the major parties.
This movement needs to break through the government propaganda parroted by the Murdoch media about the so-called “debt crisis” and the “budget we had to have”.
There is no debt crisis. Australian government debt as a proportion of GDP is one of the lowest of the OECD countries and would be even lower if hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts and concessions had not been given to the rich since the 1990s.
In 1996, thousands of unionists converged on Canberra to protest the Howard government’s attacks on working people. We need a range of activities, such as community rallies, forums, cross-union delegates meetings and more, to help build support for national union and community action before July.
The campaign will need to include further action in the second half of the year, including the possibility of a national convergence on Canberra, timed to coincide with a vote being taken on the budget.
To help advance this campaign, the Socialist Alliance is suggesting unionists move a motion along these lines in their workplaces:
“This meeting of ________________________ (workplace/union/committee) condemns the Abbott government’s attacks on working people, students, pensioners and the poor, and calls on the ALP and the Greens to vote against the budget and block supply in the Senate.
“We call on _____________________ (our union/local TLC, etc) to join Victorian and NSW unions in mobilising against the budget in June.
“Further, we call on ______________________ (our union/local TLC, etc) to commit to organising a cross-union, mass delegates meeting to consider further union action on a state and national level.”
Please circulate this motion widely.].
[Susan Price is a national co-convenor of the Socialist Alliance and its industrial relations spokesperson.]