Australia - whats happening

Hartin, Tony thartin at
Tue Aug 20 11:20:00 MDT 1996

>From: "Matt D." <afn02065 at>
>Date: Mon, 19 Aug 1996 14:54:25 -0400
>Subject: Australia?!
>To the Comrades from Down Under:
>Just saw on CNN's website that y'all have been engaged
>in what your PM, at least, seems to think is some very
>un-Australian conduct in the capital!
>What's going on?


I have to admit to a considerable amount of personal excitment. We seem to
be in a bit of a mini-upturn at the moment. However it has underlying
weakness in its reliance on the trade union bureacuracy which means its
could disappear very quickly. But workers, Aborigines, students and others
are currently giving it a bit of a shake.

First a bit of a background. For the last 13 years, up until March this year
we have had a Labour government/union bureaucracy which has presided over
something like a 15% decline in workers wages, a growing gap between rich
and poor, increased oppression of Aborigines, attacks on students, declining
unionisatin rates etc.

A growing proportion of the ruling class has wanted to stick the boot in
harder. And Labour, having served them well in first heading off the worker
militancy of the 70's and then pushing ahead with capitalism's agenda was
starting to pass their use by date.

So the Howard Liberal government came to power in March this year, after
promising a nice fuzzy agenda and after workers could take Labour's betrayal
no longer.

Well the Liberals promptly broke their promises, and took great relish,
along with the rest of the ruling class in planning a savage round of
attacks. In fact it appears at the moment as if they have been
overconfident. They have attacked across the board, which makes political
generalisation quite easy and they do not understand the level to which
worker resentment has been building.

One of the focii for the anger is the Federal budget which will be released
later today. The Liberals have been advertising the cuts they are going to
make in it for weeks. I suppose they think that this would make the shock on
the day less, but all they have done is to fuel anger at the cuts.

In response, the peak trade union council, the ACTU, called a trade union
rally in Canberra, the national capital outside Parliament House. The ACTU
bureaucrats designed this as nothing more than a public relations exercise,
and, what they thought was a way to be seen to be doing something without
really doing anything.

You see Canberra is a relatively small city stuck way out in the
countryside. The main working class centres are 100's of kilometres away.
The ACTU thought that they rally would be dominated by union officials and
would be correspondingly passive. But they also miscalculated worker anger.
There were 54 buses from one union alone from one state, that I know off.
All in all 30,000+ rallied in Canberra with 10,000's in other capital
cities. There would of been a total of about 100,000 nationally.

In the last few weeks as well there have been a number of important disputes
that have been building. In Melbourne the main dispute has been at the
glassworks in Spotswood, owned by BTR. The company retrenched 59 maintenance
workers, overwhelmingly the shop stewards, union militants etc. They first
of all occupied their part of the plant for a week until thrown out by the
cops, then, along with the rest of the maintenance workers put on 24 hour
picket lines which up until last Friday have been broken by scabs each day.
The cops have been used each day for the last week with increasing levels of

On Friday 16/8, Cops on horseback baton charged the picket line. Workers
fought back and the cops didn't get through. The cops called in greater
numbers to try again, but workers from nearby factories, the Mobil plant,
construction workers and others marched down en masse. It was a sight to
make your heart glad. This time the cops were faced with 700 militant blue
collar workers, and they didn't even try it on.

This is the first time in ages that workers have successfullybeaten off the
cops at a picket line. It was enough to send a buzz around the country. And
it seemed to directly inspire other workers in dispute. Shell workers, out
for a 15% wage rise voted to strike indefinitely. Toyota workers, also out
for wage rises, voted to stay out for at least a week and put on picket
lines. This is only in Melbourne. I am not up on what is happening
elsewhere, but there is talk of a strike wave in Queensland.

So enter the Canberra trade union rally on Monday 19/8. Aborigines, who face
probably the most severe cuts, led the charge on Parliament House closely
followed by construction workers and students. Thousands laid seige and
fought pitched battles with federal police, riot cops and dogs, eventually
breaking through police lines.  The main doors, side doors and souvenir shop
were smashed and looted. Some 100 or so got in. Probably the most graphic
image of the day was workers blood on the opulent marble floors of
Parliament. The Australian flag was torn down from flag poles and the
aboriginal flag run up.

Needless to say the "violence" (mainly police brutality) was blamed on
workers and condemned by all major parties and media outlets and trade union
officials. Workers however felt different about it.

The chorus of calls for scapegoating has already begun.

At the BTR picket line this morning the mood was ferocious. Yesterday scab
trucks were allowed through picket lines because of decreased numbers due to
the Canberra rally. But today 100's of BTR workers from all over Melbourne
and South Australia voted unanimously to close every BTR workplace in
Victoria if even one more scab gets through picket lines at Spotswood.

The next few weeks will be very interesting. The Federal budget gets
released in a few hours and angry demonstrations from Aborigines and
students will take place in the next week or so. As well, workers disputes
are set to continue and escalate.

Will keep you posted,

Tony Hartin

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