You are here

Australia

Resisting RCEP from the ground up: Indian movements show the way

By staff - GRAIN & ICCFM, January 2020

In the history of people’s resistance against free trade agreements, 4 November 2019 is a day to remember. On this day, bowing to immense pressure from peasants, trade unions and rural communities, India’s central government decided to pull the plug on its participation in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), intended to become the largest free trade area in the world. The announcement, made at the ASEAN summit in Bangkok, has implications for free trade negotiations in the entire region and puts a fork in the wheels of unifying the Asian market – a project clearly favouring the interests of agribusiness and transnational corporations.

While countries such as Japan, New Zealand and Australia are making every effort to convince India to come back to the negotiating table, whether they will succeed is not clear. For now, Delhi’s decision has provided immense relief to millions of small-scale food producers and rural workers in India.

So how did a government that is overtly neoliberal, capitalist and with visible authoritarian traits end up bowing to the pressure of farmers and workers? To understand that, we need to understand the decade that just went past us.

Read the report (PDF).

Putting the "Justice" in "Just Transition": Tackling Inequality in the New Renewable Econom

By staff - Maritime Union of Australia, et. al., November 2019

The Victorian Trades Hall Council and its affiliates are committed to leading the construction of a new economy that is environmentally sustainable, economically and socially just, and democratic.

This is why we are proud to support this report, and why we will campaign to ensure its ideas and strategies for a just transition and for a new offshore wind industry with good terms and conditions of employment are implemented.

For over 150 years the Victorian union movement has led efforts to improve the lives of working people. Our campaigns for industrial rights have been matched by a commitment to broader social, political and economic rights. We know that the threat of climate change is best met in ways that are deeply engrained in our movement – solidarity, collective action, respect for workers, a commitment to decent jobs and economic and social justice.

We know, too, that unions must lead in the restructuring of the Australian and global economies that is necessary if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. As unionists we know only too well what happens when economic restructuring occurs without unions to represent the interests of workers. This country has a bad track record when it comes to industry restructuring, with many instances of workers just being given help to write CVs and no effort put into the development of new employment opportunities. The privatisation of the State Electricity Commission of Victoria shows what happens when industries are profoundly restructured without proper consideration of workers’ interests – whole communities are affected for decades.

This is why the proposals put forward in this report are so important. Using the prospect of the Star of the South project in Gippsland to develop a framework for the creation of an Australian offshore wind industry, the document focuses on ensuring that benefits flow to local communities and workers, while not ignoring the opportunities for Victoria and the nation more generally.

The scale of the Star of the South project is impressive. It should help in the transition when brown coal companies make decisions that affect the Latrobe Valley without consulting workers. It would deliver major benefits to Gippsland, a region that has powered our State for generations. But those benefits will only be fully realised if the Victorian government can undertake the comprehensive planning needed to ensure that workers and unions are placed front and centre so that the potential jobs are maximised and a just transition is prioritised. Making sure it is done well is exactly what Australia needs to break through the scepticism and doubt that a truly fair and sustainable economy is possible.

Trades Hall commends Putting the Justice in Just Transition to all who have an interest in building a sustainable, prosperous and just Gippsland, Victoria and Australia. We ask that you join with us in making it happen.

Read the report (PDF).

Transforming Vic: Creating Jobs While Cutting Emissions: A ‘green new deal’ proposal for a Fair and Just Transition from Friends of the Earth

By staff - Friends of the Earth Melbourne, July 4, 2019

The Transforming Victoria: creating jobs while cutting emissions report aims to provide a pathway which outlines how the state could place itself on a sustainable footing while ensuring affected communities are not left behind in the transition to a low carbon future.

Key aspects of the report call for:

  • Creating a Just Transition Authority and appointing a Minister for Transition
  • Ensuring good, secure union jobs are created in the transition away from oil, coal, gas and native forest logging
  • Ensuring sustained investment in the Latrobe Valley, including support for economic diversification, renewable energy and storage, and high tech manufacturing
  • Ensuring better energy efficiency standards for new homes and buildings and continued retrofitting of existing housing stock
  • Helping householders and businesses shift from relying on gas to 100% renewable energy
  • Shifting funding away from mega road projects like the North East Link and into major public transport infrastructure like the Metro 2 tunnel
  • Greatly expanding the public transport network
  • Continuing to build trams, buses and trains locally
  • Supporting a rapid transition away from coal to 100% renewable energy
  • Committing to deep emission reduction targets
  • Supporting public ownership of energy production and the electricity grid
  • Supporting a not for profit, community owned electricity retailer
  • Supporting ‘game changing’ renewable energy projects like the Star of the South offshore wind farm proposed for South Gippsland
  • Ruling out further development of fossil fuel reserves
  • Protecting native forests and redeploying affected workers

Read the report (PDF).

When Sydney was touched by workers’ democracy

By Jerome Small - Red Flag, May 7, 2019

If working class people had real power, what would society look like? If you live in Australia’s largest city, you don’t have to look far to find an answer. If you’ve ever seen the Sydney Opera House, you’ve seen a building constructed under workers’ control. If you’ve ever strolled through the the Rocks, you’ve walked though a historic area that organised workers saved from demolition.

If you head over to nearby Woolloomooloo, you’ll see one of the few communities left in inner Sydney where low paid workers can live – and it’s there only because of the actions of militant construction workers. And the giant Centennial Park, the lungs of inner Sydney, would have been turned into a gigantic, concrete-covered sports precinct if not for working class action.

In the early 1970s, around Australia but most spectacularly in Sydney, the Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) was the core of an impressive movement that gave Australia – and the world – a glimpse of what workers’ power looks like. In their thousands, by their actions, builders labourers asserted that they were neither robots nor donkeys, but human beings. They used their considerable industrial muscle for the benefit of the working class, the poor and oppressed groups.

The contrast with the priorities of capitalism couldn’t be starker. One of the more far sighted and honest of the construction bosses of the time was G.J. Dusseldorp, the chairman of the huge Lend Lease group. Dusseldorp told housing industry leaders in 1968: “The housing industry as a whole knows little about the desires of the people and cares less”.

This puts it in a nutshell. To the companies that make the decisions, it doesn’t matter what is built, how or where, so long as a profit is made. Cheap housing, historic buildings, working class communities, parkland – it’s all dispensable in the pursuit of profit. In contrast, the then secretary of the BLF, Jack Mundey, declared:

“Yes, we want to build. However, we prefer to build urgently required hospitals, schools, other public utilities, high-quality flats, units and houses, provided they are designed with adequate concern for the environment, than to build ugly unimaginative architecturally bankrupt blocks of concrete and glass offices ... Though we want all our members employed, we will not just become robots directed by developer-builders who value the dollar at the expense of the environment. More and more, we are going to determine which buildings we will build.”

This extraordinary exercise in working class power had its origins in 1970. In that year, the Victorian branch of the BLF backed residents of the then solidly working class suburb of North Carlton, demanding that former railway land be turned over to parkland rather than used for a massive warehouse for Kleenex. Victorian secretary Norm Gallagher was jailed for 13 days after being arrested on the picket line, prompting a Melbourne-wide construction strike.

The warehouse was never built, and “Hardy-Gallagher Park” in North Carlton is still parkland today. In the years that followed, moves to demolish the iconic Victoria Markets, Swanston Street’s historic City Baths building and many others, were also thwarted by union “green bans”.

But it was in Sydney that the green bans really took off. In 1971, residents of Hunters Hill, a wealthy middle class suburb, approached the construction unions. The residents had been through all the “proper channels” trying to preserve Kelly’s Bush, the last few acres of bush land on the lower reaches of the Parramatta River, which was due to be turned into a housing development.

The “proper channels”, dominated by property developers and their money, had failed to give satisfaction to the residents, who then turned to the unions. After a vigorous debate among their members, the BLF and FEDFA – the crane drivers’ and bulldozer operators’ union – announced that none of their members would work on the project.

Sydney’s Green Bans: worker boycotts that saved the city

By Timothy Ginty - ROARMag, April 20, 2019

The destruction of heritage buildings, the encroachment of urban development onto green spaces and the gentrification of working class neighborhoods are flash-points of social conflict in expanding cities around the globe.

Communities that mobilize to protect their public spaces, services and culture can protest and call public meetings, or take to the courts and pressure the powers-that-be, but corruption, asymmetrical power and the influence of money can overpower them and make community consultation impotent. When all else fails and neighborhoods on the front line of speculative development are facing the wrecking ball, what options do they have to protect the commons of public space, services and culture?

Consider the radical and effective solution that emerged in Sydney in the 1970s: the Green Ban.

The people versus the speculators

The Green Bans were a series of worker boycotts of projects considered socially, architecturally or environmentally damaging to the local community during Sydney’s speculative construction boom of 1971-1974. Unionized construction workers would simply leave their tools in their toolbox and refuse to enter the building site.

The boycotts were initiated not by union leadership, but by a public vote in open assemblies after a community requested the Builders Labourers’ Federation (BLF) to intervene.

In the first ever Green Ban dates in 1971, a group of middle-class women of the harbor-side suburb of Hunter’s Hill urgently asked the BLF to save the last piece of natural bushland on Sydney Harbor. Property developers had the site earmarked for a private housing development, and the “Battlers of Kelly’s Bush”, as the women became known, had exhausted all the legal and political options available to them.

The women called a public meeting to gauge local support for more direct action. Over 600 people attended showed up to request that the union boycott the development. Within months the development was stalled and ultimately discarded, its success sparking a wave of similar requests from other community groups facing socially, physically and environmentally destructive developments.

The union responded to these requests wherever significant community support existed. Local residents would cast votes in public assemblies to decide on a Green Ban, and the union would mobilize when those votes reflected large majorities. Democracy permeated every aspect of the actions, down to the commitment to translate the debates and discussions for the migrant laborers.

This insistence on democratic decision-making for bans and strikes saw the union membership boom throughout the 1970s, reaching some 11,000 laborers at its peak.

A glimpse of what could be: The NSW BLF, the most radical and innovative union the world has ever seen

By John Tully - Links, March 2019

Fifty years ago, a group of dedicated left-wing activists wrested control of the NSW Builders Labourers’ Federation (BLF) from the corrupt gangster types who had used it to feather their own nests. The militants, who included Jack Mundey, Joe Owens and Bob Pringle, rebuilt the union into a radically democratic, socially progressive and environmentally-aware organisation the likes of which Australia—and the world—had never seen. Today, we live in dark times for trade unionism. Only around 7% of workers in private industry are organised and unionists face ruthless attacks by the bosses and the state. The achievements of the NSW BLF, however, give us a glimpse of the liberating potential of the working class and are a beacon for the future.

It is to the great credit of militant building workers in Australia that almost 50 years ago they nailed their green colours to the mast and insisted that ecology was as much the concern of workers as wages and conditions. Jack Mundey asked “What is the use of higher wages alone, if we have to live in cities devoid of parks, denuded of trees, in an atmosphere poisoned by pollution and vibrating with the noise of hundreds of thousands of units of private transport?”

The union did not claim to be perfect—it was a work-in-progress, inventing itself as it went—but it showed that an alternative kind of unionism was possible. Its innovative radicalism shocked the bosses and conservative politicians, and confounded right-wing union bureaucrats by its daring larrikinism. It shook up Sydney in a way that had only been the stuff of dreams for socialists and surprised many who had written off the working class as a force for progressive change. Sadly, as the years go by, its achievements risk being forgotten under the crushing weight of neoliberal ideology.

As elsewhere in Australia, the BLF covered the unskilled and semi-skilled workers in the building and construction industry: labourers of various types; concrete finishers; jackhammer-men; excavation workers; hoist drivers; steel fixers who placed the steel rods and bars for reinforced concrete; scaffolders; powder monkeys or explosives experts; riggers, who erected cranes, gantries, hoists and other structures, along with structural steelwork and bridges; and dogmen, who slung loads from cranes and “rode the hook” hundreds of metres above the city streets in a spectacular, but hazardous aerial performance. Due to technological change in the industry, much of their work became at least as skilled as that of the traditional craftsmen, who had served traditional apprenticeships, and who were organised in separate unions at that time.

Where unions and cooperatives meet: the example of Earthworker, Australia

Mark Tyler and Anna Boddenberg - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, April 7, 2015

We are currently facing two interrelated crises; catastrophic climate change, and massive economic collapse. Those in power are not responding appropriately to this reality. Earthworker, a worker-controlled cooperative movement based in Australia, is one creative response to this situation. In the face of climate change, Earthworker is building sustainable industry. In the face of economic collapse, Earthworker is building secure, dignified jobs in worker-owned cooperatives. In the face of inaction (or unhelpful action) from government and business, Earthworker is building a strategy that can be controlled and enacted from below, by workers and local communities. While the vision is expansive, it is starting the only way it can: from where we are currently standing, and with one step at a time.

At the end of 2014, Earthworker saw the mutualisation of Eureka’s Future in Dandenong, Victoria, Australia. This means a private business was transformed into a worker-owned cooperative factory, manufacturing high-quality hot water tanks. The transition from a traditional, privately-owned enterprise was facilitated by Earthworker, and has taken many years of leg-work. This is the first of a network of worker-owned cooperatives in sustainable industries across Australia that Earthworker will support and build.

Earthworker does not emerge out of a vacuum. The project is a result of years of struggle and draws from the lessons of both the labour and environmental movements. These histories inform and guide Earthworker. Three principles that are key to the project are; 1) a direct action approach of “show me don’t tell me”; 2) an insistence that workers have control over how our labour is used; and 3) a memory that struggles for the emancipation of labour and struggles for environmental justice are sister movements.

Fracking jobs figures slashed, free water subsidy revealed: New economic report

By staff - Lock the Gate Alliance, October 30, 2017

A report released last night by the NT Fracking Inquiry reveals a massive drop in projected jobs figures if fracking goes ahead across the Northern Territory.

The previous Deloitte’s report that has been used to push the fracking industry showed that in 2040 there would be 6,321 jobs in the highest possible fracking scenario.

In stark contrast, the new ACIL Allen report shows there will be only 558 jobs in their highest possible development scenario by the year 2043.

“This new economic report by ACIL Allen shows will get less than 10% of the jobs we were told we would get in the previous Deloitte’s report if we allow fracking across the NT," said Naomi Hogan of the Lock the Gate Alliance.

“The 13,000 jobs figure in the ACIL Allen report is based on adding up the jobs required each year over 25 years. It assumes that every person loses their job after just one year, and then a new position is created. It’s a misleading figure.

The report shows that total employment in the Northern Territory was 132,200 in August 2017. So even if we go with the highest number of fracking wells, we’re still only getting an extra 500 jobs in a year. That’s a tiny 0.4 percent increase in the number of jobs in the Northern Territory.

“The report shows that even if this risky fracking industry were to proceed, there would be less than a half a percent extra jobs created each year in the Territory, and most of these would be for fly in fly out workers from other parts of Australia.

Shockingly, the report reveals that fracking companies will access all their water for free. (see page 52)

“While Territorians pay through the nose for water, this report highlights a NT Government subsidy for the fracking industry to extract billions and billions of litres of Territory water in the coming decades for free.”

“There are other industries in the NT creating far more than a few hundred fly in fly out jobs that do not put groundwater at risk from fracking chemical contamination and spills, and do not rely on getting access to billions of litres of free water.

“Defying scientific reports on the impacts of the fracking industry, the report fails to cost in the impacts on other Territory business who could have their water supply drop, or their water contaminated by spills and leaks.

“ACIL Allen failed to account for any loss of money to tourism operators and food growers that rely on clean uncontaminated groundwater and natural springs.

“This economic model reveals it does not include the costs to the NT economy from having to deal with the long-term contamination impacts of fracking chemical spills.

List of Green Bans, 1971-1974

By Steven - Libcom.Org, June 17, 2017

References: BLF (NSW) 15 June 1973; 22 October 1973; 5 June, 1974; Joe Owens Deposit, Noel Butlin Archive, ANU

To Executive Members and Fulltime Workers:- A list of our Green Bans and other community actions in support of residents. The following is the list:

1. Kelly’s Bush
2. The Rocks
3. Victoria Street
4.Congregational Church
5. Opera House Car Park
6. Theatre Royal
7. Moore Park (Centennial Park Sports’ Complex)
8. Cook Road (Centennial Park)
9. Mt. Druitt
10. North-West Expressway
11. “Lyndhurst” – Glebe
12. Ryde – Dunbar Park
13. Darlinghurst
14. Helen Kellar House – Woollahra
15. Woolloomooloo
16. Royal Australasian College of Physicians – Macquarie St
17. Pyrmont and Ultimo (NW Freeway)
18. Fowler-Ware Industries – Merrylands
19. Jeremy Fisher
20. Diethnes
21. East End – Newcastle
22. Rileys Island
23. Colonial Mutual Building
24. Dr. Busby’s Cottage
25. Eastern Hill – Manly
26. Eastlakes

27. A.N.Z. Bank – Martin Place
28. National Mutual Building – Martin Place
29. C.M.L. Building – Martin Place
30. Mascot High-Rise
31. Newcastle Hotel
32. Regent Theatre
33. Redfern Aboriginal Centre
34. Eastern Freeway
35. Botany High Rise
36. Motorway – Newcastle
37. St. George’s Hill
38. Kings Cross
39. South Sydney
40. St. John’s Park
41. New Doctors Dwellings
42. Tomaree Peninsula
43. Burwood
44. Western Expressway
45. Freeways
46. Soldiers Garden Village
47. Education Department – North Newtown
48. Port Kembla
49. East Woonona
50. Botany Municipality
51. Sydney University Women’s Course
52. Port Macquarie
53. Waterloo
54. Newcastle Motorway

The 1970s Struggle to Save the Vic Market

By staff - Earthworker Cooperative, June 2017; artwork by Sofia Sabbagh

Remembering the struggle to save the Vic Market from the threat of redevelopment in the 1970s. Earthworker recognises itself as part of this tradition of defending public and community space. 

The Vic Market is a vital public space in the heart of Melbourne. Many of us who live in and around Melbourne appreciate the Market as a place to work, eat, meet and enjoy company with friends and family.

Not many know that in the 1970s, pressure began to mount for the “redevelopment” of the Queen Victoria Market into a combined trade and hotel precinct. Even fewer know the truth about the role that a militant trade union, namely the Builders Labourers’ Federation (BLF), played in protecting the Vic Market from this threat.

This is an excerpt from Vic Market’s own website: “The separation of the Wholesale Market from the Retail Market lead to a plan to redevelop the Queen Victoria Market site into a trade centre, office and hotel complex in the 1970s. However, public outcry prevented this and resulted in the Market being classified by the National Trust. Later, the Market site and its buildings were listed on the Historic Buildings Register.”

Not a word about a union. Yet if you talk to the older stall holders today they all know people who came before them who were involved in that period, and who are proud of the union-declared ban on development work at the Vic market. This action was only one in a series of bans that the BLF put on development sites that were deemed socially or environmentally harmful. This strategy was collectively termed “Green Bans”.

Here’s some words from Dave Kerin, co-founder of Earthworker and one of those involved in the victory to protect the Vic Market in the 1970s:

“Our community is there; our kids grew up with the Market as a formative community influence; and importantly thanks to John Cummins (previous Victorian secretary of the BLF), the Green Ban remains on the Vic Market. In the early 1990’s the stall holders approached Cummo to discuss yet another proposal to build inappropriately on Market land. Cummo reassured everybody that as far as he was concerned “The Green Ban was never lifted!” The Green Ban still holds and yet goes unacknowledged by the Market’s Administration. This ahistorical presentation of events must change.”

History is repeating, and we now see that the Vic Market is under threat again. But, if we know our history, we can assert with confidence “We’ve saved it before, we’ll save it again!”.

Pages

The Fine Print I:

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) unless otherwise indicated and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s, nor should it be assumed that any of these authors automatically support the IWW or endorse any of its positions.

Further: the inclusion of a link on our site (other than the link to the main IWW site) does not imply endorsement by or an alliance with the IWW. These sites have been chosen by our members due to their perceived relevance to the IWW EUC and are included here for informational purposes only. If you have any suggestions or comments on any of the links included (or not included) above, please contact us.

The Fine Print II:

Fair Use Notice: The material on this site is provided for educational and informational purposes. It may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It is being made available in an effort to advance the understanding of scientific, environmental, economic, social justice and human rights issues etc.

It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have an interest in using the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The information on this site does not constitute legal or technical advice.