I arrived back in Sydney at 7am aware that there was a planned Community Day of Action against Industrial Relations Change Australia-wide. There was no chance I would make it tothe even in my town to participate in the actions there and as i just missed my connecting train I followed the masses of people – representing many different unions, organizations, political ‘parties’, and other bodies as well as people from multitude walks of life – from the train to to the Sydney event..
My initial reactions were mixed. A continual stream of people kept arriving at the park, and I was scanning them on the off chance that I would see some friends/associates/colleagues in the mix. I was positioned pretty close to the ‘stalls’ and socialist ‘broadsheet’ sellers. There was a younger – and very enthusiastic – women repeating almost exclusively one cry to those passing towards the main assembly point: ‘resist Howard’s anti-terrer laws – sign the petition. Whilst trying not to be too critical (we all start somewhere) – I found her passion and drive inspiring – I found myself pondering what it could be if there was more awareness of power structures, reformism and the potential limited and generally inconsequential impacts (in the sense of other less critically-aware people only hearing this and not having a comprehensive awareness) of such a cry. I am glad this women – and many other’s – were present putting contrasting withy the neo-liberal agenda and outright attacks on the rights of Australian working people under the guise of ‘work choices’.
As I sit and watch – for some 30 minutes now – the still continuing, perhaps fading, throng of people joining the assembly I feel a sense of outrage against the government I have not felt since the attack on members of the Maritime Union of Australia by Patrick and the Federal Government some 4 years ago [check how long]. The collective sense present does give me hope – albeit I expect any potential from this action to fizzle out under the guide of union ‘negotiations’ with government, militancy watered down, pacified and/or marginalised by unions who have become and end in themselves… another train passes with the driver sounding his horn. This is an issue that affects everyone and I am glad to see people taking it to the streets and taking a stand.
What is to come of this? It will probably fade under the guide that the ‘labor’ party will save the working people at the next election. I don’t pretend to have the answers of how to mobilise such a gathering – and I probably should think that I could possess such knowledge. The internal contradictions I have are that I see as essential collective social awareness developing from below yet how long do we have? What to do in the meantime that is effective and does not compromise our ideals?
Can any immediate and concrete action – as in change right now – come from this action except policy change? Of course such actions sow the seeds of change amongst people – the experience of solidarity, collective awareness of others similar plights, critical exposure and the development of such thought – are essential to grassroots social change. What happens in the meantime? Until we can experience and live a system…
I decide to skip and wait for the next train… to see what transpires before the organised ‘march’ takes off (I am not feeling like several km’s through city streets with all my gear)…
As the first speaker/mc addresses those present and leads in a ‘fighting for?’ … ‘workers rights!’ chant I reflect on how the majority of those who participate in this are the ‘burly’ male unionists and I have images of marchers in the past with ‘big burly blokes’ at the front. The patriarchy of it leads my the reflect… yet when charged by police I would rather have a line of these ‘big burly blokes’ at the front – both as a disincentive to a police charge and also that thay are generally more able to handle such an act. What does this say for a forms of action? What other means could we use? Again, I return to pondering how can we achieve something concrete from this?
If the government is forced (again) to water down it Industrial Relations policies it can be very empowering for those involved to see that they have effected change. I recall the Cunningham Bi-election in which a local activist won – the first time a member of the ‘Greens’ had one a lower house (direct election) seat in Australia (and I think the world) – largely based on his involvement on the ground with many issues and for the first time the workers going against the ‘labor’ party. Even those of us who do not believe in electoralism could see the positive impacts this had on people – the electorate this seat covers is where we live – in the sense that could see that they could effect change. Whilst this was expressed through the ballot box, it was a victory for people and they could clearly see that they had won. Given all the defeats despite long and ongoing actions over a long time that were sustained, had a very strong and diverse base, victories are essential to avoid burnout. And this is how many of us saw the election result.
So I come back to what can we achieve out of today. If the government is forced into another back-down this is a big step forward and one we should take something from. What needs to follow however is actions that clearly expose the basis of such policies and provide for the development and growth of critical awareness of the issues amongst the community at large. I just hope that the ‘end in themselves’ unions wake-up and do not continue to promote themselves at the expense of stifling the outrage of the broader community – recent (at the least) history does not provide much hope on this level…
I am happy to arrive home to such a spectacle.