Reflections of a young unionist

7 April 2017

It was my first Union rally.

I felt like I was about to participate in something important and was motivated by the desire to help others.

I knew I wasn't alone and that there were rally’s taking place all over Australia. We had to send a strong message to the Fair-Work Commission, the government and other workers.

I was taking action against the unfair targeting of some of Australia's lowest paid wage earners (cutting penalty rates) and rallying against the revived Australian Building and Construction Commission.

Despite the coalition’s assurances that the ABCC would act as a watchdog over the construction industry, I knew it was yet another attempt by the conservative government to weaken unions.

I don't work in the construction industry but understand that workers from all walks of life need to unite when threatened with draconian laws that take away our rights. I was a unionist, my flag colours didn’t matter!

Unions have united for hundreds of years to fight for workers’ rights! I discovered the working conditions that I and my younger friends take for granted have been won by unions. Unions have played a significant role in shaping modern society; they won the eight-hour working day, they won our right to decent pay, the minimum wage, the 38 hour working week, the abolition of child labour, just to name a few.

We arrived at the Union rally point outside Victorian Trades Hall, the world’s oldest trade union building.  Seeing all the workers gathering at the one place was inspiring. Men, women, young and old from all walks of life were there and they were loud and proud.

I started to wonder why so little time was spent discussing the importance of Unionism during my education. 

I wondered why none of my friends were here or even Union members.  Many of my peers are completely unaware of what a union does or what collective bargaining is. They just do what the boss says and allow them to trample over our rights.

My thoughts were interrupted by the singing and talking. I looked around and noticed flags, people wearing their union colours and holding up placards. I proceeded to do the same. 

The music stopped and our union leaders began to speak about our cause and why we all needed to be at the rally. People started to cheer in solidarity.  What did he just say?  We are here illegally and that we could be fined and arrested by the police?

I turned to David, our Assistant Secretary and asked him if it was true. Yep, Howard and his cronies declared strikes a crime a long time ago, he said. I scanned the crowd for police and found them on the perimeter but they did not seem to be arresting anyone!

Then suddenly the crowd began to move. We marched through Melbourne's CBD waving our cards and placards, what a mighty sight! The police kept a close eye on us but we were there to protest peacefully.  Office workers looked through their windows to see what the commotion was all about.  I looked at them and waved our flag!

We finally reached our destination, the Liberal party HQ and down the street from the Fair-Work Commission. The rally organisers began to rally the crowd and talk about how important it was for workers’ rights to be maintained.   I understood the need to stand side by side. 

It was an experience I'll always remember. After all it was my first. Upon my return to work I was keen to read about the media coverage of the rally. So I took to the internet and began to search and read.

I was profoundly disappointed by the media coverage of the rally’s that took place around Australia on the 9th of March 2017.  The media and the Prime Minister’s response were to shrug off the core message of our argument and instead decided to focus on how John Howard was supposedly “bullied” and “harassed” by the “thuggish Unions”.

Their aim was to deflect attention away from our core message, attempting to completely ignore the pleas of thousands of some of the lowest paid workers in the country.

I did not see a single incidence of violence, indeed when an emergency vehicle was trying to get through the crowded street, everybody was immediately told to move aside and allow it through.  It was as peaceful of a protest as it could have possibly been.

This is a call to action for my fellow young people to join a Union and to ensure that we fight for the wages and conditions we deserve, just like our parents and grandparents did. All workers, especially the young, should know that our rights were bought with tears and pain.

I now feel a sense of urgency! I know my generation can and must contribute!  We can use the technology we have grown up with to propagate the message of revolution.  It’s evident that the corporate elite are engaging in class warfare, the politicians are all bought and sold and the mainstream media act as propaganda machines serving the interest of large multinational corporations. We are at war and we are losing! 

What kind of world do we live in where the average Aussie battler is labelled a thug for making a stand against egregious policy’s made by an out of touch government?  We must change the dominant discourse churned through the media.  We must challenge the misinformation and disinformation! The neoliberals lead by Howard, Abbott and now Turnbull will only sell us out to the highest bidder!

Samuel Black

Health Workers Union