||Issue No. 290||18 November 2005|
The Long March
Interview: Public Defender
Legal: Craig's Story
Unions: Wrong Way, Go Back
Politics: Queue Jumping
History: Iron Heel
Economics: Waging War
International: Under Pressure
Poetry: Billy Negotiates An AWA
Review: A Pertinent Proposition
The Locker Room
What lucky country
Swimming with Sharks
Save Our Culture
Aussies Shrug Off Threats
They defied a sustained campaign of intimidation, by John Howard and his big-business backers, to take part in the biggest act of civil disobedience Australia has witnessed.
An estimated 170,000 people jammed streets around Melbourne's Federation Square to hear ACTU secretary, Greg Combet, build on the theme with a pledge not to pay massive fines John Howard has in store for trade union activists.
" I will not pay a $33,000 fine for asking for people to be treated fairly," Mr Combet said. "And, I will be asking other union leaders to do the same."
The Melbourne centrepiece was beamed across the continent on a Sky Channel hook-up that linked more than 300 venues. Estimates of total numbers varied between 500,000 and an ACTU figure of 600,000.
Twenty five thousand rallied in Brisbane; while twin Sydney rallies at Martin Place and Belmore Park drew another 50,000. Several Sydney suburban protests, attracted thousands, including those at Stanmore, Gymea, Blacktown and Bankstown.
There were hundreds of other protest venues in towns and cities across NSW.
Eight thousand rallied and marched in Wollongong, while more than 15,000 turned up to venues in and around Newcastle.
At the other end of the scale, a dozen people turned out at drought-stricken Collarenebri; there were 53 at Coonabarabran; 131 at Doug Walters' old stamping ground, Dungog; 425 at Lake Cargelligo in the central west; and another 300 in two-pub Werris Creek.
Hundreds took to the streets, after the hook-up, in dozens of regional centres, including Wagga Wagga, Albury, Moss Vale and Bowral.
Thousands more stopped work in Perth, Dampier, Mackay, Townsville, Darwin and Adelaide.
Everywhere, the theme was resistance.
Thousands of building workers ignored threats of $22,000 fines issued by Workplace Relations Minister, Kevin Andrews, and his Australian Building and Construction Commission chief, John Lloyd, in the days leading up to November 15.
Similar lines were run, over and over in the build-up, in a bid to intimidate workers out of protesting.
Federal departments were instructed to deny people time off to express their opposition and threats were issued against those who attended on their own time.
Several departments, including Centrelink and the ATO, warned staff that using flexi-leave or personal leave to attend the rallies would be "unlawful".
CPSU officials said, last Friday, they had been contacted by more than 100 members concerned that they had been "unfairly or illegally" blocked from attending the protests.
The chief of the Australian Industry Group, Heather Ridout, told the media her organisation would assist individual employers to prosecute staff who joined the protests.
Two of the government's biggest IR supporters, Qantas and Visy, also played the intimidation card, threatening action against individual employees.
Reports are coming in of other acts of intimidation. At Glen Innes, in the NSW Northern Tablelands, hospital managers and the local council blocked employees from attending with threats of disciplinary action.
But the efforts failed to stop the largest single protest in Australian history.
Unions NSW secretary, John Robertson, summed up the mood when he told Sydney protesters the rallies were only round one.
"Today is just the beginning. We will be taking this battle into every electorate and every town in Australia," Robertson said.
"This government, and each of its members, will be held accountable for every family that suffers because of its actions."
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