Archive for the 'strikes' Category

Defiance or compliance? How should Queensland workers fight LNP sackings and cuts?

Campbell Newman’s Liberal National Party government was elected in Queensland in March this year. Their cuts to public service jobs have provoked 10,000-strong rallies and public anger is growing at cuts to service that were not mentioned before the election. Newman’s popularity has dropped quickly since March, creating space for people to mobilise against his austerity-lite agenda.

At a symposium yesterday, organised by the Brisbane Labour History Association, it quickly became obvious the first barrier to effective strike action against the Queensland government is the threat of huge fines for strikers and organisers who ignore court orders to return to work. Two different approaches to that threat were presented at the symposium: defiance of court orders, or working to elect an ALP government in the hope they will repeal anti-strike laws.

In 1976 Queensland introduced injunctions with civil penalties that could lose you your house and car. The Federal Trade Practices Act, which bans secondary strikes, was mirrored in Queensland law in 1984. In 1985 strikes were made illegal in the electricity industry, as was any strike without 7 days notice

These powers were quickly used in 1985 to break a strike of South East Queensland Electricity Board (SEQEB) workers (Get the pdf file directly downloaded here). Barbara Webster of the Central Queensland University explained that when plant controllers at the massive Gladstone Power Station cut electricity supply by 50% in support of sacked linesmen, the Government ordered them to return to work. When all but one operator refused, half of the operators were threatened with fines. Young men, with families, cars and mortgages to support, they submitted, and without their backing the wider strike was doomed.

Barbara Webster speaks at Brisbane Labour History Association forum 121027
Barbara Webster

We can be sure that any widespread strike action will be met quickly with similar threats. In fact it already has: the symposium heard from Bob Carnegie, who is associated with the Socialist Alternative group. Carnegie helped with organising a recent successful strike of workers building a new Queensland Children’s Hospital. When the strike was declared illegal and union officials were ordered by courts to not go near the strike site, the workers defied the court orders. Carnegie did too, and now faces up to $400,000 in fines, and a jail sentence.

Bob Carnegie speaks at Brisbane Labour History Association forum 121027

Bob Carnegie

Towards the end of the symposium, ALP member and Queensland Council of Unions Secretary Ron Monaghan spoke. He said that workers in the private sector will not support sacked public servants, and that it’s no good telling workers that they “got it wrong” when they voted for Campbell Newman. Monaghan said the union movement should not split from the ALP as the ALP will then completely ignore it. He said this after describing how the former Queensland ALP government accepted the union movement’s vital support in the 2009 election, and then announced major privatisations of State assets months after being re-elected.

Ron Monaghan speaks at Brisbane Labour History Association forum 121027

Ron Monaghan

ALP member and official of the United Voice union, Michael Clifford, also spoke, saying a strategy of working to elect an ALP government is the best one. He said his union wanted ALP candidates who would stand up for trade union voices, and said legislation that supports the rights of workers to organise is the key. Earlier in the day, Howard Guille, a former Queensland secretary of the National Tertiary Employees Union, said that a right to strike might be enshrined in the Constitution, as it has been in South Africa. However he did not mention the recent deaths of striking miners in South Africa, killed by police despite the words of their Constitution.

Michael Clifford speaks at Brisbane Labour History Association forum 121027

Michael Clifford


Howard Guille speaks at Brisbane Labour History Association forum 121027

Howard Guille


Later Ron Monaghan was asked if the unions should make themselves strong enough to defy any government, ALP or LNP, by calling a general strike. He spoke of the dangers of this, but then said “we” were doing so already, claiming credit for the defiant actions of Bob Carnegie, although Carnegie is not an ALP member.

The first speaker of the day perhaps should have been the last. Sue Yarrow, once involved in the Right to March movement in Queensland and later a ministerial adviser to the Goss and Beattie ALP governments, spoke about how the old Trades Hall Group, authoritarian and socially conservative ALP members who once dominated the ALP and the union movement, lost control when they did not realise how much public support the Right to March movement had. As society shifted beneath their feet, they fell. If working people are pushed by the current government to defy anti-strike laws, and if all the ALP can offer is the chance to vote them back in and hope things will get better, something similar might happen again.

Sue Yarrow speaks at Brisbane Labour History Association forum 121027.50

Sue Yarrow

“spiked” writes in support of striking British Airways cabin crew

British online magazine “spiked” has published an article by Tim Black supporting striking British Airways cabin crew. The strike was announced last Monday by Unite, the union of which the striking cabin crew are members.

The article makes a very good point about how strikes are seen and reported these days: this is not seen by people as workers standing up for themselves, but as a mere inconvenience to passengers:

However, to say there’s been little in the way of public sympathy for the actions of the cabin crew would be an understatement. Much like the London Tube strike earlier this year, the reaction from the hundreds of thousands of passengers likely to be affected has been largely hostile. Only 10 times more so, given that it’s not just a case of getting to work late, but of not getting home for Christmas. As far as many affected are concerned, this is atrocious customer service.

In fact, the public discussion of the planned cabin crew strike has been framed almost entirely in terms of the individual consumer. It seems to be the only perspective available. The BBC News website doesn’t offer an analysis of the conflicting interests at stake; it offers advice on ‘how else to get around this Christmas’. The Times doesn’t address the concerns of businessmen; it addresses the worries of the disgruntled customer – ‘Don’t rush to buy another flight, just wait and see’, a column urges. Throughout the coverage and public discussion, the only relationship one can seemingly have with the strike is that of a consumer to a disrupted service.

I also noticed this in the reaction to complaints about last week’s bus strike in Brisbane. There was almost universal disgust with the bus drivers and the union and very little sympathy for their right to stand up for themselves via striking. I don’t know how to convince more people to automatically, or at least generally, see the point of view of striking workers.

Interview with Bus Drivers’ Union secretary about Wednesday’s Brisbane bus strike

Last Wednesday, Brisbane bus drivers at the Toowong depot went on strike after a driver was stood down. The driver was stood down following this report on Channel 9 TV News showing a young girl getting her foot caught in the door of a bus. While Channel 9 said the driver “showed little remorse”, the footage shows him walking past the TV crew (who did nothing to help the girl) and going straight to the back door of the bus to make sure everything was OK. You’ll notice that the TV report doesn’t show anything of what he said or did when he got to where the girl was.

Looking at the footage shown in the Channel 9 report, it looks very dodgy that the driver was stood down (he was a casual so unless the union can win a case for him, he wouldn’t have got paid for being stood down). I kept an open mind until I saw the footage, but now I think he was being unfairly blamed by the his management. If someone in a place I worked at was stood down on such flimsy evidence, I hope my fellow workers would strike to defend not only my rights, but their own.

I talked with David Matters, Assistant Secretary of the Queensland Branch of the Rail Tram and Bus Union about the incident. Mr Matters explains that this has been an ongoing safety issue, that Brisbane Transport management may have been upset that bus drivers and the union have been challenging management on safety issues, and also talks about just how stressful a bus driver’s job is.

Click on this link to listen to the interview – if your browser won’t play the interview, clicking here will download it so you can listen on your own computer: 091210 David Matters RTBU

It’s important to note that even though this strike was clearly about unfair treatment of a worker, the strike was declared illegal within hours. This is as a result of workplace laws brought in by the Rudd Labor Government, the worst anti-union laws ever brought in by an Australian Labor Goverment.

On Friday morning I sent the following email to Councillor Jane Prentice, the chair of Brisbane City Council’s public transport committee – in effect, she is Brisbane City Council’s “Minister for Buses”:

Dear Ms Prentice,

I am writing a story, to be published on Saturday afternoon December 12 2009, on Brisbane’s bus strike last Wednesday. I am emailing you to ask you to clarify some issues and to give you a chance to say anything you think the public should know about the story.

1) Media reports suggest the driver shown on Channel Nine TV News on Monday who had a passenger’s foot caught in the back door of his bus was stood down from duty before any enquiry had had the chance to report on the full facts of the incident. Is this so?

2) Media reports suggest that the driver was a casual employee. If so, and if it is true that he was stood down before any enquiry had reported, does this mean that he would have received no pay during the enquiry?

3) If the driver was stood down before any enquiry had examined the full facts of the case, why was that so?

4) What complaints or suggestions have been received formally or informally by Brisbane Transport management from employees about safety issues related to back-door sensors in buses designed to stop the doors closing while passengers might be caught in them?

5) Do you have any comments or observations you’d like the public to know about regarding this issue?