Gladstone workers protest at proposed IR changes
By ALLAN McNEILallanm@gladstoneobserver.com.au
THEY came with their placards, they came with their banners, but most of all they came with their voices.
You could hear them before they came into sight, marching up Tank Street.
'Workers united can never be defeated, Howard's way ? No way,' they cried in unison.
Some workers carried their children, surrounded by the old, young, even those in wheelchairs, all marched for the rights of local workers yesterday.
'I am a union member, we are not criminals,' one of the signs read, while others openly branded Prime Minister John Howard a terrorist and a threat to Australian workers.
It was the federal government's new industrial relations laws that brought more than 1000 workers out for the rally to voice their disapproval of Mr Howard's proposed changes.
The proposed changes include exempting employers with less than 100 employees from unfair dismissal laws.
Those that drove past Anzac Park where the union workers congregated, may not have known what it was all about, but Peter Lees, assistant secretary of the Australian Metal Workers Union, summed up exactly what yesterday meant.
'Today is a monumental day in history, from today we have to fight for the rights of Australian workers against these draconion changes,' he said as listeners replied with calls of 'hear hear' and "shame Howard shame.'
Mr Lees went on to describe the current Australian working conditions as, "where Jack is as good as his master, a condition that will soon be gone if Mr Howard's Industrial Relations changes are adopted.'
Many addresses during the day targeted the effects the proposed industrial relations changes would have on families.
Local Labor party president Chris Trevor said if the changes were adopted they would affect not only union members but the whole community.
'Who will donate to charity organisations when you are charities yourself?' Cr Trevor asked.
Teachers and nurses also gave spirited addresses, showing it was not just those from the construction workforce passionate about the debate.
Other addresses also attacked Member for Gladstone Liz Cunningham for her support of similar proposed state-based industrial relations changes in 1997.
Others from the crowd called for a national day of strike, "Bring the country to a stand still, then they'll listen,'' they cried.
But Australian Workers Union (AWU) organiser Tony Beers quashed any suggestions of an Australia-wide walk out.
'The workers of Gladstone would support it (a national day of strike), but most of the workers know that it's not the way to achieve a fair outcome,' he said.