Over 200 people packed Brunswick Town Hall last night for the Solidarity meeting against racist disunity called by the Socialist Party (SP) and the Electrical Trades Union (ETU).
The audience was wildly diverse ranging from construction workers to Muslim youth, from leftists to public housing tenants. One older woman travelled from Morwell in the La Trobe Valley to attend the meeting.
SP Cllr Stephen Jolly chaired the meeting and opened by explaining why the meeting was called: “After Cronulla, unionists and the SP wanted to make a stand against racism as well as trying to unite people to fight the conditions that breed racism.” He congratulated the union leaders in attendance for taking a political stand for working class unity.
Jolly also condemned the racist cartoons published by rightwing media outlets internationally which were aimed at demonising and insulting Muslims – not the way to take up religion or differences of opinion. In the past imperialism just demonised Saddam and his clique and claimed to be for all Iraqis. Now they demonise a whole people – the only explanation can be an attempt to prepare the ground for the slaughter of whole peoples (and not just governments in the Middle East) by US bombs, including nuclear bombs.
ALP Mayor Tony Helou welcomed those in attendance and accepted our message of solidarity to Moreland Council staff who had received phone calls all day from far right misfits threatening them about the meeting.
CFMEU (construction division) Secretary Martin Kingham spoke next with a strong message of the need for workers’ unity in the face of Howards’ IR attacks. He outlined the anti-union legislation his union faces and asked if there was any worse legislation in the western world.
Moreland Green Councillor Andrea Sharam was followed by author and social commentator Hanifa Deen who put the demonisation of Muslims in a broader context of the post-September 11th situation.
Islamic Council of Victoria representative Sherene Hassan gave a moving account of what its like to be a Muslim woman in Australia, especially hard after S11. Her speech had a powerful effect on many workers who had never thought about the daily abuse devout Muslim women receive.
ETU State Secretary Dean Mighell repeated Kingham’s message of class unity and said that racism was union business – this powerful statement in words and deeds from Mighell is exactly what workers need at the moment.
The last speaker was ETU shop steward and brother of an apprentice electrician who was picked up on anti-terrorist charges last year, Omar Merhi. He had defied death threats against his children that day to attend the meeting. He was greeted by a standing ovation as he walked to the lectern to speak. His message of compassion and workers’ unity had the most powerful effect on the crowd. He pointedly thanked the Socialist Party as well as the ETU and Moreland City Council for the meeting.
Question timed followed and all those in attendance were keen to attend upcoming anti-racist events as well as supporting the creation of a new Union Solidarity branch for the Moreland area.
Comrade Selvam from the Socialist Party of Malaysia was in attendance and got a big round of applause when his presence was noted by the Chairperson.
The Socialist Party distributed 200 special leaflets for the meeting and had a well received stall in the Council foyer.
We believe the nature of our work is beginning to generate the type of successes that will attract the cream of youth and workers into our party. In the last few weeks we have organised this meeting, our first ever summer school, the intervention of public housing tenants to the posties picket line in Fitzroy, and hosted Comrade Selvam’s visit amongst other things. Please consider getting involved in the struggle against this rotten government and the system it represents.
By Socialist Party reporters