The last day of school proir to the mid year break saw a 500 strong student strike and march against the Howard government in Melbourne. The activities on the day were organised by UNITE, the group campaiging against low pay and for casual workers rights.
The demonstaration started at Federation Square in the city and was kicked off by several speeches and a band. The speakers included high school and university students an electrical apprentice and an organiser from UNITE. The MC on the day was a year 8 student from Princess Hill Secondary College.
After the speeches the students marched down Swanston street towards the Bourke street mall and stopped outside the Nike superstore where they were addressed by Socialist Party Councillor from the City of Yarra Steve Jolly. Steve spoke about the fact that Nike and other multinational companies were exploiting young workers both in Australia and to an even worse extent in places like Indonesia where people work for as little as a few dollars a day.
The noisy and energetic students then marched down the Bourke street mall yelling chants like ‘hey ho Johnny Howard its time to go’. The lunchtime crowds were very supportive of the demands displayed on the students placards including education for all not just the rich and equal pay for equal work – no junior wages.
The numbers on the march actually increased as it progessed through the mall and then down Elizebeth street where the students stopped outside McDonalds to listen to Kylie McGegor the Co-ordinator of UNITE speak. Kylie spoke about the lack of apprenticeship oppurtunities for young people and said ‘we have had enough of John Howard’s McJobs, we want real jobs with decent wages, not low paid dodgy traineeships’ to cheers from the crowd.
As the march moved off up Flinders street back towards Federation Square the students chanted ‘1234 Johnny Howard out the door, 5678 profits do not educate’. Once back at the Square the students stayed to listen to sets from 4 more bands including 3 bands made up entirely of high school students.
The attacks on education, training and industrial relations were highlighted as the three main ways that Howard is attacking young people. The increases in university fees and the introduction of voluntary student unionism will mean education will only be for the rich and student services and the right to organise on campus will be diminshed.
The lack of apprenticeships available for young people and the deregulation of existing training programs means more and more youth will be locked into low paid no future jobs, and the changes to the industrial relations system will hit young people the hardest with many working in small businesses and ununionised sectors.
Whilst the turnout was reasonably modest it was significant as it was the first time in several years that high school students had gotten organised and stood up to the anti youth and anti worker policies of the Howard government. The mood of the students was particularly inspiring with over 50 coming up to UNITE stall to sign up to get more involved in the fightback. Also over $150 was raised on the day an impresive effort considering most who attended either didnt work or were on extremely low wages.
One year 7 student commented to a UNITE organiser that this was her first political demonstration but by no means would it be her last, ‘we cant stop fighting until we kick these people out of power’ she said.