Fighting back in the AMWU
Melbourne: The gloves are off in the fight to knock over the current leadership of the Amalgamated Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) and turn the union back into a militant organisation controlled by the rank and file.
On 4 February the newly formed Workers First team held an historic election launch . It was standing room only with over 300 AMWU members packing out the inner city hall. The atmosphere was electric with the candidates delivering a powerful message. Speeches were kept short to allow the rank and file to have their say. And boy, did they have their say! – blasting the leadership as ‘lazy, incompetent, arrogant, undemocratic careerist ALP arse-kissers’ who don’t give a damn about the membership, let alone seriously fighting the government.
A real opportunity for change
Workers First represents a real opportunity to change the industrial direction of the union. The group is made up of militants who are 100% committed to the union and their fellow members. Workers First has endorsed Frank Fairley to run for State Secretary, Craig Johnston as Assistant Secretary, and Mark Light as Ballarat Organiser. The ballot closes on 19 of May.
Workers First is up against the combined forces of the AMWU state and federal bureaucracies and of cause the bosses would dread the thought of a strong AMWU. But Workers First has what they don’t have: credibility and respect among the rank and file. It is the coming together of rank and filers, shop stewards and organisers who are determined that the union will not go the way of the New Zealand unions where tradespersons earn $12 a hour and TAs $8 an hour.
The past 15 years have seen a steady loss of jobs and apprenticeships. Wages and conditions and the level of union representation have sunk to an all time low. Members have drifted away, disillusioned and key sections of the current leadership have managed to lose every major dispute they have been responsible for.
The lack of democracy in our union means a real lack of accountability to the rank and file and has bred a whole layer of incompetent organisers and officals.
Workers First is based on clear principles – principles that were weakened elsewhere during the years of the accord. Our opponents sold away the principles of militant unionism for the privilege of sitting round the table with bosses and politicians. Rotten schemes such as enterprise bargaining have carved up the union movement and weakened solidarity.
Active struggle needed
The AMWU leadership was a key architects of this whole process that Workers First is pledged to reverse. If we are successful we will start drawing the membership into active struggle to defeat the attempts by both state and federal governments to smash the AMWU and the union movement as a whole. The key fights against the stripping back of the awards and contacts are here with us now and will only intensify. We have to fight to repeal the work cover legislation.
Workers First candidates, if elected, will move quickly to respond to members concerns. We have to clean up our own backyard before taking on the big struggles. AMWU members need to be able to draw on the full services of the union. Creating the infrastructure so that we have the proper use of finances to fully service our members is vital. With cuts to the bureaucracy we could easily create, with no extra cost, additional organisers to give the stewards and members the backup they need.
Workers First will move to democratsie the union from the bottom up reviving branch meetings, quarterly shop steward meetings and ensure that all organisers and officals remain elected from the rank and file. Workers First will be advocating the setting up of a strike fund which has been resisted by the current leadership for years. We want to develope campaigns which are going to create jobs and apprenticeships, create greater security in employmnent by convincing companies to take on full timers. Education and training so the next generation of organisers and steward are being trained up. Proper union training for the entire membership and revival of the internal social life of the union are key factors Workers First are promoting to turn our union into all it can be.
Workers First needs all the support it can muster. While we have the strength of dedicated rank and filers on our side, we cannot presently match the opposition’s financial resources. Workers First is desperately trying to raise money. Anyone who is a member of the AMWU and agrees with the Workers First platform can become a member and help out in the campaign. Those who are not members but want to show support can do so by raising money, giving us donations as well as supporting upcoming Workers First fundraisers.
By Simon Millar
Originally published in the February 1998 edition of The Militant, the predecessor of The Socialist.