What does a modern strike look like? Well, for a start, it might be illegal.
When Victorian nurses stopped work in 1986, they did so in defiance of the Industrial Relations Commission, a Labor State Government seeking to cut hospital funding, and a Federal Labor government seeking to enact wage restraint under “The Accord”. Police dragged nurses along the ground outside Royal Melbourne Hospital, and Victorian Health Minister David White threatened nurses with manslaughter charges. But ultimately, striking nurses triumphed.
Conversely, when the bosses of Patricks Stevedores used hired goons to forcibly remove workers from their usual workplace in 1998, locking them out and replacing them with scabs trained overseas in secret, it was done with the full backing of the Federal Government.
When the bosses of Patricks Stevedores used hired goons to forcibly remove workers from their usual workplace in 1998, locking them out and replacing them with scabs trained overseas in secret, it was done with the full backing of the Federal Government, and the workers’ picket was repeatedly attacked by police.
Today, even a one-day work stoppage can see workers and union officials fined or prosecuted under draconian industrial relations laws. Unions and all their officials are often injuncted – or legally stopped – from taking strike action; with courts falling in behind the bosses.
Breaching these injunctions can lead to fines or gaol time, leaving the community to form assemblies to maintain the picket. We’ve had union officials and delegates fined up to $40,000 for coming to city wide rallies, and workers locked out of their work sites for taking action.
But workers in union continue to take on personal hardship, intimidation and face down legal threats in order to unite and strike, and they’re winning.
For example, in 2019, a group of precariously employed migrant workers went on strike at Chemist Warehouse. After a long strike and a tough struggle, that included injuries, they secured a 22% pay rise.
Workers aren’t afraid of a stacked system. Unity and discipline during strike action demonstrate a commitment to the fight for the working class.
As bosses find more ways to keep workers’ pay and conditions down, they’re prepared to take strike action to fight back and show their power.
Which side are you on?