Article from the Sept 2004 edition, Socialist Voice

Joe Higgins Column - He attended the Australian SP conference

I HAVE JUST finished a 10 day speaking tour in Australia organised by the Australian Socialist Party (ASP), which is affiliated to the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI - the international socialist organisation to which the Socialist Party is affiliated). Unlike the all expenses-trip by an all party delegation to Australia from the Dail and Seanad the week before, the costs of the journey were met in full by myself and the Socialist Party.

By the way, it was reported to me that, having traveled half way around the world, the group of mainly right-wing TDs and Senators were taken aback to find posters staring at them on the streets of Melbourne advertising a meeting with Joe Higgins as the main speaker!

I spoke at public meetings for the ASP in Sydney, Newcastle (New South Wales), Perth in Western Australia and Melbourne and attended the National Conference of the ASP over a weekend (requiring travel inside Australia amounting to 5,500 miles!).

The ASP is a small but vibrant and growing party. It will contest council elections in the Melbourne suburb of Yarra at the end of November.

The party has been very active in this area for many years and led an historic, much publicised struggle there ten years ago to save a group of local schools earmarked for closure by the State Government. One of the leaders of that struggle, Steve Jolly, is originally from Dublin and joined the CWI in Ireland in the 1980s.

As well as addressing public meetings, I was privileged to be invited to speak to different groups in the trade union movement. These invitations arose from the high level of respect in which left unions hold the activists from the ASP.

I addressed 300 shop stewards from around the State of NSW at a meeting in Sydney. This union organises workers mainly in the distribution and retail sectors and is currently locking horns with the supermarket giant, Aldi. They are trying to stop workers from joining the union just as they did in Dublin a few years ago when they tried to stop workers in their Parnell Street store from joining MANDATE.

Seeing at first hand the level of trade union organisation on the major construction sites in Melbourne was an unforgettable experience. The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) invited me to speak at a number of site meetings. The construction unions have won the right to have meetings of all workers on site during work hours when they think it necessary and, as well as work issues they can invite a guest such as myself to speak to such meetings on broader issues.

It was an incredible experience at 7.00am to have 500 workers from all the trades assembled on the biggest construction site in Melbourne. It is called Eureka Towers, which is planned to go 88 storeys high, all apartments! At the meeting I raised with the workers the neo liberal attacks in the European Union on workers rights and the attempts to organised a fightback. I urged them to guard jealously what they had won over decades of struggle as there is an agenda worldwide to attack such rights as, for example, the blackmailing of 4000 Siemens workers in Germany to revert to a forty-hour week.

The rights, which the construction unions have won in Victoria, are very impressive. There is a 36 hour working week with every second Monday set aside as a rostered day off (RDO) to give workers a long weekend, especially helpful where young families are concerned. Safety on sites is a paramount concern with full time trade union safety officers on all sites. There are set temperatures above and below which it is intolerable to work and demands on overtime are strictly regulated.

There is a big mood amongst working class activists to kick out out John Howard's right wing government. The ASP believes it is possible that the Australian Labour Party will win but just like the Labour and Social Democratic parties across Europe the ALP is no longer a workers' party. In Australia, the ASP believes that a new party of the working class needs to be built, and our Australian comrades will play a major role in the establishment of such a party when the political conditions develop to make it a reality.

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