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Sydney Solidarity Network victory in Leichhardt

Solidarity and direct action win the day!

 

The back story

Sydney Solidarity Network was contacted by CJ, a worker who was exploited and sexually harassed. She is a traveler on a working holiday visa who started working at a café in Leichhardt in early March. There were problems from the beginning. The boss would continually try to touch her and other women against their will. She was paid only $17 per hour, which is below the Restaurant Award wage ($22.24 on weekdays and $26.69 on weekends, for casuals).

The pay was cash-in-hand, and the boss would always pay late. No contracts were signed and the boss never asked for their tax file numbers. There were other workers who were fired on the spot, with no notice, for no reason. When CJ spoke up, she was taken off the shift roster, with no notice. She decided to quit. She asked the boss to pay her outstanding wages (at $17 per hour): $433.50. He refused, and one of the supervisors slapped the face of CJ’s friend who was there to support her. The cops were called but they didn’t help CJ, but instead told her to come back a few days later as the boss requested. When she came back the boss only paid her $200 and withheld the rest ‘for damages to property’ – a completely fictitious claim.

So CJ contacted SydSol and asked for help to get back her stolen wages. Together, CJ and SydSol demanded that the boss pay CJ the full $1,108.70 she was owed – which would bring her wages up to the award minimum for the hours she worked.

Exploitative, violent, disrespectful, and sexist behaviour by bosses, supervisors and cops is all too common – in the hospitality industry and elsewhere. But in this case, the workers decided to stand up and say “NO!”

 

Sydney Solidarity Network takes action

Over a two week period, SydSol organised 3 actions at the café. The actions were lively and energetic, with chanting, singing, banners, placards and leaflets. Between 20 and 40 SydSol supporters came to each action. During the actions they gave out almost 1,000 leaflets to passersby, telling CJ’s story. They had lots of conversations and caused much discussion on the busy Leichhardt street! Most passersby were very supportive. Each action lasted for around 2 hours, during which time almost no customers went to the café.

At first the boss refused to pay. He started off trying to ignore the actions, but soon found that didn’t work. He then became more antagonistic, publishing defamatory messages about the ex-worker, throwing buckets of water at the protestors and threatening to break someone’s arm! The boss called the police a number of times, but no arrests were made. He even hired musicians to try to drown out the chanting! But SydSol kept going!

 

Victory!

After the third action the boss paid the full amount owed to CJ. Victory! As part of the settlement, SydSol participants agreed to remove the name of the café from their website and social media posts.

CJ was overjoyed and even decided to donate part of the money she was paid to Grandmothers Against Removals, and an activist legal fund, to spread the solidarity!

Another worker from the same café also quit during the period SydSol was taking action, because of similar issues with her employment. However that worker told SydSol that, to her surprise, the boss paid her what she was owed – almost certainly because of the actions!

This was a great campaign, which resulted in a real victory for workers. SydSol came together as a solidarity network and strengthened their organisation and their ability to take action. They showed the power of direct action – action taken by oppressed people ourselves, on our own terms, and in our own interests.

 

What next?

Sydney Solidarity Network continues – but they need you!

Sign up to their supporters email list, to get updates and action alerts: http://eepurl.com/UGQev and get your friends to sign up too!

Head along to their meeting/picnic at 3pm on Saturday 14th May in Camperdown Park, followed by celebratory drinks from 5pm at the Courthouse Hotel in Newtown. (In case of poor weather, they'll be in the Courthouse Hotel from 3pm.) They need more people to get involved in the SydSol organising group!

Share this story on social media and tell your friends about it!

SydSol also asks you to think about any issues in your own life, and the lives of your friends and families, to identify the problems in your workplace and your community. Problems which can be changed through direct action – like underpayments, bullying, landlords refusing to do repairs, or real estate agents evicting you without reason. And get in touch about taking action together to fix these problems!

 

Work for a bowl of rice a day

I did work for the dole at various places around Darwin a few years back: Vinnies, Larrakia Nation office (the Larrakia are the traditional owners of the Darwin area), and at the Aviation Heritage Centre. I had arranged to work at some other place I can't remember the name of (I think it was a housing co-op) but that fell through. I was angry about being made to do slave labour. I wanted to protest and resist it but I was on a good behaviour bond with a suspended jail sentence for political activity hanging over me at the time. I was luckier than other people, even though I certainly didn't feel lucky! I only ever had to do 1 day a week. Others were made to do more: 2 days, or maybe even 4! They sure seemed to come down harder on the young, and on those who complained about having to do it. At Vinnies I knew the person in charge from activist circles I'd worked in. Gave us breakfast with the long grassers (homeless people). This person was pretty cool and had us painting a pergola. I think she let us go home early and ticked off our names as if we'd worked the whole day.

Larrakia Nation was pretty slack. Once we mowed the grass in the bushtucker garden at the back of Royal Darwin Hospital. Another time wewere clearing infestations of the mimosa pigra weed along the banks of Rapid Creek near the university. I pretended I didn't know how to use the whippersnipper or brushcutter or whatever it was so I ended up just collecting the pieces the other guys cut down. As Larrakia rangers they were getting paid something like a proper wage, I believe. CDEP (Community Development Employment Program) pay plus top up.

I remember doing a bit of work in the garden at the Larrakia Nation office on a couple of days, and shovelling up dirt in the car park at the back another day. But a lot of the time we didn't have to work there as it was badly organised. We'd sit around talking for hours, waiting for someone in authority to tell us to do something. Those in charge never knew how many people who were supposed to be there for WftD would actually turn up. There might be 18 names on the list, but 6 or 7 would turn up. Or maybe 1 or none. A few times I showed up there to find I was the only one. Some guy told me, "You always turn up. But no-one else is here. So I'll just tick your name off and you can go." The Aviation Heritage Centre was a museum featuring a B-52 bomber from the USA, surrounded by many smaller aircraft and artifacts going back to WWII and earlier. I used to enjoy reading the info and learning history while dusting and polishing the planes and things and sweeping the floor.

There were also 2 Aboriginal women and a tall Sudanese man doing WftD there. The woman from WA said the WftD was demeaning. There was nothing much we could do about it though.

One day I wore an old t-shirt a friend had given me. He'd sprayed ANARCHY NOW on the back in red. I thought the writing had faded and was hardly visible any more. Unfortunately it was visible and the boss noticed it even though he couldn't make out what it said. He marched up to me and said, "You're not working inside with that on your shirt! What's it say? Wanker? Go outside and sweep the leaves out of the big carpark out the front!" (I thought, "There's only one wanker around here, mate, and it's not me!") But I didn't say that. I said, "I'm not going back outside unless I get some sunscreen to put on. (Because I'd got a bit sunburnt working out there before.) Boss man storms off in a huff.

One time he made me stay back late and help lift a heavy bbq into a dumpster. I hurt my back doing that. The following week I forked out $27 to see a doctor who thought I was faking back pain. (Good luck getting bulk billing in Darwin! They made you feel like a criminal just for asking.) Just so I didn't have to do slavery that week. I hated it. Had to do it another week instead.

That boss was a prick. He'd sit upstairs bludging in his air-conditioned office while the rest of us, paid staff and slaves alike, soldiered on in the heat and humidity. Once during a break he bragged to us how he'd bought a car, an old bomb, in Darwin for a few hundred bucks, and had it shipped over to East Timor where he sold it to a Timorese guy for $3000.

After I left I heard from my friend who still worked there in the shop and doing the guided tours, that they caught that boss with his hand in the till. The board sacked him but didn't press charges. I think I had to do WftD for 6 months, 1 day a week. Centrelink bureaucrats surprised me at one stage. They told me I didn't have to do any more of it. I thought they were mistaken but I didn't argue! Later they discovered their mistake and I had to go and work the remaining couple of days.

All in all it was a shitty experience being a slave. I'd always thought that if I were ever told to do Work for the Dole I'd refuse, find a way out of it somehow. But when it happened I couldn't get out of it. Not that I had the worst of it. Plenty of people copped it a lot worse than me. Aboriginal people particularly.

I heard of people in remote communities like Kalkaringi being made to do 30 hours a week work for the dole and on top of that getting punished with income management as well. If they refused this slavery they'd get no money. The government wouldn't dare try that on in a place like Sydney. They seem to use the NT as a sort of social laboratory and Aboriginal people as guinea pigs, to see how much abuse of people's human rights they can get away with.

In conclusion I can sum up my limited experience by saying that Work for the Dole is really about more than work. It's about power and control. It's rich bastard governments punishing people who are unemployed. It's class warfare, and race warfare. If people are doing that work they're not unemployed and should at least be paid award wages like anyone else. Anything less is bullshit.

 

Some summer reading and thinking

Summer holidays called for a little light reading and thinking. I've recently finished my tenth read of Ursula Le Guin's The Dispossessed. Crazy you might think, but I find it endlessly fascinating for the global craft-work, deep thought, and fine word-smithing that forms the composition of this exceptional book - the best utopian classic of the C20th - maybe of all time. The book contrasts two societies, one on Urras 'Earth' and one on Anarres, its habitable moon.

Anarchism, Marxism, and Economics

Anarchism, Marxism, and Economics
(Based on a Red & Black Forum talk by Paul Rubner, 25 Oct, 2015.)

Although not a Marxist, I consider Marx’s writings as classics of revolutionary thought. Hence, coming to terms with Marx’s ideas – whether one agrees with them or not -- is important for anarchists, and left libertarians generally. Familiarising ourselves with Marx’s ideas through on-going study of the primary sources is, or should be, an essential part of our continuing self-education. In my view, this is just as important as studying, e.g., Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta, Bookchin, etc.

Provisional Anarchist Federation Australia formed

 

At a meeting on 14th June 2015 at Jura Books, delegates from four anarchist groups agreed to form a provisional Anarchist Federation Australia. The four founding groups were Jura Books, the Melbourne Anarchist Club, the Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group and Perth Libertarians. At the meeting a number of individual observers were also present as well as an observer from Black Rose and Black Flag. The provisional Federation is based on this constitution. However the constitution is still being discussed, and changes may be made at the first Congress of the Federation - tentatively scheduled for December 2015 in Melbourne. As well as being geographically diverse, the groups making up the federation have a range of political differences, but we hope to work together cooperatively to spread anarchist ideas in Australia. Other anarchist groups are welcome to join us.

 

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