What’s going on with Change the Rules? A report from the Melbourne Delegates Meeting 25th September

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(What’s going on with Change The Rules? There is a lot of hype out there but what is happening on the ground? Here is a report back from a friend and comrade of the Melbourne Delegates Meeting held on 25th September.)

Hey all, this is some notes I posted on my facebook page for friends and comrades about the delegates meeting held by the ACTU at Melbourne Convention Centre on September 25th. They weren’t meant for wider circulation but Dave suggested putting them on the blog, so please forgive the lack of formality and take them as an invitation to further discussion.

This meeting was significantly smaller than the last one. ACTU said 1500 there on Wednesday, pretty sure the count at the previous meeting was over 2000. I understand this is partly because Daniel Andrews directed that CPSU delegates be allowed to attend the earlier meeting.

This meeting was much more overtly pro-ALP than the earlier one. At the first meeting, getting the ALP elected was presented as part of the Change the Rules strategy but not a central focus – that the LNP wouldn’t change the laws so electing the ALP was a necessary step. At this week’s meeting there was much more sense that electing the ALP was desirable in its own right, including Sally McManus very awkwardly dropping Daniel Andrews name in a way that was clearly designed to draw applause, but produced complete silence from the crowd. This seemed esp bizarre when union relations with the ALP seem particularly strained rn because of the tpp.

As at the earlier meeting, there was an attempt from the floor to put amendments to the motion the meeting voted on. I believe but am not sure this was on the same point – the importance of emphasising the right to strike in any campaign. Again, Shaun Reardon from the stage declined to take the amendment on the basis that the motion had been developed through the ACTU and that if people wanted input to the motions they should do so through their unions before the meeting. On the one hand I accept that it would be an absolute nightmare to try and work through amendments from the floor in a meeting this size, but on the other I wonder about the conflict between the democratic gesture of holding a meeting for delegates but refusing to allow them any input at the meeting. (Well, any substantive input – there were speakers from the floor in support of the motion.)

It was striking that, apart from the welcome to country and some of the speakers from the floor, everyone on stage was white. I don’t believe this represents the diversity of the union movement, although it seems to reflect the makeup of the union bureaucracies. There were a number of references by the speakers to the experiences of migrant workers and the importance of diversity and antiracism. I don’t know what you can say about this at a major progressive gathering in 2018 except that it’s (a) disappointing, (b) unsurprising, and (c) a serious practical problem for union organising, esp as it tries to become a mass political movement.

My perspective is that the momentum largely fell out of #changetherules after the first round of rallies when I had no idea what the next step was supposed to be and when it wasn’t obvious to me that ACTU had further plans. They mobilised heaps of people and then everyone just went home. Felt like there was a lot of buzz around the earlier meeting – it was easy to convince co-workers to get involved, and friends with no involvement in/knowledge of union organising (i.e., at the gym) asked me about it. That clearly wasn’t the case this time – none of my co-workers, including many staunch unionists, asked what had happened.

Maybe this was partly the actions coming out of the meeting. At the first meeting, delegates were asked to take a resolution back to the members at their workplace in support of changing the rules. This fundamentally involved others, produced discussion. At this meeting we were asked to commit to one of three tasks – doorknocking in a marginal electorate, phonebanking, or handing out info at train stations. Obviously these are all social, but none involve our workplaces (or, except for the train station one, local communities) and all involve waiting for the ACTU to call us up.

The meeting emphasised the idea of making the October 23rd rally even bigger than the one earlier this year. I find it very hard to believe that will be the case; I expect it to be significantly smaller.

I think that a lot of energy built up by the initial campaign, delegates meeting and rallies has been squandered, although I have no clear suggestions as to what should or could have been done differently.

Interested in others’ thought on this, both attendees and non. Thanks if you read this far

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2 thoughts on “What’s going on with Change the Rules? A report from the Melbourne Delegates Meeting 25th September

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  1. Depressingly predictable – same players, same “strategy” (reliant solely on Legislative change without any direct industrial action) and yet expecting a different result to the Your Rights at Work – Worth Voting For campaign – the bosses love it when we grumble but continue to be obedient and pin our hopes on Pollies who are bought off ever so cheaply!

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