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Successful Victorian SA conference helps prepare important steps in Work Choices fight

By Dick Nichols, SA National Coordinator
Socialist Alliance Victoria's special state conference went of with a bang in Melbourne last Saturday, with 89 attending on the day, with a good presence from Geelong and Ballarat members and a range of movement activists.

The conference began with a lively, practical discussion on how best to build the Alliance's federal election campaign in a period where the space to the left of the ALP continues to open up, and the Alliance itself continues to to gain credibility for its campaign work (Mulrunji, fight against Work Choices, Anti War, Defense of Civil Liberties).Our increasing development of progressive environmental policies was noted which has led to SA being number one on the 'voteclimate' web page; having overtaken the Greens on 'green' credentials. Check: www.voteclimate.org.au .

The conference heard greetings from the Salvadoran comrades of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, who are keen on closer collaboration with the Alliance and are considering whether or not to seek affiliation as an organisation. (In the meantime one idea that will be discussed on the Victorian State Executive is whether to offer the Melbourne FMLN permanent observer status on that body.)

Written greetings also came from two Tamil organisations who would also have been present were it not for a clash with an important community temple dedication. Matthew and Adrian from Beyond Zero Emissions group attended the workshop on socialist solutions to the environement crisis.

The conference adopted resolutions condemning the arrest of two Tamil comrades on terrorism charges and, on the initiative of Western Sahara solidarity activist and Alliance member Ron Guy, a stance on the Western Saharan issue. This will go to the National Executive as a recommended interim position for the Socialist Alliance nationally. The conference also passed a motion to drop the charges against the G20 demonstrators and endorses the August 31 solidarity rally with the G20 arrestees.

Margarita Windisch (Melbourne) and Jeremy Smith (Geelong) were preselected as the first two members of the Victorian Senate team, with the other positions to be held open and the final ticket and ordering to be decided by the State Executive. Holding open the final form of the ticket will allow discussions about the possible inclusion of representatives of community organisations and other political tendencies.

The focus of the afternoon session was a forum on the theme "Defend Our Rights at Work, Tear Up /All /of Work Choices." The conference heard first from sacked AMWU steward Tony Carvalho about how his sacking had been set up by his employer Toyota, as well as about the campaign to win his reinstatement. (Recommendation: Ring Toyota and tell them you were thinking of buying a Camry but have since bought a Mitsubishi because of their treatment of Tony.)

In their presentations Monash branch NTEU president Carol Williams explained that many of the tactics of Work Choices had been trialled in the higher education sector, and told the conference that the Socialist Alliance model motion calling for another National Day of Protest that demands the complete ripping up of Work Choices had been passed by her branch.

Gippsland Trades Hall Council Secretary John Parker stressed the importance of the struggle to link union and community struggles, as well as the danger that the ALP ban on pattern bargaining would alienate workers in more poorly paid, non-union shops from a union movement restricted to its traditional unionised sites.

AMWU organiser and Socialist Alliance member Chris Spindler stressed four points: protest action against Work Choices has to continue, the unions have to continue to find the ways to defend workers who come under attack through support to groups like Union Solidarity and campaigns like the right to strike campaign; the unions have to help build a political alternative to the anti-union ALP; and unions themselves have to be rebuilt as fighting, democratic organisations for workers' rights.Chris stressed that the recent victory of the left ticket in the AMWU elections was an important gain in advancing this last goal.

The initiator of the right to strike campaign, Victorian CEPU Communications Division secretary Len Cooper, explained its importance and potential, in passing supporting Chris Spindler's four points. Cooper also explained that the Victorian Trades Hall Council executive would be discussing a proposal to call for another day of protest around Work Choices at next Friday's executive meeting. ALP industrial relations spokesperson Julia Gillard herself would be attending the meeting to pour icy water on the idea, which at the moment still has the support of VTHC secretary Brian Boyd.

Discussion then focussed on how best to prepare the left union presence and argument at this important meeting.Clearly, if the VTHC disobeys the ALP and calls for another NDA, it will be much easier for us and other unionists to pressure their unions and TLCs to do the same. The conference ended with three workshops (fighting Work Choices, socialist solutions to the environment crisis and preparations for the anti-APEC protests). These produced various proposals about advancing the Alliance's work in these areas, which were reported back to the final session.

All in all, a very successful day which confirmed the Socialist Alliance importance as Australia's main force for non-sectarian, fighting and relevant socialist politics and which is beginning to inspire more members and supporters in Victoria to share the burden of its work.

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