Melbourne: More than 100,000 people have taken part in a victory rally march in support of the Maritime Union of Australia as dogs and guards still remain remain at the Patrick docks despite the departure of scab labour.
The rally, which attracted tens of thousands of people blocked several city streets outside Flinders Street railway station. At the head of the rally, which brought traffic to a standstill in central Melbourne, were newly reinstated dockers which marched from the Trades Hall Council to Flinders Street chanting slogans condemning the Workplace Relations Minister, Mr Peter Reith.
Police estimated the crowd at more than 75,000 people but Union estimates say there were close to 120,000 people.
Martin Kingham, president of the Victorian Trades Hall Council addressed the rally saying Melbourne had not seen such numbers since the anti Vietnam war protest of the 1970's. He thanked the community support against the conservative forces in Australia attempt to destroy the union movement. ``Well, we have demonstrated just how determined we are today to protect the rights of working people in this country,'' Mr Kingham said.
A minute silence in the middle of Melbourne's busiest intersection was held for Fred Broch, a retired member of the MUA, who died on April 17 at the end of his speech to Japanese unions rallying international solidarity in Tokyo.
Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) president Jennie George addressed today's rally and urged workers to remain united.
"Not only are we going to see it through on the waterfront, but this is going to be the beginning of a long campaign leading up to the election to make sure that John Howard and Peter Reith are thrown out of Government," Ms George said.
Derek Corrigan, the brother of rogue Patrick Stevedores boss Chris Corrigan told the rally the Workplace Relations Act must go because the wages and conditions of all Australian workers are under threat.
"Draconian legislation is still there, so if you're back in your workplace and listening to this think about it," he said. "This is not about the MUA, this is about every worker," he said.
Workers from in and around Melbourne downed tools and, with their families, joined one of the largest anti-government protests since hundreds of thousands of people marched against Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War. The demonstrations were repeated on smaller scales in regional centres including Geelong and Ballarat.
Earlier at Victorian Trades Hall the rally heard messages of support from international trade union groups including the British Trade Union Congress. Congress general secretary John Monks said British trade unionists had been the subject of similar attacks by the former government of Margaret Thatcher.
The Ethnic Communities Council of Australia pledged its continuing support to maritime workers on behalf of 165 ethnic organisations.
Federal ALP president Barry Jones said the Labor Party strongly supported the wharfies, adding that Prime Minister John Howard was trying to drive a wedge between different sections of Australian society. ``The idea is that who ever has control of the largest wedge has the power,'' he said.
Bishop Hilton Deacon led a prayer for industrial peace in Australia, which had become complicated by corporate``trickery''.
In the Federal Court
in Melbourne today, MUA barrister Julian Burnside appealed for further
orders on security forces and dogs which remain at Patrick operations.
"We would say that this is in breach of order number four, and it's having
immediate and real impact on the ability of applicants to go back to work,"
Mr Burnside said.
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