Back Toll truckers strike in Australia! Organize to fight boss, gov’t attacks

By Bob Aiken
September 20, 2021
Toll Group truck drivers strike to defend their jobs, as thousands more truckers plan strike action. Union battle takes place as Australian military withdraws from Afghanistan, and soldiers, police patrol in Sydney to enforce workers’ “compliance” with COVID quarantines.
Australian Broadcasting Corporation News/David WeberToll Group truck drivers strike to defend their jobs, as thousands more truckers plan strike action. Union battle takes place as Australian military withdraws from Afghanistan, and soldiers, police patrol in Sydney to enforce workers’ “compliance” with COVID quarantines.

SYDNEY — Over 7,000 truck drivers went on a national 24-hour strike Aug. 27 against Toll Group, one of the major trucking companies here and internationally. They are fighting for a new contract that will defend jobs from the bosses’ plans to contract out more work and win a much-needed wage raise. The members of the Transport Workers Union voted by 94% to strike.

Thousands of workers at other major trucking companies are also preparing for strike action. Toll bosses claim the truckers are “playing politics with people’s lives and jobs” by striking during the COVID-19 pandemic. The TWU is just trying to “show off in front of their union mates,” Alan Beacham, head of Toll subsidiary Global Express, told ABC News.

“Toll workers have been forced to take the last resort option to go on strike this week because their jobs are being smashed,” TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine responded. “It is no coincidence that workers across several major transport companies are facing the same attacks.”

Bosses’ cost-cutting is hammering workers across the whole transport supply chain.

Linda Harris, Communist League candidate for Canterbury-Bankstown Council.
Militant/Baskaran AppuLinda Harris, Communist League candidate for Canterbury-Bankstown Council.

Struggles like that of the truck drivers “deserve the support of all workers,” Linda Harris, Communist League candidate for Canterbury-Bankstown Council, said in a statement supporters are distributing. “They set an example for how we can unite, strengthen our unions and defend ourselves.”

Working people in Australia as elsewhere today face a deepening economic and social crisis caused by capitalism. Wages are stagnating as prices skyrocket and employers step up their assault on jobs and working conditions.

At the same time, Australia’s imperialist rulers are pressing their class interests worldwide, in relation to China and across the South Pacific. Canberra’s troops have backed Washington’s forces in Iraq and on military exercises in South Korea. Australian soldiers were deployed in the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan from its outset in 2001, with bipartisan support of successive Liberal-National and Labor Party governments.

With the collapse of the government in Kabul and withdrawal of Australian troops from Afghanistan, “a spotlight has been put on the course of Australia’s imperialist rulers,” Harris said. “The 20-year war has been a disaster for working people.” This has been a major discussion among workers on the job and elsewhere. “The Communist League’s explanation that the working class needs our own foreign policy gets a good response,” Harris said.

Different class response to pandemic

There are two different class approaches to the pandemic, Harris said. Growing numbers of workers are losing their jobs or being forced to stay home with the latest Delta variant spread. “It is the criminal failure of the Australian government to prepare a massive vaccination effort from the beginning that has resulted in the devastation of the lives of working people,” she said.

The Communist League “calls for our unions to lead a fight to get workers back to work and for a government-financed public works program to provide jobs at union-scale wages,” Harris said. “Only by getting back on the job are we able to work together to defend working conditions. Our unions should organize for all workers to be vaccinated and fight to share vaccines with toilers worldwide.”

When the Delta strain first appeared in May, less than 3% of the Australian population over 16 years old was vaccinated against the virus. With Canberra’s backing, state and territory governments have imposed lockdowns and state border restrictions to try and contain the new outbreak. Payroll numbers dropped by 5% in New South Wales in the first three weeks of July after the lockdown here, a loss of some 210,000 jobs.

Rulers target working class

The rulers’ “targeting working class neighborhoods,” Harris said, is “part of a relentless offensive against us. They blame ‘deplorable’ workers for not complying with their health orders, and for not getting vaccinated, even as supplies are still inadequate.”

As the federal government belatedly tries to expand the vaccine rollout, only 38% are fully vaccinated as of Sept. 5. The capitalist rulers have set a national goal of 70% fully vaccinated by November, and only then do they say draconian restrictions and interstate travel controls will begin to be lifted.

Australian Defence Force soldiers, now totaling 800, have been deployed in Sydney since Aug. 2 to help the police enforce “compliance,” and are now being deployed in western New South Wales, where Aborigines are a high proportion of the population. The troops work with police to patrol streets, parks and shopping centers and to monitor workers who have been ordered to isolate at home. ADF troops are also being used to help enforce Queensland state government restrictions at the border with New South Wales.

Twelve predominantly working-class areas in west and southwest Sydney, including Canterbury-Bankstown where Harris is running, have been placed under harsher “stay-at-home” orders. Thousands of fines levied, a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew imposed, and permits are required for workers “authorized” to go to work.

“Workers need to break from the bosses’ parties — both Liberal and Labor,” Harris said. “We need to build a fighting working-class party that can chart a course to take political power out of the hands of the capitalist rulers, as the Cuban people have done, to form a workers and farmers government to carry out a socialist revolution in the interests of all those who are exploited and oppressed.”