Today I participated in the National Day of Action, to protest the draconian new Work Laws recently brought in by the Howard Government. The laws are truly appalling, stripping workers of many of their entitlements, hard won through union action in the past. The rally was a big one, several thousands of people took over the main thoroughfares of the city.
It was a mass of brilliant colours and I regretted not bringing my camera. Each union group was colour coded, purple, crimson, blue etc. Giant beach balls were bounced through the crowd and loud speakers on the street shouted revolutionary exhortations against the Government.
Prominent union leaders and politicians gave speeches. Steve Bracks, the Victorian Premier, swore to protect Victorian workers from the new laws, and Kim Beasley, leader of the Federal Opposition vowed to ditch the laws on gaining Government. Workers who had been sacked or disadvantaged by the new laws also spoke to the crowd. It was all very enervating and made me nostalgic for the days of my youth when we always seemed to be marching our little feet off in protest against the war in Vietnam. That’s 40 years ago!
Forty years ago I was a student at Melbourne University. It was the fabulous sixties and a good time to be young, unless you were a young man. In those days there was a requirement for all young men of 20 years of age to register for National Service. They were selected through a ballot system and the unlucky ones were forced to do 3 years National Service in the army. My brothers were both called up and did the time. Others refused to obey the draft and spent time in jail or on the run. Or they fronted court to protest on the grounds of conscientious objection. A great many of the young men called up at that time went to Vietnam as part of the Australian army and when they returned they were vilified by the Nation, the war having become extremely unpopular by the mid 1970’s.
Anyway, through those years or at least during the late 60s I was a member of the Melbourne Anarchists. I joined the Anarchists I think because they sounded more fun than the other political groups on offer at that time - the Maoists, for instance. And we did have fun, snubbing our noses at ASIO (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation) agents and defying the police at demonstrations. I bet there is an ASIO file with my name on it, though I am not all that interested in finding out. Those days instilled a leftist political leaning in me, which I will never betray. Also those days spent protesting Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War gave me a belief in people power. When Gough Whitlam came into power in 1972, he ended conscription and moved the Australian troops out of Vietnam.