2019 has really been a year fit for a Charles Dickens novel. It’s been the best of the times for the AUWU and the worst of times for unemployed workers.
With Newstart being the lowest OECD unemployment benefit in the world, with the sexist and patriarchal ParentsNext, with the horrors of Robodebt, with the racist and discriminatory Cashless Debit Card, and the complete failure that is the jobactive system, it is easy to give up hope.
But the AUWU – the organised peak-body of the unemployed, underemployed, and unwaged workers’ movement which has no funding, political affiliations and is run entirely by volunteers – has been more organised, more effective, and more prominent than ever before.
My name is Alex North and I’m the National Operations Coordinator of the AUWU, and I want to take this opportunity to discuss some of our union’s key achievements this year. I’ve never been prouder to be a member of the AUWU and on behalf of the Operations Committee, I want to make sure that you feel proud of yourself and your union too.
2019 IN RECAP
“Comrade Barnaby, welcome to the Resistance” – Jeremy Poxon, July 28, on Sky News
2019 saw the birth of the Operations Committee of the AUWU and the massive expansion of our services and activities. The year started off with a bang with the ParentsNext senate inquiry (read our submission here) and the launch of our Dignity Not Dole campaign. It also saw the first ever AUWU Annual Plan produced by the collective efforts of the Operations Committee and the release of several viral videos of our members experiences surviving on Newstart.
(Journalist and activist Virgina Eubanks speaking on a panelat the AUWU ‘Dignity Not Dole event in March)
We’ve experimented in organising tactics as well this year. From the no.1 trending #NotaDoleBludger campaign forcing Sunrise to apologise for their perpetuation of the dole blunder myth, to our viral “Dignity Not Dole” campaign videos and actions (especially outside Frydenberg’s office organised by our Campaign Coordinator, Sean Kenny), our innovative online organising is making great strides. A big kudos is due to our comrades and supporters on Twitter, especially Asher Wolf, Not My Debt, and WGAR news.
Thanks to the ingenious efforts of our first-ever Online Advocacy Coordinator, Gene Saraci, the AUWU launched our first endeavour into online advocacy services. Together with our National Advocacy Coordinator, Tracey Smallwood, the AUWU’s advocacy services have never been more professional or more in demand. Advocacy is the heart and soul of the union, and through it the union helps thousands of Australians every year.
This year our National Facebook page hit 20,000 likes and maintained an incredible and dynamic post-rate thanks to the efforts of Social Media Coordinator (James Craig) and all the admins of our various AUWU pages, especially the SA-Division page passing 1,500 likes by the efforts of President Hayden Patterson.
A week does not pass when our Communications Coordinator/Media Officer, Jeremy Poxon, phone does not buzz with dozens of media requests and requests for comments. Thanks to the enormous courage of our members speaking to the media about their lived experience this year, we’ve struck the hearts and opened the eyes of millions of Australians this year.
(AUWU Media Officer, Jeremy Poxon, on Sky News)
There was the much publicised “Canberra trip” where four AUWU representatives, with the help of GetUp, met with dozens of politicians in Canberra and where Newstart recipients finally had the opportunity to represent themselves to those who make the decisions that affect their lives.
It’s been a bold year in research too. With the Greens Jobs Guarantee publication, our Mutual Obligations survey, our on-going submissions to senate inquiries, and the on-going publications of our Senior Policy Adviser, Dr Simone Casey. I would also like to thank our Researcher Connor Jolley, Professor Rob Watts, Professor Bill Mitchell, and Victor Quirk for their advice and guidance this year as well.
2019 is a historic year for the AUWU and marks the first year that a truly functioning National Structured was born. We’ve finally developed a functioning and exciting National structure here at the AUWU, and I encourage you to read our National Structure documents and get involved in 2020. For more on our activities, be sure to check out the National Organising Committee 2019 Report.
And of course, we would be nothing without our local branches and State Coordinators, bringing the fight to their local communities. I would particularly like to acknowledge the innovative organising efforts of:
- Inner-West Sydney branch’s Art shows and community murals projects.
- Adelaide branch’s series of prominent experts and speakers lecturing on economics, history, and public sector job creation proposals (especially Steven Hail’s Job Guarantee talk)
- Brisbane branch’s snap-action protests and media stunts against the roll-out of the cashless welfare card.
- Launch of the ACT/Canberra AUWU branch
- Melbourne’s Branch’s organising outside of the jobactive senate inquiry, and the use of humour and comedy in public speeches, and over 100 photos of locals supporting Raising the Rate.
- Ceduna branch’s coordinator assisting over 100 involuntary trial participants.
- Frankston branch’s “Jams for Jobs and Justice” music events.
- Perth branch’s annual May Day march participation and engagement with local trade/labour unions.
- Among the efforts of our many more local branches.
(ACT AUWU Branch members)
For the first time since the Great Depression, unemployment is no longer being perceived as individual failing by the public. Fraser’s government, in opposition and especially in power, was the first of many Australian governments to systematically implant and foster the pernicious myth of the dole bludger in the public’s consciousness. Thanks to the countless efforts of the rank and file members of the AUWU, organising in their local community, that myth has been largely dispelled. Persus’s cap has been lifted from their eyes, and they can see the monster of systemic, structural unemployment. It is now up to us, in 2020 and beyond, to forge the connection between unemployed and employed workers’ to slay that monster.
On behalf of the Operations Committee of the AUWU, I want to personally thank each and everyone of you for on-going support of our union and the movement of unemployed, underemployed, and unwaged workers’. I apologise to all the countless comrades I have not mentioned in this email, especially our supporters at ACOSS and the COSS network, the broader Union movement, and those politicians that are trying to change things for the public good.
I will leave the last word to Charlie Fox, historian of the Unemployed workers’ movement in Victoria during the Great Depression.
Welfare history is rarely if ever written with a sense that the clients of the system have a part in the making of policy and administration. But in the 1930s, the history of unemployed relief and therefore the history of state provision for the unemployed cannot be written as a top down application of policy by either political parties, government, bureaucracies, or organisations like charities that presume to speak for clients. The clients themselves, the unemployed, demanded to be heard, and were….As individuals they were subject to the all-encompassing power of the relief system and its agents. As individuals they had lost control of their lives, they were supplicants. Collectively they were participants in Depression politics. The difference is phenomenal.
Charlie Fox, Fighting Back: The politics of the Unemployed in Victoria in the Great Depression
National Operations Coordinator