First they came for the retail workers, and I did not speak out — because I did not work in retail

First they came for the retail workers, and I did not speak out — Because I did not work in retail.

Following the national day of action on March 9 in which the CFMEU played a large part, and which marked the renewed campaign to reverse the "Fair" Work Commission's biggest wage cut since the Great Depression, it has been asked:

What business is it of the CFMEU (or any union that is not directly affected) to campaign on cuts to penalty rates?

A sensible question, as the cut in Sunday rates and public holiday rates of pay is only slated to affect workers in retail, hospitality, pharmacy and fast food. One might wonder: why are other union members so upset?

First, just asking this question should frighten you. It reflects a bystander attitude that has infected our society to its detriment. It is this callous notion that if something untoward is occurring, if someone is being bullied or attacked, if we are not directly affected by something wrong happening in the world, we should just look forward and move on. This insidious attitude hurts our society.

Being part of a union is the exact opposite to this. Being union means looking out for your mate. It means sharing the load and realising that things that touch one, touch us all.

It is a myth that we should isolate and insulate ourselves from others in our society, but it is perpetuated by big business and the LNP. It is a myth that if you only look out for yourself, everything will be okay, until that is, the day it comes for you and no one is left to help.

This myth has allowed conservative governments to outlaw, restrict and curtail the ability of any one union member to help other workers in other industries through actions, boycotts, even speaking in public. It has seen restrictions on the ability of workers within one industry, or even one worksite, to organise together and improve their pay, conditions and safety.
Then they came for the hospitality workers, and I did not speak out - because I didn't work in hospitality.

Secondly, the proposition that cutting penalty rates doesn't affect anyone outside these industries is wrong. It affects each and every one of us.

Who amongst us can say they don't have a son or daughter, mother or father, niece or nephew, wife or husband, friend or family member of a friend, in line to cop a wage cut from July 1?

Seven hundred thousand Australians are in the gun to have their wages cut. We are all bound to know and care about at least one of them.

Who doesn't know someone in small business who will suffer as they find that the workers who buy their products and services - that Sunday breakfast, the occasional night out or a few special items at the shops - can't anymore because their wages have been cut and they are working longer just to make the same pay?

All of us are directly affected by this wage cut.
Then they came for the nurses, and I did not speak out - because I was not a nurse.

Thirdly, is the question of when to stem the tide; and "tide" is an appropriate word to use. For this attack on our rights at work operates just as a tide does. It has ebbed and flowed, as the LNP have come in and out of government, but each time it creeps a little closer. We think we know its limits, but before we know it our toes are wet, then our ankles, our knees, and then our waist.

It is foolish to not make a stand now, and to let it continue hoping that it will never happen to us because it "doesn't directly affect us".

Recent legal advice has confirmed what we already knew — that the cuts to penalty rates won't stop with hospitality, fast food, retail and pharmacy. The FWC decision has set a precedent which will lead to wage cuts in the following industries: health care, transport, security, cleaning services, construction, clerical workers, laundry services, hair and beauty industries, trainers, mining and factories.

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

What the LNP and big business are really saying, when they ask "what business is it of other unions?" is "Shut up. Bow down. And let it happen".

If the LNP and big end of town think any unionist will lie down and let this disgraceful, dog of a decision stand... well, they don't know unionists very well.

Written by: Ros McLennan, General Secretary, Queensland Council of Unions