When is a strike not a strike?
When it’s a Liberal Party lie.
That is the lesson commuters in Sydney learnt the hard way on Monday morning when they woke up to find that the city’s rail network had been shutdown, leaving hundreds of thousands of people stranded.
The first lie from NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet came just as the sun was rising: “The unions were intent on causing chaos. I’m incredibly disappointed with what has occurred across our city this morning.”
NSW Transport Minister David Elliott doubled down on the blatant fib when challenged on Perrottet’s claim that unions had called a strike.
“That’s bullshit, that is union spin,” he said.
“They cannot use the city’s transport system for some sort of terrorist-like activities.”
“Terrorist-like activities” – excuse me minister, but WTF?
And yet the Liberal derailment continued.
The third key lie of the day came from our very own Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
“You know, if people want to hand the country over to unions, under a Labor government led by the most left-wing Labor leader in 50 years since Gough Whitlam, then this is what they can expect.”
There was no strike. This was a shutdown and lockout of the workforce by bosses and the NSW government.
The rail chaos in Sydney this week was due to a NSW Government decision to close the system on the pretext that it had safety concerns over its operation.
The decision came just over 24 hours after Sydney Trains management and the government had agreed with Unions over a raft of protected and legal industrial actions.
The Unions planned to take these actions in support of an ongoing dispute with operators regarding wages and operational matters – but the trains would still have run.
The only ones inconvenienced would have been Sydney Trains management.
Unions NSW secretary Mark Morey told On the Job that workers were blindsided by the backflip.
“I went to the Fair Work Commission last Saturday for about 12 hours and we reached an agreement with the employer, Sydney Trains,” he said.
“Then on Sunday, the government pulled the rug out from underneath us and said they weren’t going to adhere to the agreement anymore.”
“They cancelled the trains on Monday morning at midnight. Our guys were all at work. And the government just said, ‘No, just shut down the network’.”
The white-hot anger of commuters was initially directed at rail workers after the flurry of Liberal lies blamed Unions for the train cancellations.
That began to change quickly as the public realised it was the rail operator and the government that had pulled the pin, not the workers.
“It changed around 11 am (Monday morning) once the unions had shown that everyone had turned up for work, they were ready and willing to drive or go to the stations, or do maintenance work,” Morey said.
“It showed that the government had just lied to the general public and sentiment turned pretty quickly,” he said.
NSW Rail, Tram and Bus Union director of organising Toby Warnes told On the Job that it was a bizarre move by the operator and the government in a failed attempt to antagonise the travelling public at the expense of Unions.
“It’s incredible that all of our members signed on and they got put on standby. So the network was shut down for a day and everybody got paid.”
“We managed to turn the media around when we pointed journalists towards all these people standing on stations waiting to work. It was that simple message of we’re not on strike. We’re here ready to work.”
Although many commuters did show support to train workers when they became aware of the real situation, the government’s barbed liars have continued to entangle and hurt train workers.
But Warnes says that the attempt to vilify Unions by the rail network operator and the government has backfired spectacularly.
“I’ve never seen any issue pull the membership together like this has,” he said.
“I’ve been getting text messages and phone calls of people, either congratulating the whole membership and all the delegates or people telling me they feel empowered.”
“Our members had a strong resolve already but it has strengthened to a point that I’ve never seen before, which is incredible.”
Mark Morey also senses a shift in sentiment among the public.
“I also think there’s a broader sympathy for those workers who are taking industrial action who are workers on the front line,” he said.
“We talked about frontline workers, that includes people filling out shelves in shops and doing those sorts of things, our local government workers.”
Morey explained that the idea of an essential worker was much broader, and the Australian public was well aware of this.
Morey said many essential workers were in highly unionized industries.
“These people know and trust their unions.”
“And I think that’s where Perrottet has misjudged the mood of the Union and the mood of the public.”