BILLY Bragg made his name in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain, writing and performing protest songs against the anti-union policies of her government.
Almost three decades on, he is in Melbourne to perform songs by folk singer Woody Guthrie, famous for his ditties for America’s working class.
As is his wont, the man who declared There is Power in a Union will also detour into local issues, singing outside Southern Cross Station this morning to highlight the plight of Australia’s working poor, those trapped in precarious and low-paid jobs.
Bragg was invited to perform by the National Union of Workers at a protest organised to coincide with Anti-Poverty Week.
Guthrie was born 100 years ago and, says Bragg, sang about ”ordinary people needing to earn proper money – that ordinary people should be taking part in the success of a society”.
He says his involvement in the protest is a gesture to highlight the link between the increasing numbers living in poverty and the simultaneous rise of insecure employment models such as labour hire, where safety vests are often standard attire.
Those attending the concert have been asked to wear fluorescent vests.
The union asked Bragg to take part in the event because he was in town touring his Guthrie tribute as part of the Melbourne Festival. He was only too happy to help.
”I’m here to celebrate the legacy of Woodie Guthrie,” says Bragg. ”But it has to be more than just singing the songs. So, if I was to live up to Woodie’s example, I had to do more than just do some gigs.”
National Union of Workers Victorian secretary Tim Kennedy says Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show 825,000 households are considered ”low economic resource households”.
He says workers employed by labour-hire companies regularly tell his union about being moved from job to job daily.
”Sometimes they are waiting on a text message to know if they have a shift the next day, or that they are ‘no longer required’ by a labour-hire agency after being injured at work.”
Bragg says secure jobs are the key to a strong economy, along with a guarantee that people will get a proper wage. ”There should be a living wage, not a minimum wage,” he says.
”Particularly major companies making huge profits, we should be encouraging them to pay a living wage. It’s ordinary working people spending their money in shops that make the economy grow.”
Armed with his guitar, Bragg says he ”would be surprised if I don’t play There is Power in a Union this morning. And one of Woodie’s songs.”