Union leaders are counting on Labor winning the next Federal election and then fixing the “broken” industrial rules.
Ged Kearney, Dave Noonan, and other officials, speaking at the Queensland MUA conference in November acknowledged that the ACTU failed the Your Rights @ Work campaign, by ending it once the Howard government lost the 2007 election. A further flaw was that YR@W was silent on union rights to organise and strike, yet employment rights and conditions depend on them. That let the Labor Government get away with replacing Work Choices with Work Choices lite. This time, the campaign will continue they said, after the election until unions have the right to organise, bargain and strike.
The ACTU is collecting ideas from unions about what should replace a repealed Fair Work Act, said Ged Kearney. Workers’ Liberty believes critical points should be:
• Right to strike. No fines or gaol, for industrial action, including in solidarity with any other workplace, union or cause. No compulsory ballot process before industrial action.
• Right to organise. Delegates and workers can meet and communicate on site using workplace resources, and union officials have right of entry.
• A living wage. The minimum wage should be part of union wage bargaining, with demands backed by industrial campaigning. There should be a fresh assessment by unions of workers needs, to set a dollar figure to campaign for. The benchmark for increases should be transparent, so that workers know exactly how it stands up to increases in the cost of living and community standards.
The Change the Rules campaign talking about an independent umpire. A tribunal that can enforce workers rights against employers is not the same as the old Arbitration Commission that made union officials into a double-edged sword. Historically the Commission made decisions based on its assessment of what would be accepted by both sides, taking account of investment, employment and inflation. Union officials ended up having to choose between helping workers who want to keep fighting for their full demands, or being enforcers of the Commission’s orders. Arbitration is not a substitute for union strength against the employers.
There are other big topics that the Change the Rules Campaign cannot afford to be silent on.
The Liberals and Nationals, the shock jocks, employer organisations and the Right in general will scream about economic disaster, union power and Labor being captive. Shorten will distance himself, ask the unions to be quiet, go softly and wait till after the election. Will our union leaders stay firm or go quiet for uncertainty that Labor could lose the election?
Whatever rights we demand, or win, the employers will claim that they will cause unemployment to rise. It is possible that unemployment will rise, whether or not it’s because some employers calculate they’re cutting investment because of increased labour costs. How will we stand up to this blackmail from employers, that workers either submit to work under their terms without industrial rights, or else we don’t get to earn a living at all? We need to work out our answers. We need further demands to solve those next problems, such as shorter hours on same weekly pay, (re)nationalisation, and expanded public services.
Change the Rules is silent on two major controversial political issues, refugees and climate change. The least that Change the Rules should do is to circulate different points of view, and to encourage education and debate on these issues in the trade union movement.
Change the Rules needs more than launches and rallies, it also needs to be run in a democratic and accountable way. If members and delegates debate and endorse demands, this will raise commitment and energy, and unionists will be ready to stand up and fight back against attacks on these demands, and so members and delegates can discuss and vote on any offers before they are accepted by the union movement, to ensure we win no less than we are prepared to fight for.
Bill Shorten winning over business?
by Janet Burstall
An Australian Financial Review (22 November) article posed Bill Shorten as a Jekyll and Hyde, obviously reversing the good and evil positions as trade unionists would see them. The article is ludicrous about Shorten’s class struggle credentials, his “natural instinct for class conflict” and praise “for the militant construction and maritime unions.” Whatever mistrust corporate employers have for Labor, they are bracing for a Labor government. “The Chamber of Commerce and Industry has been working to improve relations in recent months, a Labor source said, and that effort culminated in last week's lunch at Sydney's Grand Hyatt” where Shorten gave a speech to the ACCI.
The article is succinct yet mild in explaining business motives and power. “Companies don't vote. But political leaders always want the confidence of the business community to encourage investment. Companies are also big political donors and can influence media coverage.”
The need for investment to create jobs in a capitalist economy is the bottom line of blackmail by capital. Labor politicians and the ACTU have a record of caving in to this. We can count on Shorten to be trying to accommodate business demands and placate unions with sops on industrial law reform. This ought to be an impossible task for Shorten, if unions commit to hold out for genuine rights to organise and strike.
Thanks to Don Sutherland for highlighting the AFR article in Unions Australia facebook group: “Here we have an insight into Shorten LABOR’S relationship to the big business organisations. Union members and activists need to be paying attention to this, all the time sifting the wheat from the chaff. Key ALP figures have already said that in designing a new Fair Work Act they will replicate the role of the employers in the design process. CLASSIC Laborism. That is, they will be on an equal footing with the union negotiators. This is the process that led to the “broken rules” of Labor’s Fair Work 2009. The process is as broken as the rules. How do we prevent employers from having so much control over the negotiations for the next Act?”
Launching Change the Rules
by Janet Burstall
I heard Ged Kearney at Qld MUA conference say that ACTU leaders won't make the same mistake as they did letting Rudd and Gillard off the hook with UnFair Work Australia, after Your Rights @ Work. But at the CTR launch I went to in Western Sydney, Sally McManus urged us all to campaign for Kristina Keneally, without any recognition of the need to be ready to fight a Labor government. The whole event was so totally stage managed, there was no discussion from the floor at all.
We won't get a genuine grass roots movement within Change the Rules as it is. But I do see CTR as an opening for socialist trade unionists to raise the questions that are being left unanswered and educating around them.
From WL newsletter 69