Australia: Time to fight government’s ‘reforms’ — If we don’t fight we lose!

Unions must strike against John Howard anti-workers’ policies

Last week, reported on planned ‘industrial relations reforms’ by the right wing coalition government in Australia, led by John Howard. These ‘reforms’ are a big attack on workers’ rights and conditions.

Below, Anthony Maine, an activist in the metal workers’ union, outlines how unions across Australia should follow the lead of the unions in Victoria State, who are striking on 30 June against Howard’s attacks.

Time to fight government’s ‘reforms’ – If we don’t fight we lose!

In the name of ‘being realistic’ Greg Combet and his mates at the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) are preparing to sell our hard earned conditions back to the bosses for a song. Our working lives, as we know them, are on the brink of a huge overhaul and the so-called ‘official leadership’ of the union movement is running scared.

Since the re-election of the coalition government in November last year, John Howard has made no secret of the fact that he aims to implement a range of industrial relations ‘reforms’ when he takes control of both houses of parliament in July this year.

It is more accurate to call these changes counter reforms and they will in fact be the biggest attack on workers conditions and the trade union movement for many years. The attacks will be wide ranging and will almost certainly include –

  • Further restrictions on items, included in awards
  • A single national IR system – attempting to eliminate many state awards
  • An end to pattern bargaining
  • reduced powers of the Industrial Relations Commission
  • Restrictions on union officials’ right of entry to workplaces
  • The removal of unfair dismissal protection for workers in small businesses
  • Bans on political strike action
  • And further attacks on the militant construction unions.

The ACTU have unfortunately already conceded defeat without a fight, already ruling out any form of industrial action. Recently, Greg Combet said “you’ve just got to deal with the system the way that it is” and “that there wasn’t much that we could do about it”. His biggest threat so far has been a warning to the Coalition of an electoral backlash in 4 years! These ‘threats’ are music to John Howard’s ears.

This strategy flows directly from the pro-big business politics of the ACTU. The ACTU have not only forgotten how to fight but they actually agree with many of the right wing policies that the Howard government advocates. Their aim is for the bosses to wear a friendly face whilst they are screwing workers, and for a slightly lesser form of workers exploitation.

These ideas of cosying up to the bosses and conservative governments, which have been dominant in the union movement for many years now, have led not only to less money in workers’ pockets but have also contributed to the low levels of unionism that we have in Australia today.

This position taken by union leaders stands in stark contrast to that of the Socialist Party, which is a committed builder of the union movement and stands for fighting democratic unions that will challenge the Howard government and the rule of big business. A mass mobilisation of workers to resist Howard’s attacks will not only pressure the government not to pass the industrial relations laws but if they did go through it would send a message to the bosses not to dare to use them.

The Socialist Party, and other militants in the union movement, will refuse to stand by while the ACTU hand over past gains won by workers through struggle. We urge the ACTU to follow the Victorian unions’ lead and call for action on June 30th.

The Socialist Party will be part of solidarity groups supporting workers in dispute when need be, but we will also be outlining a strategy for lessening the blow to our movement that Howard will be trying to inflict in the later part of this year.

The Socialist Party calls for –

Mass delegates meetings in every major city to discuss the attacks and plan for action

A 24-hour national general strike on June 30th and demonstrations in every major city, to send a warning shot to the bosses and their representatives in the Howard government

A fighting leadership in the ACTU to defend our current conditions and advance the interests of workers across the entire country

A new genuine mass workers’ party based around the unions and progressive community groups, to fight in the interests of the working class and youth and to challenge the rule of big business.

From the April 2005 edition of The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party (CWI) in Australia.

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April 2005