The class attack on Australian unions. Here are these 12 recent union stories.
Update: Politically predictable under instructions Dyson Heydon starts with muckraking against Julia Gillard and an AWU “slush fund” in the 1990s! But Dyson Heydon is not to investigate Liberal/National party slush funds!- see Dave Oliver ACTU request at end of this post.
1. ROYAL COMMISSION’S RHETORIC IS HARD TO SWALLOW TONY Abbott’s Royal Commission into unions opened last week with the Commissioner, Dyson Heydon, anxious to assure unions that they would be treated fairly. But if that turns out to be the case it would be a marked change from the approach of the Cole Royal Commission a dozen years ago, writes JIM MARR, author of First The Verdict.http://chriswhiteonline.org/2008/09/first-the-verdict-the-true-story-of-the-cole-commission-into-building-and-construction-workers-2003/
DYSON Heydon reached back 140 years to cite a Royal Commission that delivered for union members when his corruption inquiry opened in Sydney last week.
In opening remarks on the first day of the Royal Commission into Trade Union Corruption and Governance, former High Court Justice Heydon, said terms of reference guiding his inquiry “do not assume that it is desirable to abolish trade unions”.
Over the years, he said, there had been numerous inquiries into unions.
Perhaps the first, he suggested, were two English Royal Commissions that sat between 1867 and 1875.
“The recommendations of those two Commissions led to legislation decriminalising the conduct of trade unions in industrial conflicts,” Justice Heydon pointed out.
Leaving aside the need to go back centuries, and travel to a different legal jurisdiction, Heydon’s familiarity with history might have provided some comfort to unionists battening down for another Tony Abbott-inspired bashing.
It certainly contrasted with the cold ideology that permeated Abbott’s Cole Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry. Twelve years on, the results of that exercise are all around us.
Courts are dishing out seven-figure fines to unions whose members take industrial action and industrial policeman, Nigel Hadgkiss, is threatening to come after family homes.See Redflag link below
At the UTS site in central Sydney, where cranes have caught fire and toppled into busy streets, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union has photographed dozens of examples of what it says are clear OHS violations.
The builder, Lend Lease, has opted to shoot the messenger, arguing unions have over-stepped restricted entry rights. The police have been called and safety issues have been shoved down the agenda.
Around Australia, cash-strapped workers’ compensation schemes are denying, or slashing, payments to the families of injured men and women.
Cole turned in a massive technical report that Abbott used to redraw the industrial landscape. On the way through, he presided over 10 months of public hearings that sought to portray building unions as outlaw organisations.
Significantly, Abbott provided that commission with $683,000 for “media relations”, enabling its spin doctor to feed a slew of salacious stories to selected news outlets.
Revisiting the Cole Royal Commission
Come back to the hearing rooms in Goulburn Street, Sydney, and we’ll have a look at some of the raw material he had to work with.
Combative demolition contractor Barbara Strong is a star Royal Commission witness. She suggests a Maori union organiser “should go back to where he came from, where they are known for drinking and bashing their women”.
In sensational testimony, delivered between sobs, she alleges Tommy Mitchell demanded bribes to call off industrial action, and threatened to break her arms and legs.
She says Mitchell threatened her two young children. She was so scared she rang the police and gave a statement.
Strong said the threats and demands were made during a heated on-site meeting, involving at least seven people, and were repeated in a telephone call her husband, Stephen, overheard on speaker.
Understandably, the media went nuts.
There were photos, screaming headlines and even a front page caricature of a muscle-bound standover man in wrap-around sunnies.
Mitchell, his wife and daughters, endured days of this.
It mattered little that no one else at the meeting, including employers and a Master Builders Association rep, supported her allegations. And even less that Mitchell emphatically denied them.
Most instructive, though, was the commission’s response when, at the insistence of CFMEU lawyers, it finally got its hands on relevant Telstra and police records that showed:
• around the time Strong said Mitchell had rung threatening to break her arms and legs, inquiring about her love for her children, and the value she placed on her own life, she had received only three incoming calls – two from an identified builder and one from the Master Builders Association
• around the time she testified she had taken another call from Mitchell, her only incoming call had been traced to a John Copeland from the Office of the Employment Advocate
• notes made by a senior constable who attended Strong’s site recorded a complaint about a sub-contractor who, the commission had heard in evidence, claimed to be owed money by the Strongs. There was no reference to Mitchell or any other union official.
Weeks after the story had led news bulletins all around Australia, Senior Counsel Assisting Nicholas Green rose to address the Commissioner. But if Mitchell and his union were expecting an apology or an admission that the Commission had got it wrong, they were quickly disappointed.
“I tender a file note dated 18 August, 2002, from David Allen, investigations coordinator, addressed to Counsel Assisting. That’s in respect of Mr and Mrs Strong from the period of 4 October, 2001,” he said.
Then he sat down and the Commission moved onto other business.
CFMEU counsel, Ian Latham, tried to get more information on the public record.
“I informed Mr Shoebridge,” Green replied, referring to a previous union request for transparency, “and I repeat now, I have no intention of proposing any of that material to anyone.”
This was how the Cole Royal Commission, armed with 60 million taxpayer dollars and 135 full-time staff, chose to go about its work.
Tax evasion and poor safety ignored
Counsel Assisting were in possession of an ATO submission on systemic employer tax evasion and knew full well the toll workplace injuries and deaths were taking on the families of industry participants.
But, instead of going there, they chose to serve up one dodgy operator after another.
Fernando Sanna and Eddie Lombardo ran claims that became themes of the hearings.
Sanna alleged the CFMEU conspired with head contractors against small companies, and, specifically, that it had used industrial action to drive his company to the wall. He highlighted a week-long strike.
Lombardo claimed the union had forced his concreting company into liquidation with the loss of 29 jobs, tried to use safety issues to push him into signing an EBA and had suggested “backhanders” would solve his problems.
The claims of these “battlers” were broadcast across Australia, untested, as one of the Commission’s rules meant days and, sometimes weeks, went by before hostile witnesses could be cross examined and, then, only with severe restrictions.
By this time, obviously, the media caravan had moved on.
When the CFMEU’s Martin Wyer gave evidence he said Sanna’s father, Mario, had threatened to kill him and management had poured petrol on a smoko hut and threatened to light it with workers inside.
He said the union delegate’s wife had complained to police about 13 anonymous phone calls, received around this time, threatening she would be raped.
Wyer said Sanna ran phoenix companies and failed to meet tax and workers’ comp liabilities.
Sanna denied it but, under cross examination, admitted involvement in at least four companies that had gone bust. Others, he said, had been operated by his brother.
Lombardo, too, denied being a phoenix operator but, eventually, admitted involvement with a number of unfortunate enterprises, including Ritex Contractors, Cotex Contractors, Cotec Administration, Ritex Holdings, Cotec Concrete, Erinmore Holdings, Hitex Concrete, Ricon Construction, Ricon International and Ricon Design and Construction.
Oh, and in 1996, he had been barred from being a company director.
And when Counsel Assisting couldn’t rely on witnesses of this calibre to carry their narrative, sometimes, they just went ahead and did it themselves.
Dr Matt Collins threw a classic to the media and was rewarded with headlines like ‘Paying for peace: the Meriton way’.
Based on discovery orders that showed the CFMEU had turned down an $8.25 million offer for its central Sydney offices in May 1997, but sold them to developer Meriton for $10.5 million in July 1999, he suggested the union had pocketed a $2.25 million bribe.
Collins told the Commission he hadn’t been able to find out whether or not a development order had been granted that would have boosted the property’s value.
It had, and Collins could have found out if only he had bothered to ask.
In his opening remarks, last week, Counsel Assisting Jeremy Stoljar pointed out that a Royal Commission was an inquiry, “not adversarial litigation”.
Recent history tells us that that theory doesn’t always work in practice.
This is the second article in a two-part series by Jim Marr on the Royal Commission into unions. Read part one, ‘Abbott’s Royal Commission lets dodgy bosses off the hook’. From Jim Marr TONY Abbott’s new Royal Commission into unions is following a script that will be very familiar to anyone who paid attention to the Cole Royal Commission a dozen years ago.
And once again, it looks like dodgy employers will be let off the hook, writes JIM MARR, author of First The Verdict.
SUSPECT employers who poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into Liberal Party coffers won’t be called to account by Tony Abbott’s corruption Royal Commission.
The Prime Minister’s terms of reference, released in February, make it clear that Royal Commissioner Dyson Heydon will not be asked to examine businesses that have left workers and small businesses high and dry after tipping six figure sums into Liberal Party accounts.
This will be a relief to operators of Queensland-based Walton Construction who paid $430,000, as “rent”, to an LNP-linked trust before leaving sub-contractors millions of dollars out of pocket when it collapsed, last year.
And to those behind Steve Nolan Constructions which, Australian Electoral Commission records show, tipped at least $200,000 into NSW and federal LNP accounts in the two years before it went belly-up, owing workers and contractors more than $30 million.
As Abbott announced his latest taxpayer-funded Royal Commission, hundreds of former Steve Nolan employees picketed two Sydney sites in a bid to retrieve some of their money.
Other employers Abbott appears to have deliberately written out of his Royal Commission script include Leighton Holdings, mired in allegations of bribery and corruption on a grand scale, and Australian Water Holdings (AWH) the outfit accused of fleecing a publicly-owned utility while delivering hundreds of thousands of dollars into Liberal Party accounts.
AWH, of course, was also the company that paid Cabinet Minister and leading Liberal Party fundraiser Arthur Sinodinis a cool $200,000 for less than 50 hours’ work.
Terms of reference explicitly target unions
In an interview with ABC Radio, Abbott insisted the Royal Commission, that opens in Sydney this week, would be a fair dinkum investigation of organisational corruption and that unions would not be unfairly targeted.
“This isn’t declaring war on anyone, it’s declaring war on wrongdoing,” the Prime Minister said. “It’s declaring that there are certain standards in our society and whether you’re a company official or a union official, you’ve got to obey the law.”
Speaking the same day, Attorney General George Brandis said any suggestion of corruption in the business community would be investigated by the royal commission.
These claims are hard to square with the fact that the government has named the inquiry the Royal Commission into Trade Union Corruption and Governance, and written terms of reference that order the investigation of five specific entities – The Australian Workers’ Union, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, the Communications Electrical and Plumbing Union, the Transport Workers’ Union and the Health Services Union.
There is simply no mention of businesses alleged to have gouged taxpayers or ripped off workers while topping up Liberal Party funds.
That Abbott’s Royal Commission will not shine light into those dark corners is unsurprising because the Prime Minister has form. His Cole Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry was a cynical political exercise.
Royal Commissions, by their nature, can be dodgy beasts.They carry all the trappings of the law but are not of the legal system. Spawned by the executive, their lasting attraction to politicians is that they get to write terms of reference that will determine the outcomes.
Australian Royal Commissions, in particular, are controversial because they have the power to trample basic legal protections and procedures. Hearsay, rumour and third party opinions are allowed and, often, relied on to shred reputations.
Counsel Assisting who lead all the evidence, are not bound by courtroom rules designed to ensure fair and balanced presentation.
The Cole Royal Commission took all these opportunities, and a few more, to deliver Abbott the political fix he wanted.
In 2002, the then-Workplace Relations Minister had a political problem. Construction unions were leading resistance to his government’s centrepiece Workplace Relations Act, largely through a successful pattern bargaining campaign.
The Cole Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry was a cynical political exercise.
Abbott was a vehement opponent of pattern bargaining which is based on the concept that people doing the same work, in the same industry, should get, basically, the same wages.
His difficulty was that pattern bargaining was perfectly legal.
Abbott jumped on allegations of bribery and corruption to order a report from his Employment Advocate, Jonathan Hamberger, who delivered 11 pages, light on fact and heavy on rumour. Hamberger garnished those ingredients by warning he could not support his findings with hard evidence.
But that note of caution was never going to deter Abbott from launching the most expensive Royal Commission in Australian history.
He assured voters his Cole Royal Commission would be an even-handed investigation of bribery, corruption and standover tactics across a blighted industry.
His commission employed 135 fulltime staff, many from the National Crime Authority and the Australian Federal Police. They served sweeping discovery orders, bugged phones and forced banks to hand over client records.
By the time the Sydney hearings opened on June 3, 2002, investigators had gathered 110 witness statements from across NSW.
A handful offered general overviews. All the rest alleged illegal or inappropriate dealings by trade unionists.
Commission investigators and highly-paid Counsel Assisting did not tender a single witness statement alleging wrongdoing by any employer in NSW, except where they claimed a business had been too co-operative with a union.
Based on this, Cole made 392 findings of unlawful conduct, more than 360 of them against union members. The first three, from his NSW hearings, set the tone.
Unlawful findings one and two, held that CFMEU organisers had failed to notify the occupier of a premise of their presence “as soon as was reasonably practicable”.
Cole’s third unlawful finding was that a CFMEU official had stopped work on a building site and held discussions “during work hours outside of meal-time, or other break times”.
These findings had absolutely nothing to do with the allegations of hard core criminality Abbott had used as the pretext for his Royal Commission.
Nor did they reflect untested “evidence” that had seen newspapers and electronic media full of unsubstantiated anti-union allegations, largely from self-confessed rorters, for 10 solid months.
$60 million later, not a single criminal charge
All Abbot’s men, the coercive powers and $60 million taxpayer dollars he had given them, couldn’t uncover enough evidence to sustain a single criminal charge against any Australian trade unionist.
Instead, Cole called for “structural reform” recommending, as his first priority, that “pattern bargaining in this industry should be prohibited by statute”.
He went on to make 212 recommendations designed to strip building workers of a say in their industry.
As the result of Cole’s findings, the federal government outlawed pattern bargaining, severely restricted the ability of workers to campaign around wages and safety, and established a Building Industry Taskforce with the power to force union members to answer questions on pain of prison.
Fast forward to 2014 and the same Tony Abbott is a Prime Minister with a political problem.
He has promised voters WorkChoices is “dead, buried and cremated” but key colleagues, and backers with deep pockets, want significant elements of the policy resurrected.
Instead of making a call, Abbott has flicked the technical fix off to a Productivity Commission his government has already started to stack with former political staffers.
As to a political fix? Well, a long-running inquiry that might weaken trade unions and dirty-up political opponents would just about be the dog’s bollocks.
And what about Wal King http://chriswhiteonline.org/2013/10/wal-king-and-leightons/
2. Abbott’s Commission into so-called Union corruption
The Abbott Government’s Royal Commission into unions starting today in Sydney, is a politically motivated witch hunt designed to stop effective unions from making workplaces safer and fighting for decent wages and conditions for workers in Australia.
ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver said that Tony Abbott was delivering on a political agenda to damage and weaken the union movement’s role in Australian society.
“The Royal Commission has been designed to tie unions up in a long and expensive inquiry that will ultimately make it harder for them to represent their members,” Mr Oliver said.
“The Abbott Government is delivering for the radical ideologues that hate unions, hate the important role they play, oppose regulations that protect workers, believe there should be no minimum wage, no rights to unfair dismissal, that don’t support the right to collectively bargain, and want to drive down the wages and conditions of Australian workers.
“Mr Abbott hopes this Royal Commission creates a political circus to damage the union movement in order to assist them in attacking the IR system that has protected workers’ rights.
“The terms of reference released by Prime Minister Tony Abbott show the narrow focus of the Royal Commission is to smear and damage unions rather than get to the bottom of any genuine issues of corruption.
Update: letter from Dave Oliver to Dear Prime Minister
Request to Broaden Terms of Reference of the Heydon Royal Commission
I Dave Oliver ACTU write regarding recent widespread allegations of criminal activity and corruption related to entities created for the purposes of influencing political, and ultimately government, processes in Australia. These entities are commonly referred to as “slush funds”. Over the last few weeks, in addition to the significant matters which have been revealed in
NSW, there have also been allegations of impropriety concerning the establishment and use of slush funds and the conduct of political fundraising in Victoria and Queensland.
These revelations indicate that “slush funds”, associated with the Liberal Party or Liberal Party identities, are widespread and that they constitute a systemic threat to Australia’s government decision making processes.
Announcing the Royal Commission into Trade Unions on 10 February 2014, you said that a key purpose of it was to inquire into the activities of “ ‘slush funds’ and other similar funds and entities” related to trade unions. You indicated that such a step was necessary because of
“widespread and credible claims” and that the purpo
se of the Commission was to “shine a great big spotlight into the dark corners of our community.”
At the same Press Conference, the Attorney General stated that “a Royal Commission is precisely the right mechanism to deal with a problem which is widespread, systemic and
ingrained across a range of institutions”.
The ACTU’s position has consistently been that allegations of criminal or corrupt conduct should be referred to the relevant Police agency for investigation and potential prosecution. This would
include reference to the Australian Crime Commission, if its additional powers are considered necessary to successfully investigate allegations. Your Government chose instead to establish a Royal Commission. The ACTU believes that all persons and entities alleged to have engaged in criminal or corrupt conduct should be subject to equal scrutiny. The current Royal Commission is unable to investigate what appears to be a wide problem because of its limited terms of reference.
A broadening of the terms of reference of the Royal Commission is therefore necessary.
Without such a broadening, your Government’s decision to establish the Royal Commission will appear nakedly partisan, and the Commission’s findings will lack credibility.
Accordingly I ask that you, as a matter of urgency, recommend to the Governor-General that the Letters Patent of the Royal Commission into Trade Unions be amended to include reference to all criminal or corrupt activities in relation to ‘slush funds’ and other similar
funds and entities established by any person or organisation designed to influence the political process.
An urgent extension to the Government’s terms of reference is necessary to shine a great big light into all of the dark corners of our community.
Dave Oliver SECRETARY
3. Left response: The fight for our unions is on http://redflag.org.au/article/fight-our-unions
4.Safety under the new world order – a construction worker’s view
5. The Abbott anti-unionism targets our Minimum Wage. Here in cartoon form is our proud history of unions defending our high minimum wage. http://workinglife.org.au/minimum-wage-story
Australia’s minimum wage increases argued for by the ACTU are most important.
ACTU : http://workinglife.org.au/2014/05/05/wage-cut-would-entrench-working-poor/
Below Marilyn Lake argues the Minimum wage is more than a safety net, it’s a symbol of Australian values some extracts
“The recent call by the Institute of Public Affairs for the abolition of Australia’s minimum wage has been framed in terms of the dignity of work and the flexibility of workers (The Age, April 7). But can work truly have dignity if workers are reduced to penury?
If labour is thus degraded so are the labourers who perform it. It was precisely to secure recognition of the dignity of workers as human beings – and their needs and rights as human beings – that Victoria introduced the first legal minimum wage in the world in 1896. In 1907, as President of the Arbitration Court, H.B. Higgins defined the minimum as a living wage, sufficient to meet the variety of needs of a person living in a civilised community
….The idea of a minimum wage recognised workers as human beings and equal citizens, rather than treating them as commodities or mere units in the cost of production. It came at the end of a century in which workers had been slaves, or treated as slaves, coerced into contracts that denied their freedom, forced into unpaid or underpaid labour. When Alfred Deakin, a member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly in 1896 and soon to become one of Australia’s great Liberal prime ministers, spoke in support of the introduction of a minimum wage, he said it was not only a matter of social justice, but essential to our equal dignity and mutual respect as Australian citizens.
We were not joined simply by economic transactions. Citizenship entailed a duty of care and relations of reciprocity and mutual obligation….Today, 90 years later, thousands of workers who contribute to the welfare and comfort of others, including many who work in hospitals, childcare centres and aged care homes, traditionally the work of women, are demeaned by being paid a pittance.
Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/comment/minimum-wage-is-more-than-a-safety-net-its-a-symbol-of-australian-values-20140409-zqsii.html#ixzz2yWsm0Pf5
6.NUW low wage workers locked out by Chad Wyatt. Update: NUW workers won.
WE’RE a bunch of 27 warehouse workers travelling through Victoria, ACT and NSW to promote Tony Abbott’s vision of a low-wage future for Australia. For three-and-a-half years, we’ve been paid $20 an hour to work at the warehouse, lifting boxes as heavy as 100kg all day every day. The industry norm for this sort of work is closer to $25 an hour.
See as well first Abbott Commission http://chriswhiteonline.org/2008/09/first-the-verdict-the-true-story-of-the-cole-commission-into-building-and-construction-workers-2003/
7.The war on unions is on – it’s time to fight back by Tim Lyons
The rants of trade unions’ enemies don’t bear any resemblance to my experience as a unionist. My memories of nearly 20 years as a union official are about people.
In economic terms, it’s pretty easy to summarise the two things that unions do: they redress the fundamental power imbalance between individuals and employers and they are a voice for workers with management.
Reducing the power-imbalance means workers get higher wages and better conditions than they otherwise would. Contrary to popular myth, people aren’t automatically paid what they’re worth. Australia has a significant “union wage premium” across key industries and occupations. Put simply, unionised workers do better. Part of this is that unions attempt to take wages out of competition between firms. This doesn’t mean firms shouldn’t compete. They should, but they should do it on the basis of skills, productivity, quality and innovation, and not on who can pay the lowest wages.
Through the Modern Award system, the minimum wage case run by the ACTU and enterprise bargaining, unions are directly involved in setting the wages and conditions of around 60% of Australian workers. Conditions that apply generally to employees, members or not, like paid leave entitlements, are a function of having unions strong enough to secure and maintain them as standard. Globally, a decline in unionisation tracks an increase in income inequality.
Secondly, the voice function. The evidence from here and overseas is that when management listens to workers it’s good for morale, co-operation, productivity, labour turnover, and safety. It has benefits for firms and workers. Organised workers have a different role in workplace consultation mechanisms than unorganised workers. The latter might be “at the table” but are powerless to make the boss listen.
8.The Maritime Union of Australia have come up with a great video telling Chevron to get their head out of the sand and stop blaming maritime workers for cost overruns. Wages make up less than 1% of the cost of Gorgon – just another example of workers and their unions copping the blame for something that has nothing to do with their pay. Poor management plays a part.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OIKRVjxiYuA&feature=youtu.be
9.When the French clock off at 6pm, they really mean it
A new labour agreement in France means that employees must ignore their bosses’ work emails once they are out of the office and relaxing at home – even on their smartphones. Read here
10.ALP reform kicks unions while they’re down by Rick Kuhn
Bill Shorten and other Labor leaders are reinforcing Tony Abbott’s efforts to discredit unionism. As the government’s royal commission into trade union governance and corruption opens, prominent figures in the ALP are working hard to distance the party from the union movement.
The Labor Party is in a hole. Its leaders are down the bottom, shovelling hard. They want to reduce workers’ influence on the ALP, particularly through their unions. In doing so, they are helping Tony Abbott in his attacks on the living standards of working people by identifying unions as a problem rather than a crucial element in resistance to the Business Council’s and Gina Rinehart’s agenda of redistribution from those below to the few on top of the heap.
For, being responsible politicians, they can’t conceive that the problem might have something to do with the market-oriented policies they have been pursuing and the increasingly trivial distinctions between Labor and Liberal approaches to economic matters.
Former Labor politicians, ably assisted by the Murdoch media that is hostile to the ALP but also small-l liberals sympathetic to the party, have been at the sharp end of this push. Among them are former federal leaders Bob Hawke, Simon Crean and Mark Latham as well as John Button and Rod Cavalier. Many had backgrounds as senior union officials.
They have rattled on about the declining rate of union membership in Australia. The overall figure is about 18 per cent, only 13 per cent in the private sector.
There is, of course, another way to deal with the political embarrassment that current and former Labor Party figures feel about the link with the unions.That would be to engage in serious efforts to rebuild the union movement that remains the best defence for the living standards and broader wellbeing of workers, who make up two-thirds of the labour force.
Kevin Rudd’s and Julia Gillard’s Fair Work Act made some concessions to unions but retained important anti-union provisions in the John Howard government’s WorkChoices legislation. Athough less draconian laws, even the situation before Howard would be an improvement, changes in the formal rules of industrial relations are not the key to a stronger union movement. Only the rebuilding of workers’ self-confidence and willingness to take on the boss can do that.
Strike levels in Australia, despite Liberal and employer moans about “lawlessness”, are at historically low levels. There are, however, glimmers of resistance against wage-cutting, increased workloads, reduced job security and the erosion of job safety and other conditions.
Supported by the National Union of Workers, employees of furniture retailer Super A-Mart are continuing to press their demands, including the first pay increase since 2010, even though they have been locked out for more than a month. Western Australia teachers held a strike on 1 April against the Liberal Barnett government’s education cuts. Public sector disability workers in NSW have imposed bans in the face of the O’Farrell government’s plans to undermine wages and conditions by outsourcing their work.
The path to union renewal lies through such struggles.
Other ingredients include more class rhetoric – so despised by former ACTU president, Labor minister and mining industry advocate Martin Ferguson – not less; recognition that in the course of Australian history most strikes have been illegal, rather than respect for partisan laws. Greater authority for rank-and-file unionists and robust workplace organisations of delegates and shop stewards, instead of the centralisation of power in the hands of a few national officials; and union officials who are mainly the product of experience as militant leaders on the job, in contrast to graduates of university courses in human resources management or young folk with ALP connections.
There are union officials, too, who have been obstacles to the renewal of the union movement. The likes of Joe de Bruyn have built their careers around the principle of close collaboration with big employers. The flip-side is his highly bureaucratic organisation and ruthless treatment of members of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association who want their union to be more militant or to abandon bigoted policies derived from official Catholic social doctrine on the rights of women, gays and lesbians.
“The ALP’s continued union ties make the party unrepresentative of the Australian electorate”, Labor’s “reformers” cry, “chop through or, at the very least, loosen the bond of union affiliation”. They look with envy to the United States. Unions provide substantial funds to the Democratic Party but have no formal role and very little clout within it.
The problem is that nowhere in the world has a social democratic party restored its former organisational strength or an extensive, dedicated electoral base by adopting this right-wing course. In Germany, the oldest social democratic party lost ground, to the Greens and die Linke (the Left), despite its neoliberal policies and disdain for its traditional supporters. In Greece, PASOK is a subordinate rump in a neoliberal coalition with conservatives.
In a prolonged period, the weight of unions and workers in the Labor Party has been watered down. The process began decades before 2003, when Simon Crean presided over a rule change that limited the proportion of delegates elected to state party conferences to half.
Kevin Rudd’s parting organisational gift was to increase the autonomy of the federal leader from the caucus and factions, through which unions exert some influence in the parliamentary party. Shorten was elected in a system that gave 50 per cent of the say to caucus and 50 per cent to members of local ALP branches.
Unions represent the interests of workers much more directly than local Labor Party branches, in which professional politicians, their families and hangers-on tend to play a dominant role. The NSW ALP is experimenting with primaries, modelled on US practice, of letting non-members vote in preselections for parliamentary candidates.
The deputy Labor leader, from the left of the ALP, Tanya Plibersek recently made a remarkable statement about the requirement of union membership. In a softening-up operation for Shorten, from the right, she said this was an obstacle to recruiting pensioners and the self-employed. But the rules of the NSW branch, her branch, like those of other branches make it clear that only those eligible to be members of a union have to be, before they can join the party.
Since the mid 1890s, Labor has been a capitalist workers’ party, with a variety of ties to the working class. Members were overwhelmingly working class, as was its core electoral base. But, in practice, the ALP has been committed to maintaining production geared to making profits for a small and powerful elite, rather than to satisfying human needs. As those ties have frayed, it has become harder and harder to envisage the ALP reinforcing them, in terms of policy or organisation, as a path to rebuilding its electoral fortunes.
Rick Kuhn is an Adjunct Reader in Sociology at the ANU and co-authored Labor’s Conflict: Big Business, Workers and the Politics of Class, with Tom Bramble.
11. And film history of a bitter strike Know your Enemies Know your Friends
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXAd8zvDDqo This documentary tells the story of the Latrobe Valley SEC Power Workers’ Strike in Victoria, Australia, in August, September, and October, 1977.
The response to the strike by the Government and big business was savage. A State of Emergency was declared. The workers were vilified for “holding the State to ransom.” Military intervention in the strike was threatened.
Despite the forces against the workers and their families, the strike built to a strength where it seemed certain to succeed. It had the overwhelming support of other workers and the general community all over Australia. It also challenged the arbitration and indexation systems.
After nearly 3 months, the strike suddenly failed. The story is told through the eyes of the striking workers and their wives. They piece together why one of the most important strikes of that decade did not succeed. Friends and Enemies expresses the spirit of working people struggling to improve their conditions, tempered by the bitterness of defeat.
Despite the outcome, the strike had a profound effect on the future of the Latrobe Valley. It served to instigate a wide range of positive changes and improvements for the workers in the decade to follow.
A film by Peter Gray and Garry Lane.
12. Initial report from US Labor Notes Conference of Union Troublemakers
And who owns corporate Australia http://www.4thmedia.org/2013/03/14/who-owns-corporate-australia/