January 31 2015 Update: Diary date, start organising for National Day of Action 10am rallies March 4th.
Once more: tips on the right to politically strike.
Tips on organising a workplace stoppage to defend your economic, social and political interests.
For example, after discussing the question of the protest rally with your fellow workers and obtaining agreement to attend, you can raise with your employer the attendance at the rally against the LNP Abbott government, and negotiate with your employer to agree to this, agreeing to the industrial action protesting politically. Even when your employer does not agree, ensure the merits of why you are taking this political strike prevails.
Years of regular political strikes ahead means explaining in addition to the why? of the political strike, here against the LNP austerity and for rights for working families etc, our arguments for the means of political protest, i.e. the right to freedom of assembly, protest and expressing our political opinions.
This form of the right to strike is the lawful political strike, the case for referenced on this blog.
Right now why the strike action? is to protest the Abbott/Hockey budget.
Here, for one example, the taking of 4 hours time off work to attend a union and community Bust the Budget below 2014/ now Protect Rights on March 4th 2015 National Union rally.
Unionists and community groups chanted vigorously.
Video of melbourne Rally here is good, please distribute
Read this VTHC report here and see photos of union leaders speakers.
Many good photos are on Facebook.
The merits of our Budget opposition have been canvassed widely and deeply. One angle is canvassed here–http://chriswhiteonline.org/2014/05/budget-responses/
Check out the widespread right-wing Abbott/Hockey ‘austerity’ programme being implemented.
McManus: essential to follow the details http://chriswhiteonline.org/2014/01/mcmanus-on-abbott-a-list/
One view on Abbott’s IR http://chriswhiteonline.org/2013/05/abbotts-ir/
Polls are showing 2/3rds opposed to the Abbott/Hockey budget. We look forward to the Senate opposing the Budget or key parts.
The Best Budget Ever here
At June 3rd, a 7.33% swing against the Government means crisis as
Abbott loses -34 seats. http://bit.ly/1u7Qs46 #auspol http://alexwhite.org/poll-average/
Mass marches have been and are organised all around Australia on social media.
Widespread disaffection is organised with specific campaigns from hundreds of different social organisations who are in opposition.
In workplaces and in community responses to across the board class attacks in most sectors sees anger and resistance that is strong.
I now return to just one aspect – the “political” strike.
Here industrial action over political issues is contrasted with the lawful enterprise bargaining strike, protected action, under the Fair Work Act, canvassed in depth on this blog.
The political strike may be in response to the Budget or to attacks on unions by the Abbott government as here – http://chriswhiteonline.org/2014/04/unions-attacked/
In discussing the political strike look at arguments for a union class response http://chriswhiteonline.org/2012/07/class-unionism/
Earlier on this blog, I canvassed some of the past arguments for the right of workers to take industrial action to express opposition to government policies that adversely affect our economic and social and political interests.
See what I wrote in 2005 http://chriswhiteonline.org/2008/09/the-right-to-politically-strike/
And 2006 in attending Your Rights at Work rallies
Differing unions, differing sectors, workplaces and employers respond according to their workplace-relations dynamic.
Here I discuss (again) general guidelines.
As an illustration, one of our aims is to win, in practice, the workers’ right to attend a four hour union and community rally in protest against the Abbott governments’ policies.
Workers at the workplace in whatever way, with the union official or not, or with union workplace representatives (and indeed as well in non-union workplaces) meet, discuss the Budget and Government policies and decide what to do.
Yes, we are strongly of the view our political opposition has to be communicated. We assert our right to protest against all those government policies detrimental to working families.
Yes, we vote in favour of one way. That is to attend a mass union and community rally. Yes, we are justified.
It is legitimate taking this industrial action, strike – here 4 hours. Depending on the circumstances we have some confidence we can do this action again and mass rallies will have impact and at least our voices are expressed in a democracy.
OK, now,more tips in response to scenarios happening.
1. Employees and their unions sensibly negotiate with the employer to get agreement to accept the democratic and human right to assemble, to march and to express political opinions, the right to political communication in our democracy.
The agreement arranges, with notice, what happens on the day – what happens at work either a full close-down or partial or such as buses are organised.
Some employers encourage their employees to attend.
An employer can agree with employees’ request and all or most employees attend. The employer agrees that no wages are deducted. The employer authorises the workforce to attend.
This is a good democratic outcome, is reasonable and responsible in the current context and legal.
Some employers are agreeing because they reasonably respect the democratic workers’ right to political communication.
Some employers agree because they are being adversely affected by the Abbott policies and have their interests to defend as well.
Many other employers are saying they will sit on the fence politically. But they make it clear they do not penalise any worker for attending, other than four hours pay may be deducted, or may not.
Other employers insist it is OK to attend, but on employer rules such as employees using leave days, no disruption etc.
This has worked in the past to get maximum attendance. But the more employer restrictions on the workers’ right, particularly when HR is not at all supportive, the more difficult some employees find to attend.
All of this industrial action here is a form of a political strike.
It is lawful when not opposed by the employer, and not “unprotected” under the extensive Fair Work Act rules.
2. Many other employers, after being advised by their own ‘union’ their business organisation or by the Abbott government, decide that under WorkChoices and retained in the Fair Work Act, such industrial action as above is “unprotected” (taking a “black letter law” line). They are opposed to their employees taking time off to attend the rallies.
Every effort is made by the employer against employees taking this “unprotected” action.
Let us here say it is “unprotected” under the so-called “Fair” Work Act.
But don’t let this deter you. Make your merit arguments.
Attendance is in the public interest, the 2014 Hockey Budget have 2/3rds opposed, with large marches throughout Australia and widespread sector concern etc etc. Our arguments to rally, to take “unprotected action” are stronger.
Obviously, the more actively unionised the workplace the more likely we can defeat the “unprotected” label, that is, many workers do attend and no penalty is imposed by the employer.
However, the employer may say the workers’ demands to take for hours off to protest will result in wages being deducted as this is compulsory in the FWA. I am not opposed to this: but no other penalty.
Of course other employers leading the politics in the anti-union crusade threaten and coerce their employees.
Then they get in their corporate lawyers with applications for to the FWA or to courts for injunctions.
They debate the meaning of “industrial action”. I put aside one question under section 19 FWA that such attendance at political rallies is not industrial action.
Workers and their unions here have to have the conviction and strength to be able to take “unprotected” action, that is to give notice and to attend the rally and do so in defiance of the employers and with good reasons.
But many employees will be coerced not to attend, even though they may want to.
It is important to have the union rule that “an injury to one is an injury to all”.
Here unions protect individuals who are threatened or where the employer takes adverse action against an employee for taking a democratic right to industrial action to attend the rally.
The ability to build solidarity is important.
As I have argued on this blog for many years (put in right to strike in the search engine), Australia is a disgrace. Our so-called ‘labour law’ makes such industrial action “unprotected” and maybe “unlawful” and thus against all proper IR principles, the worker or union risks some sanction or some penalty. Under the FWA as seen in this blog we have one of the worlds’ most legalistically repressive regimes against the basic right to strike. The union campaign for all legitimate strike action to be made lawful is again raised – even with an ALP government with Bill Shorten PM, but that is for later.
What is critical is to have solidarity for workers and their unions coming under the building and construction industry as these workers and their unions face double penal powers, the FWA and the BCIAct.
Their long struggles continues against their particularly repressive ABCC regime against strikes -see this blog. Update: Nigel Hadgkiss, Abbott’s appointment to the ABCC, the day before threatened CFMEU and ETU members and others to be pursued if they attended – they did.We shall see.
Even when what happens is just a 4-hour protest rally, then what I and others call the state Stasi force from the ABCC – even more rabid anti-union now under Abbott – is out to spy on and prosecute the unions for organising these rallies.
However, it is the case that with huge attendances and solidarity amongst unions and workers no prosecutions are taken.
But now, June 2014, Nigel Hadgkiss, who was appointed by the Abbott government as director of the pre-existing construction industry regulator, Fair Work Building and Construction (FWBC), told the Australian newspaper asset seizure orders had been executed against workers who participated in action connected with the Woodside Petroleum project in Western Australia in 2008. Under Abbott and giant corporations’ pressure, severe repression against “unprotected action” is enacted(even though such action was a quite legitimate workers’ response to the unfairness of the employer at the time). So Hadgkiss is not only having Courts fine the workers individually for taking “unprotected” action, but then seek to seize workers’ homes to enforce the fines. Such repression is more clear signs of the stages of fascist state tactics…and must be defeated.
The unions here again are more forcefully arguing and acting that in these circumstances with Abbott’s policies, our right to organise political protests is far more important in a democracy.
In such defiance, the struggle against these FWA penal powers is developed.
The more workers and unions are asserting and taking successful protest action over important issues however determined, history shows that no penalties are applied.
So a de facto right to strike to express our political opinion has been accepted before and has to be reclaimed now.
We debate the practical merits for a one-day general strike.
“If you want a General Strike organize your co-workers.”
That general strike has to be significant in numbers, millions withdrawing their labour-power in protest, across all sectors, closing cities and industries and decisively targeted to put pressure on the reactionary right-wing government.
I posted an interview with Joe Burns, author of “Reviving the
April 28th, 2012.
In 1976 different times, I remember organising in SA workers to participate in the National ACTU stop work to defend Medibank against the Fraser government.
So can we do this again when union density is much lower?
Our union movement’s strength is still organising well.
The good news is that unions are all seasoned at community alliances and campaigns. Community campaigns linked to unions’ enterprises or sectors are strong.
Importantly unions with civic associations have the capacity to campaign on basic issues, health
and education and transport and housing and jobs.
Unions are good in their industry or sector campaigns, but less so across many communities or across the broad working class campaigns, at national and regional levels.
One of our union movement’s weaknesses is not implementing a sustained organised militant working class response to the corporate and Abbott ruling class attacks.
Different forms of union organising for industrial action develop according to the forces in the times.
Some union leadership, already knowing their members are raring to go, can call out members to attend.
Other unions need delegates and members meetings. Other unions require rank and file pushing.
Membership participation works.
And does this apply to non-unionists? Yes, now is the time to really get non-unionists to join it.
The right to withdraw your work, your labour-power, is only one weapon, one means and then some pressure is being applied.
The strike is only to be organised when we are to win.
Workers in differing industries will be able to argue different points of view.
Together we all collectively work to build over the years the fighting solidarity and class support to both repulse the capitalist class offensive lead by Abbott and the corporates and work out how to advance our needs.
And to repeat, one action is by many workers to enforce the civil and political right of citizens to take strike action politically.
The strike debates and what to do are central to the agenda.
But then what?
After the political protest strike is a success, what then? Later, to be debated.
Must read now. Appendix: The 2005-2006 political strike debates reposted.
“One issue is the right to politically protest against WorkChoices.
This arose because Minister Andrews, before the 2005 protest rallies, tried to deny that right. Under the WorkChoices regime, Minister Andrews supports the right to protest, but only within the new law.
For “the right to strike over political issues” see my 2005 paper in Evatt http://evatt.labor.net.au/publications/papers/139.html
What are the arguments for the right to strike?
Unions uphold today, as in the past, principles such as:
– that ˜our labour is not a commodity”;
– work is not ˜forced labour” – not forced by employers, Courts or Ministers;
– workers are ˜free and not slaves” – asserted for centuries;
– employees are ˜not servants at the masters’ will” – as we are in the 21st century;
– employees have the ˜freedom to associate and to organise” in unions to collectively bargain and to defend socio-economic interests;
– employees need autonomous unions without employer or state interference, and
– employees have, as citizens, political opinions.
The right to strike has always been seen as a human right because of its clear relationship to the protection and promotion of human dignity (Ignatieff 2000).
The right to strike is justified on socio-economic grounds which converge with traditional civil and political rights (Ewing 2004).
One only needs to look at history to see the importance of understanding the right to strike as a human right.
Workers have always asserted their human rights have been abused by suppression of the right to strike.
The right to strike on political issues is a human right because it protects the individual’s dignity not to be punished for legitimate collective industrial action.
Like many human rights, the right to strike is not an absolute right. There must be “and are“ some limits from abuse of this right. For example, three days notice to employers is an accepted process for industrial action. The notice is so disruption can be minimised.
Recent ACTU protests are known months in advance. Notice ensures that public health and safety is ensured. Employees catch up after taking the short time off.
As a human right, the right to strike in political protest is directly linked to freedom of association and freedom of expression.
It allows citizens to take democratic action without the threat of sanctions.
Freedom of expression is essential in a democracy.
Citizens must be entitled to express dissent about the government, to debate the merits of policies and to campaign for alternatives.
Even the Political Right concedes, in principle, the necessity of the right to strike. They recognise that contracts of employment are for service, not for servitude.
These IR protests are directly related to the occupational rights and social and economic interests of millions of employees.
However, attending these rallies is not ˜protected action” under the Workplace Relations Act, which allows only very limited lawful strikes in enterprise bargaining agreements.
Here the employee is acting to express a political opinion, as contrasted with claims on the employer. It is not illegitimate and it should not be unlawful.
As a political protest, this form of industrial action is legitimate in response to the government’s attack on working and living standards.
Protest is appropriate against the WorkChoices regime which gives more power to employers, restricts a voice for employees and takes fairness out of the employee/employer relationship. Industrial relations practitioners tolerate and recognise that employees need a secure right to strike over such direct issues of concern.
The right to take political protest strike action is supported by the International Labour Organisation and in international labour minimum standards and international labour law jurisprudence (Novitz 2004, White 2005).
In our modern democratic society, there is supposed to be some balance between employers and employees.
Labour law should protect this balance by protecting employee rights against the greater power of corporations and employers.
The richest CEO’s in the Business Council of Australia and other employer associations exercise power for their strategic interests. The government gives backing.
The right to protest is essential to ensure that employees and their unions can protect their legitimate interests in fair labour laws.
Can there be a right to strike as an act of political protest in a Bill of Rights?
The Howard government clearly does not believe that the right to strike is a legitimate and practical right.
Minister Andrews went overboard last year when he called on employers to penalise employees attending the protests (Workplaceinfo 27/6/05).
He alleged attending rallies was ˜inappropriate” and ˜unprotected” and, hence, ˜unlawful”, using Orwell’s 1984 ˜doublethink”. Disgracefully, he encouraged employers to dismiss employees.
However, the Australian Industrial Relations Commission AIRC, following precedent, disagreed with Mr Andrews. They declined to order workers not to attend.
Even building unionists stared down threats to prosecute from the secret building ˜police force”, the Australian Building and Construction Commission. Under specifically targeted new legislation rushed first through after Senate control, building workers’ civil rights have been removed to an alarming extent.
They no longer have the right to remain silent and not to incriminate themselves.
In investigations into industrial action, they are threatened with six months jail if they do not ˜dob” in on a building union meeting. It is an extreme denial of civil rights (White 2006).
WorkChoices makes industrial action much more difficult to conduct (McCrystal 2006). The government clearly wishes to suppress strikes (White 2005b).
Now employers can seek the application of new penal powers against all unprotected action. AIRC orders and court injunctions to halt industrial action, fines and the common law of tort and damages are available against unions. Threats of dismissal can be more easily made as the unfair dismissal remedy for many is removed.
Commissioners and judges now may say they apply the law. But it is manifestly unfair to penalise those protesting (except deducting wages for lost time).
Minister Andrews says you have a right to politically protest, but only within the law.
He has now changed the law. WorkChoices, most unreasonably, makes most industrial action unlawful. Industrial action during the term of a workplace agreement is outlawed. The Minister has unprecedented powers to politically intervene in strikes.
In effect, by changing the law to make political protest unlawful, the Minister has legally suppressed the right to protest.
This important right has gone the way of those rights which were done away with in as part of the anti-terrorism laws last year.
The time has clearly arrived when Australia needs to give legal protection to fundamental human rights including the right to strike in political protest.
A positive right to strike forms part of the Timor Leste, French, Greek, Italian, Portuguese and South African Constitutions.
This is not a radical or revolutionary right. The government “ through its decision to unreasonably restrict this fundamental right“ is demonstrating a radical or rather reactionary agenda.
Displayed in the foyer of the Australian Parliamentary Library, I found a speech by Clyde Cameron, former Labour Minister in the Whitlam government on ˜Industrial Protest: the Right to Strike”. He cited Republican President Eisenhower.
“The right of workers to leave their jobs is a test of freedom. Hitler suppressed strikes. Stalin suppressed strikes. But each also suppressed freedom. There are some things worse than strikes, much worse than strikes, one of them is the loss of freedom.”
Clyde Cameron continued:
“Eisenhower was correct in pointing out that the hallmark of the Police State is the loss of the right to strike. A worker’s right to strike is surely a basic human right. The right to withdraw labour is the one thing that distinguishes a free worker from the slave. This is a fundamental freedom.”
There is room to debate these freedoms and their parameters.
Protest against labour legislation is clearly to be protected.
Arguably so is protest in No War marches, on foreign affairs, with environmental community assemblies, green bans and protests against government political interference into the union.
The freedom extends to whatever political opinion is determined by autonomous and democratic unions.
The formulation of a legal right to politically protest should be taken seriously.”