Unionists organising for the right to strike and for the effective strike
Update July 18: From Don Sutherland Australia’s Penal Powers for the 21st Century
The Australian workers of the twenty first century need a strategy that defeats the penal powers of the twenty first century.
It is all about a deeper meaning of democracy than the very limited form that too many of us are sort of comfortable with these days.
Electing a genuine reforming Labor government backed up by the Greens and genuine pro worker and democratic independents to get rid of these undemocratic industrial laws will make a difference.But this was never on the radar in recent Federal election.
So, that will not happen unless it is part of a conscious strategy that creates a massive and independent movement of workers that makes it impossible for Labor and Green politicians to dodge their responsibilities.
White Australia was born as a penal colony. And throughout its history since there have been plenty of laws that fine, impose financial damages and lock up both the original inhabitants of the land and the working people of all nations who came here to make a living. Those laws swing into play whenever landowners and employers needed a government instrument to protect their profit making and wealth accumulation from the collective action of aboriginal communities and their supporters, and also combinations of workers whether members of unions or not. (For more on this read Jack Hutson’s From Penal Colony to Penal Powers.)
This story about Bluescope suing the AWU over a strike http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-07-08/bluescope-suing-awu-over-strike/7577942 describes how Labor’s Fair Work Act of 2009 replicates that history so that it systematically prevents workers from exercising their collective power in the twenty first century.
Some of us who have been around for a long time know very well that there is NO END to the hypocrisy of employers when it comes to the exercise of their power. Employers like Bluescope Steel, in their own right and through their associations like the AIGroup, AMMA, and the Business Council of Australia, constantly whinge about the role of outside third parties in industrial relations.
For them, “outside third party interference” means unions, especially those that coordinate effective worker action across industries, and a Fair Work Commission with genuine democratic powers to ensure that workers human rights to organize and take collective action are protected.
Original post: I urge all unionists to press for the right to strike if the ALP wins government and Bill Shorten is PM on July 2nd. OR if PM Turnbull wins. Considerable union organising and pressure would have to be put on the ALP to move to legislate for the lawful strike and for the Parliament to support the right to strike.
After YourRights@Work defeated Howard, union and the ACTU leadership dropped campaigning. Then DPM Gillard was able to retain the repression on strikes contained in WorkChoices.
This anti-strike repression remains today in the “Fair” Work Act. The following is based on a speech at the 2012 ACTU Congress and is more relevant. This current ACTU policy is strong but not publicly pressed by the ACTU or Union leadership.http://chriswhiteonline.org/2015/07/actu-2015-congress-policies/
1. Unions’ right to strike campaign is to repeal all “Fair” Work Act penal powers. We argue for a “firewall” protection for workers in their unions taking industrial action,
i.e., protected action for all or any strikes, full stop.
These ILO principles are accepted by unions, government and most employers and can prevail. Note the scope of this right to strike:
“The right to strike is one of the essential means available to workers and their organisations for the promotion and protection of their economic and social interests. These interests not only have to do with obtaining better working conditions and pursuing collective demands of an occupational nature but also with seeking solutions to economic and social policy questions and to labour problems of any kind which are of direct concern to the workers.”
Working class principles justify the refusal to follow unjust and illegitimate restrictions for withdrawing our labour-power. “Labour is not a commodity,”
“the right to strike is a basic freedom that distinguishes us from the slave or from bonded labour or from fascism.”
ACTU policies and submissions endorses these ILO principles based on the right to strike as a civil, political, and socio-economic entitlement.
2. The ACTU argued these ILO principles with the 1993 Keating reforms for the first enterprise bargaining protected action regime, but we did not achieve all our aims. Reith’s 1996 WRAct weakened this protected action limited right to strike.
Rudd attacks the right to strike http://chriswhiteonline.org/2008/09/concerns-for-the-right-to-strike-kevin-rudd/
“Repressive tolerance” of strikes came under corporate legal attack and moved
to repression of strikes under WorkChoices – the most severely regulated anti-strike regime in the OECD world. But as we know the Fair Work Act retained this repression of strikes.
Howard’s WC spin said ‘we are not taking away the right to strike’ and similarly the Rudd/Gillard governments and now Abbott/Turnbull and opposition leader Bill Shorten all say they support the principle of the right to strike. But in practice unionists are not free to strike.
3. Assuming that Bill Shorten is PM, then unionists can insist his government deletes all of the FWA anti-strike provisions. Then insert the above ILO principles.
Then insert a section to ensure no employer or state apparatus can take a legal case against any industrial action, full stop. Employer legal sanctions to stop strikes and fine striking workers and union officials are not to be available. Corporate law firms are removed from the industrial relations practice of stopping strikes with injunctions. The right to withdraw our labour-power is ‘firewalled’ legally paramount over corporate law.
4. What does this ‘firewall’ protection for the strike mean? What follows illustrates the strike that is now ‘unlawful’ but ought to be ‘lawful.’
Such a new FWA right guarantees freedom for workers in unions to collectively bargain with strikes.
Unionists are free to determine the strike processes, the timing, the negotiations, the notices, the tactics and free to determine how we take industrial action democratically decided in paid workers’ meetings.
Workers are free to pursue any demands – not in anyway legally constrained, not restricted by old legal restrictions of ‘matters pertaining to employment’ or so-called ‘not permitted’ matters.
Unions are free to bargain with industrial pressure for claims not only for collective agreements but over unfair management prerogative decisions, over industry development strategies, for job protection provisions, and for environmental demands.
Industry and pattern bargaining industrial action is lawful as the industrial parties are free to determine at what level to bargain.
The right to strike on occupational health and safety has to be absolute.
Right to strike for the environment http://chriswhiteonline.org/2009/01/the-right-to-strike-to-save-the-environment/
The employer right to lockout is repealed, with Qantas tactics unlawful.http://chriswhiteonline.org/2012/03/the-workchoices-restoration/
The Workplace Relations Minister does not have the discretion to stop industrial action.
Competition law and Trade Practices law outlawing solidarity strikes and secondary boycotts is removed.
The individual worker on strike is protected: no return to work orders, no threat of dismissal, no victimization, no fines. No exceptions such as ‘for damage to persons or property’.
The Building and Construction regime, the STASI-like ABCC or FWBA current provision, is repealed. Restrictions in trade-related industries are repealed. http://chriswhiteonline.org/2012/09/grocon-2-negotiations-with-cfmeu/
The lawful strike extends internationally as it is essential for unions to organise global solidarity against multi-national corporate interests.http://chriswhiteonline.org/2014/06/tips-on-the-political-strike/
This right to strike politically is a last resort response to bad government policy affecting workers’ interests.
Workers, as citizens in a democracy, have legal protection for political protest assemblies e.g. against WorkChoices and the ABCC; no penalties against workers taking time to attend rallies or protests on foreign affairs against dictatorships e.g. in Fiji and or anti the fascist acts such as Indonesian TNI genocide against the East Timorese. The lawful strike supports human rights struggles.
Union officials organising the strike have legal protection against ancient British master and servant common law actions in tort, contract and in equity – no possibility of crippling damages.
Industrial disputes are settled by the parties or in the FWA system and not in the courts.
Picketing is protected industrial action not subject
to injunctions. Employers cannot employ ‘replacement’ labour to break a strike, as this is a violation of our freedom of association. Then workers can freely bargain.
2. The question is then reviving the strike so working people can regain power and transform Australia.
Unions know the strike is the essential means for the power to win our demands, e.g. higher pay and secure permanent jobs.
How workers organise a winning strike is a priority. In this era strikes are essential to respond to the capitalist and environment crisis and in response to the political attacks on workers’ rights, but are at a historical low point.
Democratic control by workers in their unions of their industrial action is central to defeat the employers’ decisions, defeat the corporate attack and defeat right-wing Abbott/Turnbull ‘austerity’ cuts.
The effective strike now is very difficult because of the FWA repressive regime and corporate/government
lawyers taking legal actions against unions. Employees in their unions in enterprise bargaining have to struggle to win ‘protected’ strikes as best we can.
Recruitment succeeds when integrated into successful strike action.
Unions cannot resolve our membership crisis simply by adding new members – without a powerful strike in place.
Australian unions are good at the one-day protest publicity strike. But this gives the illusion of progress, distracting from our real problem, which is the lack of an effective traditional lengthy strike.
Secondary bans, boycotts and solidarity strikes have to return as powerful means of union strength.
Mass general strikes in many countries are being organised as the global capitalist order is in another chronic crisis period with corporate and state austerity attacks on workers. Activists call for a general strike on May Day. But look back through history about how general strikes happened. They are organized in the workplace only by union delegates and organisers organizing step by step all their co-workers across all unions.
Co-ordinated strikes against the repressive anti-strike regime requires union members organising across industries, a mass strategy to defeat the penal powers, learning from the 1960’s anti-penal powers organising model resulting in mass national ‘Clarrie O’Shea’ strikes.
Our Your Rights at Work campaign proves our capacity strategically to win in civil society. Unions defeated Howard, but we failed with the Rudd/Gillard government to secure the right to strike. We organise outstanding social unionism struggles with community support.
But to win requires the power of collective strike action.
Social unionism is not a replacement for direct struggle against employers. Social unionism where the strike is abandoned loses the central role of workers at the point of production.
But the strike is only a means. We return to work. Then workers’ struggles need to develop more collective power at work.
Workers’ control over our work to counter employers’ control is the challenge.
We can develop democratic self-management agendas.
Tactics historically are sit-ins and occupations when workers facing redundancies took over factories and ran them cooperatively.
We can learn about workers self-management cooperatives.
We study workers control developments.
As unionists we listen to the history of militant workers who did strike against capitalist rulers.
Updated from Chris White speech at ACTU Congress May 2012. I worked for Unions for 30 years, AWU and Misscos, 17 years as Assistant Secretary and Secretary of the United Trades and Labor Council of SA. I am now in Melbourne. http://chriswhiteonline.org/2012/05/strike-debates/