Our ‘right’ to strike has never been handed down from on high. Never will it be. Our right to strike is a precious gift which we win and hold for each other by putting it into practice.
The following 41 points have been created at the suggestion of Arthur Rorris, Secretary of the South Coast Labour Council, in response to the call by ACTU Secretary Sally McManus to assert our right to withdraw our labour and our duty to break bad laws. The responses below are the responsibility of all workers whose words and deeds have taught me that there is an unbridgeable gulf between capital and labour. Or as my father put it: ‘The worker has no friend but himself.’
The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves. We cannot therefore co-operate with people who openly state that the workers are too uneducated to emancipate themselves and must be freed from above.
Marx and Engels, 1879.
Our duty is to make the most of the interest that is being aroused. We must not let the Short-ons of the world put a lid on it. The only way to do that is by putting the calls to action into effect.
The 41 points here take up many of the questions that activists deal with every day. They can serve as talking points and as starting places for leaflets. The paper is for general use, in whole or in part, by working people, without permission or acknowledgement.
The attack on penalty rates is the thin edge of a very thick wedge that the agents of capital must drive into our living conditions so that they can weather the next bouts of turbulence in the global economy. Locally, the winding down of mineral export and the real-estate boom are taking their toll of our real incomes.
ORGANISE! EDUCATE! AGITATE!
The right to strike will depend upon our reviving ideas and ideals which used to be the bleeding obvious. To prevent further reverses we have to reclaim the understanding of exploitation that has been lost since the 1970s. Only by doing so, will we ever realise Marx’s picture of ‘… a society in which the full and free development of every individual forms the ruling principle.’
Our immediate tasks are clear enough: > rebuild around the jobs;
> regain a class analysis of what we are up against;
> reclaim the vision of socialism as a sustainable, socially equally and peaceful world.
Maximum harm to the boss. Minimum harm to the workers.
1. ‘Fair day’s pay?’ No way!
For a start, we must expose the fantasy that there can be a fair day’s pay under capitalism. Yes, activism can get us our full Award rates. Collective action can keep those rates equal to the costs of reproducing our labour-power. Yet winning those minimums does not put an end to our exploitation. Every wage-slave is exploited. If we were not, the bosses would not employ us.
To be a productive worker is therefore not a piece of luck, but a misfortune.
Marx, Capital, I, p. 644.
‘Exploitation’ is not confined to 7- Eleven workers. Even if those wage-slaves had got their full entitlements they still would have been exploited.
Bangladeshi garment workers are exploited but not just because they are paid only a dollar or two a day. Even when their wages equal the costs of reproducing their labour-power, they are exploited because their bosses take the value they add over and above that needed to cover their wages.
It is quite possible that Australian electricians on $400 a day are being exploited at a higher rate than third-world ones on $20. The rate depends on how much value each adds beyond what is paid to match their needs.
Understanding that there could be no such thing as a fair day’s pay was once widespread. Now pleading for a fair day’s pay is as progressive as the ALP (Anti-labour Party) is game to go. Protests against ‘exploitation’ are confined to extreme cases such as the 7-Eleven workers.
Under the rule of capital, exploitation has to be universal for capital to exist.
2. ‘Getting the balance right’
The bosses claim that un-Fair Work Australia tipped the balance too far in our favour. Too far from what? Their answer is ‘too far from Worst Choices’. They lack the guts to say so. The hollowed-out ‘right’ to protected action under un-Fair Work Australia is light years away from the powerful rights that our class had won from struggle in the previous 200 years. Protected action protects profits.
3. A virtuous circle
Working and stopping work share a vital aspect. Each expresses our humanity. Indeed, their combination made us human. They remain the basis for deepening and broadening what it means to be human.
Stopping work, like work, takes several forms. Stopping work can be going out on strike. Far more often, stopping work will be knock-off time for the day; or it might be going on annual leave or taking long-service leave; and it can be retirement for reasons of age or injury.
Those ways of stopping work have one thing in common. A shorter working-day, paid leave and tax-funded retirement were all won and defended by going on strike.
Australian labour led the world. In 1855, metal-workers in Sydney downed tools for an eight-hour day. Next, year, stonemasons in Melbourne struck for shorter hours.
Achieving that working period became known as winning ‘the boon’. That term had originally meant being jolly, or to receive a blessing. Eight-hours was a source of joy and a great benefit. But it was not won by prayer or by going cap in hand.
The right to stop work after eight hours was won by stopping work in collective action.
Working people won ‘the boon’ by breaking the law. They had no ‘right’ to strike. The Masters and Servants Acts made it an offence for workers to leave their Masters before a contracted time was up.
4. The state is not our friend
Our forebears earned their ‘right’ to strike in the same way as they won the eight-hours. Both ‘rights’ came from action around the jobs and throughout the community. Parliament rewrote laws only after workers had done so in practice.
Securing our right to strike involves more than steering amendments to the un-Fair Work Act through the Senate cross-benches. Marginal-seat campaigning will deliver workers back into the clutches of the labor lieutenants of capital – the Anti-Labour Party (aka the ALP) – who delivered us into the chains of un-Fair Work Australia as Worst Choices Lite.
Although the state is an instrument for class rule its actions are constrained by the relative strength of the classes. No ruling class can get everything it needs all of the time. That is true around the jobs. The state is thus one more site for conflict.
5. ‘Great ideals’
Going on strike for a shorter day is always a step towards taking more control over all aspects of our lives. Those extra hours of free time leave us with more energy to engage in all manner of activities. The shorter day from the late 1850s gave time for play, and for education – technical and political. Each of those activities enriches us as social individuals. Games and study are work in the sense that all labour is an expression of our capacities.
The shorter day provided some of the means for strengthening the campaigns to tame capital across the board. Striking to stop earlier each day and to work for fewer weeks and years opened the way towards broader and deeper challenges.
In 1916, a Melbourne union secretary, Dan Mulvogue, put it this way: ‘Every new demand for better physical protection of the workers ensures a great ideal development for a future generation.’ Those ideals flow from stopping work and from working alongside others of our class.
The ‘boon’ was only a start. Stone- masons still put in a six-day week of forty- eight hours. A forty-hour week was not won until 1948. Shop-assistants and domestic servants put in 84-hour weeks.
6. Never done
Unpaid work around the home, almost entirely by women, did not change much until the 1950s. After more married women were forced into the paid workforce, those hours came on top of their housework. They could just about manage to do both by using some of their wages to pay off washing machines on hire-purchase and by buying more pre- prepared foodstuffs. In these ways, they delivered a double ‘boon’ to capital. Their unequal rates of pay allowed capital to extract more surplus-value. Because households had to buy in more commodities, working mothers perform a further service for capital by turning the surplus-value that is present in those goods into profit for accumulation to fund the next bout of expansion.
7. Bosses strike back
From the start, the bosses were hard at work devising ways to reclaim what they had lost. What had they lost? They had lost the surplus- value that their wage-slaves used to add in the hours above eight out of twenty-four.
To reclaim that sum of surplus-value, the bosses imposed speed-ups and piece-rates. Workers enjoying the ‘boon’ on piece-rates had to work harder during their eight-hours to earn as much as they had done on a set amount of money per day.
Within thirty years, Master Builders had displaced most of the expensive craft of stone-masonry by brickwork. In the process, these contractors attacked the costs of bricklaying by replacing complicated patterns of headers and stretchers with the ‘colonial’ bond of nothing but stretchers up to two storeys. The brickies too were put on piece- rates of so much cash for laying a thousand. Their off-siders fought to limit the number of bricks they had to carry up ladders.
The fate that befell the stone-masons shows that there are no permanent victories. The degree of exploitation is limited by resistance collectively in unions. In the current 24/7 market for our labour-power, a forty- hour week seems like a fantasy.
8. Capital strikes
No statute punishes bosses if they ‘stop work’. Instead, they are punished by the key to capitalism, that is, exploitation. If bosses stop their work of oppressing us, they can’t pocket any of the wealth we provide.
Yet capital does go on strike. Its agents refuse to re-invest. Indeed, they can get what they need even if they only threaten to do so. Without the pressure of mass movements, governments come to heel. Most of these sell- outs are kept secret under ‘commercial-in- confidence’ clauses. One from 1985 is on record.
The Hawke-Keating removal of exchange controls threw open the doors and windows to speculators of every shape, size and shadiness. The Treasurer of the Year soon found that he could never be supine enough to suit those gougers. He got no end of a lesson on how financiers take care of the interests of capital. Late in July 1985, the New York bank Salomon Brothers phoned a senior Treasury official to regret that it was having difficulty in supporting Australia in the money markets. Foreign investors were angry at a new 15 per cent tax on their interest and dividends payments. Within hours, Keating withdrew the tax along with a limit on foreign holdings in real estate.
In public, the corporates blame ‘market forces’ for their inability to re-invest: ‘We can’t make average rates of profits,’ they bleat and close down.
The bosses don’t welcome that explanation when we wage-slaves say that ‘market forces’ of price hikes are obliging us to stop work to maintain our real incomes.
Masters are always and everywhere in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages of labour above their actual rate … We seldom, indeed, hear of this combination, because it is the usual, and one may say the natural state of things which nobody ever hears of.
Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (1776)
9. The value of work
Despite the terrible conditions under which most wage-slaves are still forced to sell our labour-power, going to paid work delivers essential benefits. Everything we humans do, and think, is some kind of work. Those activities are otherwise called labour, or the exercise of our capacities as human beings. Reading these pages is thus one kind of work, though it is far from the paid work of a wage- slave under the rule of capital.
Within the galaxy of sensuous human activities, labour makes the immensity of its effects felt though specifics. One example is a father showing his daughter how to form her letters; another was Milton composing Paradise Lost for five pounds; a third is a Filipina scanning in a first edition of that poem for Google Books. Labour is a galley-slave pulling on an oar, a serf spreading muck, or a wage-slave inserting transistors into a smart phone.
Only the third example in each set is work for wages. Paid work is part of the totality of action and thinking that has made us human. How we work and for what ends decides whether our labour will add or detract from our humanness, as individuals and as a species. In today’s Australia, that outcome is still decided within the iron cage of our being compelled to work to enrich others.
That fact brings us back to why ‘stopping work’ and ‘working’ can be understood only when brought together.
For wage-slaves, stopping work by going on strike is one means to secure more of the values that we add when working for wages. Striking also controls the conditions of health and safety under which we work and live.
10. Then and Now
In 1970, the Queensland Trades and Labour Council blue-banned oil exploration on the Great Barrier Reef. That refusal is why we still have a Reef to defend.
What would happen today under the ALP’s un-Fair Work Australia? If unions placed bans on the Adami coal mine in order to protect the Reef, each union could be hit with fines of up to a million dollars and every worker up to $7,000.
Preserving the Reef is but one example of workers defending our communities. Just before the ban on the Reef, unions and community groups united around the South Coast Organisation Opposing Pollution (SCOOP) to protect water catchments from Clutha mining.
Our duties towards our class includes putting a stop to capital’s plundering the wealth of nature. Socialism is the road to sustainable survival.
Capitalist production, therefore, only develops … by simultaneously undermining the original sources of all wealth – the soil and the worker.
Marx, Capital, page 638.
11. The air we breathe
From the 1970s, unionists refused to work with asbestos. They prevented its going into schools. In 2017, companies are importing asbestos products. If workers take action on the job to protect themselves and the public from the deadly substance, they face prosecution and massive penalties because the stoppage was not ‘a protected action’.
By contrast, the dodgy and deadly directors of Hardie Brothers suffered no more than a ban from their holding company directorships. One of the widows voiced her outrage at such unequal treatment: ‘There is no appeal from the grave.’
Not so long ago, the on-site death of a worker meant no more work there that day, with no loss of pay. Those stoppages were marks of respect. And they hit irresponsible employers in the hip-pocket nerve. Those costs were felt years before the guilty firm got a slap on the wrist from the courts.
Under the Building and Construction Commission (A.B.C.C.) – Gillard’s ‘tough cop on the block’ – those expressions of decency and self-defence incur fines larger than any imposed on lethal employers. Indeed, the C.F.M.E.U, and individual members were charged with holding a meeting off-site to take up a collection for the family of a workmate murdered for profit.
12. Whose ‘Good Old Days’?
Time was, only 300 years ago, that freeborn Britishers who failed to sell their labour- power could be whipped or have an ear cut off. Only 200 years ago, the poor were being strung up or transported to Australia for petty thefts.
Convicts went ‘on strike’. Since it was harder for them to stop outright or to walk-off, they ran away. On the job, they found plenty of ways to resist super-exploitation. One means of self-defence was to pretend not to understand orders. The inventiveness of the oppressed is limitless.
Once workers did sign on, they came under Masters and Servants Acts.
Those laws assumed the existence of an implied contract between employer and employee. Both parties could be punished for breaking their agreement. Sounds fair. Except that the law was enforced by the boss’s friends and fellow Masters.
13. Illegal combinations
Taking any kind of united action to protect one’s wages and conditions was a criminal offence in Britain before 1825. Rewriting that scrap of paper did not stop repression. Laws blocked the self-organisation of the British working-class until the early 1900s.
In 1834, agricultural labourers in the Dorset hamlet of Tolpuddle banded together to resist a cut in their wages from nine to six shillings a week.
Although their combination was by then legal, the state got them under a law which forbade the taking of ‘unlawful oaths’. The farm labourers had sworn to stand truly by each other. They were sentenced to seven-years transportation to Australia.
No matter what is written in a Statute book, our rights depend on our preparedness to put them into effect. On paper, we might have rights to do all manner of things. The ruling class and of its agents in the state are forever on the lookout for ways to stymie our exercise of those ‘rights’. From our side of the class divide, our right to strike is decided by our capacity to do so. That ‘right’ exists whether or not there is a clause in some law or other saying it’s okay. We’ll never get from the courts what we can’t hold at the gate.
14. Old provinces of law and order
Until the early 1900s, relations between capital and labour fell under commercial law and criminal law. To contain the growing strength of the working class, the local agents of the capital devised ‘a New Province for Law and Order’, to be known as Industrial Law. Its pains and penalties were never enough to give capital the upper hand in every case. Hence, Industrial Law had to be reinforced by other repressive measures.
From 1914, the War Precautions Act heralded a drive towards industrial conscription. According to the Solicitor- General:
The regulations were mostly expressed widely to make sure that nothing necessary was omitted, and the result soon was that John Citizen was hardly able to lift a finger without coming under the penumbra of some technical offence against the War Precautions Regulations.
In 1929, the secretary of the Melbourne Trades Hall, Ted Holloway, was convicted under the War Precautions Repeal Act (1920) for encouraging something like a strike. That was 10 years after the war and 9 years after the Act had been ‘repealed’. The 1926 Crimes Act made striking a criminal offence in sections of the work force not under the Commonwealth Arbitration Act. In addition, the state used the Immigration Act to deport or refuse entry to militants even if British subjects.
To break strikes, the state recruited special constables. The 500 signed up in 1925 became the germ cell for the fascist New Guard in New South Wales from 1930. In 1949, the Chifley government sent regular troops into the coal fields; the Labor cabinet also made it a criminal offence to collect or accept strike funds for the miners’ families. Menzies did the same on the wharves a couple of years later. The 1950-51 attempt to ban the Communist Party aimed to cut the head off militant unions by putting 1,000 union leaders behind barbed wire.
Laws and government in every case are a combination of the rich to oppress the poor, and preserve to themselves the inequality of goods.
Adam Smith, Lectures on Jurisprudence (1769)
15. Organising capital
The state organises capital and disorganises workers. Politicians, bureaucrats and judges attempt to achieve for the expansion of capital what its managers cannot deliver through their corporations.
One way to disorganise workers is to organise us into tame-cat or company unions such as the AWU and SDA. A second route was to lock us into Conciliation and Arbitration.
That system regimented the workforce through penal powers. Their impact lasted until the wages breakout late in the 1960s. The number of days lost through industrial action shot from one million in 1968 to three million in 1971.
Breaking point came when the Communist Secretary of the Melbourne Tramways Union, Clarrie O’Shea, refused to hand over his members’ money to pay yet another of these fines.
In May 1969, the upsurge erupted after the gaoling of Victorian Tramways official Clarrie O’Shea by none other than CIA agent Sir John Kerr as a judge of the Industrial Court. Hundreds of thousands walked off. These huge nation-wide stoppages were the result of careful preparations around hundreds of job sites with walk-offs elsewhere.
The Melbourne Age feared that wild-cat strikes and street protests might turn into a local version of Paris ’68. To short-circuit that threat, ASIO put up the $10,000 for a front man to ‘pay’ the fines.
Since 1969, every legal and industrial move by the bosses and their agents has sought to restore the clout they lost in May 1969.
16. The labour lieutenants of capital
The bosses and their state had to find fresh ways to preserve the ‘inequality of goods’. They moved to put their friends into high places in the labour movement and to find new ways of using old laws.
The U.S. Labour Attaché, Emil Lindahl, flew to Melbourne in March 1969 to meet Hawke in the Downtowner Motel. Lindahl came out of their negotiations to inform Santamaria’s Groupers that the Embassy would be backing Hawke for A.C.T.U. President. The C.I.A. feared that A.C.T.U. secretary Souter lacked the street cred to divert the militant tide into safe channels. Hawke, Souter and the Groupers were all labour lieutenants of capital. They were not all equally useful in every circumstance.
Nation-wide strikes erupted after the C.I.A-sponsored coup against the Whitlam government in November 1975 but were headed off at the pass by that U.S. agent of influence, R.J. Hawke as President of the A.C.T.U. ‘Stay at work and donate a day’s pay to Labor’, he bleated. The worst he could do next year was to confine protests against Fraser’s shredding of Medibank to a one-day stoppage.
No sooner had the O’Shea strike made the penal powers pretty much a dead letter than lawyers reverted to the powers offered to capital under Commercial Law.
One of its strands is known as ‘torts’, which is legalese for ‘wrongs’, or harms. Torts allow bosses to bring actions for damages out of any workplace stoppage. Under tort law, a strike could be interpreted as harming a business in the same way as if it had suffered from price- fixing by a cartel. Employers could sue to reclaim any loss of income. Unions faced worse than fines of just a few thousand dollars. Bosses had the right to seize all their assets by way of compensation.
Britain unions won protection from tort actions in 1906. At that time, Australian unions assumed that they were safe because of the Conciliation and Arbitration Acts. Their mistake was revealed sixty-four years later with the first of the new tort actions in South Australia in 1970. The labour movement was strong enough to make sure that the State Labor government legislated to provide the immunity that existed in Britain. That protection did not extend to the rest of the country or to Federal awards.
18. Strategy and tactics
The tussles that score every workplace every hour of the day are essential to ward off attacks on the conditions that we struggled to win. But holding the line is poor strategy even for a tactical defence. To hold what we have won, we must advance. That is what our class enemies do at every opportunity.
19. The inventiveness of capital
The il-logic of capitalism delivers powerful blows against the right to strike when job losses make workers wary about joining dole queues. With the unemployment rate around 10 percent in the early 1980s, bosses struck out. Legal guns for hire led by Peter Costello at Mallesons came up with fresh lines of attack.
Robe River, Mugginburra, Dollar Sweets and S.E.Q.E.B. each opened a novel front in the battle for workers to retain any level of collective representation. CRA put its entire workforce in the Pilbara onto ‘staff contracts’. Hawke-Keating government went further by introducing Enterprise Bargaining Agreements (E.B.A.s). Phoney sub-contracting ballooned. Since the GST, ABNs have been waved about to con workers into believing that they are their own Masters.
Not that the old weapons had been thrown aside.
In 1985, the Industrial Commission whacked the Plumbers with a half-million dollar fine, which was at least ten times more than for similar offences in the past. The enormity of that punishment was to teach the rest of the unions a lesson. When Commissioner Jim Staples refused to act as a stand-over merchant, the Hawke-Keating crew locked him out from hearing further cases.
In 1998, Patricks were hand-in-glove with Industrial Relations minister Reith to clear the M.U.A. off the docks. They did not get away with their conspiracy because of the upsurge of union and community opposition along the picket lines.
The lesson from these various lines of attack is that here is nothing they won’t try. As nasty as the attack dogs are, the bosses’ offensives do not flow from personality failings. Rather, the viciousness of a Gillard or a Rhinehart, of Howard, Reith and Abbott, comes to the fore in order to deliver the rate of profit that corporations need to survive.
20. Time is money
The bribe of a short-term boost to take-home pay comes at the cost of surrendering any say over the length and intensity of the working day. Even tame-cat unions can retard that.
Exploitation is not just a race to the bottom with wages. More important to capital is its right to set the pace of work. Capital extracts at least as much value by speeding up the application of labour as it can by holding down real wages.
The authors of the Australian Constitution included Corporations in the list of matters over which the Commonwealth Parliament could make laws. They included that sub-section in line with the efforts of U.S. reformers to curb the monopolising Trusts. An attempt along those lines here in 1906 flopped. Nothing more was attempted until the 1960s with a pretty weak effort. The big change came when Section 45D of the Trade Practices Act was turned away from breaking price-fixing cartels and towards outlawing secondary boycotts by their working-class victims. That deform blocked class solidarity such as transport workers demonstrated in refusing to carry the produce of scab labour.
Instead of using the Corporations power to go after crooked companies, the law treats unions as if they are profit-gouging multi-nationals.
In brief, Industrial Law has been knocked off by updated enforcements of the commercial and criminal law.
22. Royal Commissions
The one-sidedness of the law is obvious. Since 1971, six Royal Commissions have attacked trade unions. No Royal Commission has gone after the swindlers holed up in the Big Four Banks.
The founder of Transfield, Franco Belgiorno-Nettis, told his company’s official historian that he and other businessmen cover up their crimes ‘with a veneer of civilisation’. Transfield hides its crimes by patronising the visual arts. Along with the criminal Dick Pratt, his kind of philanthropists are never subject to the endless grilling of Ark Tribe who refused to dob in his workmates.
23. Relative strengths
Our living and working conditions are decided by the relative strengths of the contending classes. Those strengths flow from the confidence each class gathers from its cultural confidence, workplace militancy and political nous. For capital, those attributes are buttressed by the state. For workers, our strengths are bent whenever as the state imposes compulsory arbitration, compulsory schooling and military conscription.
Class confidence grows with moral authority. Fundamental to our sense of our worth as workers is our recognition that all extra wealth comes only from the application of our labour to the wealth of nature. The bosses add nothing. The agents of capital certainly work hard. They work hard at screwing as much value out of us as they can. They lengthen the working-day – especially unpaid overtime. They intensify the application of labour with speed-ups and time- and-motion studies. They install machines to assist them in both those ways of extracting the maximum surplus-value from our capacities.
How the past, the present and our future are represented in schools and on the mass media shapes our willingness to act collectively. Classrooms and screens, large and small, project generals, monarchs and high-flyers as the makers of history. Those depictions also affect how a wider public interpret our actions, whether at work or on strike.
It has been thus from the time millions of straining naked slaves built that magnificence which was Babylon, and those monuments which are known as the Pyramids. … They will remain unhonoured till workers write the histories that are taught in our schools.
Charlie Sullivan, founder of the Shearers Union (1927).
When does our class lead the evening news? Only when we strike. How often does the media remind viewers that not a single wheel would turn without our labour? Never! This bias in reporting is buttressed by the picture of life in television serials. They are dominated by trained killers in the armed forces, and by law enforcers, whether police or lawyers or judges. The likes of us are there to serve the drinks. Even when a TV series centers on workers, the scripts are not built on the application of our labour– still less on its exploitation. Meal-time squabbles pad out the canned laughter.
How often do you see a series about the super-exploitation by the likes of 7-Eleven? Never shall we see a single episode revealing the appropriation of surplus-value from every one of us, throughout our working hours.
Should a TV show expose corporate executives as crooks it is for their robbing each other or the government rather than all of their employees every second of the day. When did you see a crime or medical series built around the minute-by-minute struggle for health and safety? The rash of programs like C.S.I. never focuses on solving the crime of workplace killings for profit.
Given the weight of this propaganda – for that is what the ‘true’ news and entertainment are – it is amazing that so many workers join unions. It is even more remarkable that so many uphold our rights, both in and outside our workplaces.
25. Free labourers are wage-slaves
Chattel slaves are owned body and soul from the day they are born until the day they die. On paper, we wage-slaves are owned only for the hours which we have sold our labour-power to capital. The judge of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Court, H.B. Higgins, laid down this rule out in 1913: ‘working time is time purchased by the employer, who has exclusive right to it.’
Viewed in light of property relations, however, capitalists ‘own’ the right to control our capacities whether they employ them or not. That class power is one more reason for seeing ‘free’ labour as wage-slavery.
We are ‘free’ to sell our capacities to add value – or starve, beg or steal. We wage- slaves are ‘free’ because our class was violently ‘freed’ from the resources to sustain itself. Our forebears had that freedom imposed on them when they were ‘freed’ from ownership of the resources to keep themselves. In short, that freedom compels us to become wage-slaves. We are conscripted into the marketplace for labour.
26. A moment or two of truth
The big lie behind Worst Choices was that equality is possible between an individual cleaner and a global corporate with its hired guns from Freehills.
The politician-lawyer who drafted the Australian Constitution, ‘Slippery Sam’ Griffith, spelt out the truth about exploitation after reading Marx’s Capital.
In 1888, Griffith introduced a bill into the Queensland Legislature to redistribute wealth to the workers. Workers are its only true producers, he argued. Infringement of that ‘law of natural right’ threatened social chaos.
Griffith expounded his reading of Marx in a long essay, ‘The Distribution of Wealth’. He agreed with those who recognise that there is something radically wrong in the present system, under which capital is constantly accumulating in greater masses than ever in single hands.
Like Marx, Griffith could see the coming of monopolising capitals, which Lenin called Imperialism.
Moreover, Griffith asserted that justice in labor contracts depended on the existence of unions. He thought it ‘notorious that there is not ordinarily, any such equal freedom of contract between the employer and the employed.’ He concluded that a measure of freedom of contract has been obtained by combination on the part of the labourers. This very combination is an effort of strength put forth against the other part to the bargain, who, but for the combination, (and sometimes in spite of it), would be the stronger. The weaker party has, in order to procure the means of livelihood, to accept the terms which the stronger party chooses to give.
Two years later, Griffith reverted to serving his class when he sent troops against the shearers’ camp at Barcaldine.
The industrialist takes into account the fact that people exist who are hungry, and that those other people in the spiked helmets will prevent them using physical force simply to take the means where they find them which could serve to allay their hunger …
Max Weber, 190.
Griffith demonstrated that it one thing to glimpse the truth about class exploitation and an entirely different thing to live by that truth on the side of the oppressed.
Today, ‘Oily Sam’ is the patron saint of the constitutional monarchists in a Society named after him. Its membership overlaps with that of the union-bashing H.R. Nicholls Society.
Would any member of any Australian parliament repeat Griffith’s analysis of the economic and political inequalities? Still less likely is that the ALP or the Greens would legislate his prescriptions for redressing income and workplace imbalances?
27. On your own time
Columnists for Mass Murdoch tell us: ‘Pensioners are worse off and you don’t see them going on strike.’ Why not? For a start, they don’t have the ‘power’ to deny capital the chance to profit from the value that workers must sell to exist.
Mass Murdoch might acknowledge ‘a right to strike’ – in theory. His hacks are stern in insisting that we withdraw our labour only at times when we can’t inconvenience anybody. By that reckoning, the right time to strike is during one’s own time – after work, or during one’s holidays.
One problem with that bad joke is that fewer and fewer of us have as much ‘free’ time. Those in work are time poor. Many of us chase between two and three part-time jobs. Part- time temporaries are not entitled to statutory holidays, to four weeks annual leave, or long- service leave. The retirement age is being pushed up to 70. At this rate, we’ll have to postpone striking until we are in our graves.
Stopping work by going out on strike is only an extension of all the ways by which working people protect ourselves from the harms of the workplace. We go-slow to make sure that the only commodity we have to sell in order to survive will see us through the day, the year – a lifetime. Burnt-out workers swelled the ranks of disability pensioners – until Gillard tightened the eligibility criteria.
Bullying and harassments are forms of workplace discipline. No surprise then that they are almost universal. Office blocks are Towers of Misery and have taken the place of the Dark Satanic Mills in the early 1800s. Those in work are crippled psychologically even when not materially. Immiserisation reigns even where impoverishment is kept at bay.
A life which is fractured by scurrying between jobs each day is stripped of the social well-being that comes with making friends at work.
29. Flexible breaking-points
In recent decades, we have been caught in a vicious circle. The weakening of our capacities to strike has resulted in a loss of control over the hours during which we are made to work. The more ‘flexible’ those hours have become to suit the exploiters, the harder it becomes for us to organise and strike.
Only by acting collectively can we secure any of our goals. The co-operation that is essential around the job one basis for the solidarity that underpins collective action to control how we carry out our work.
30. War is also paid work
Working people are conscripted into the armed forces on behalf of the corporate warfare state, that is, the capitalist class as a whole.
Well before Gallipoli disaster of April 1915 had begun, Australian workers were refusing to be conscripted for a sordid trade war. By defeating the plebiscites to compel overseas service in October 1916 and again in December 1917, our forebears held back a more overt dictatorship. Industrial conscription threatened a wider loss of their capacity to struggle around the jobs and in the community.
Dole-queue patriots in 1938 refused to load the Wolfram with pig-iron for the Japanese militarists to slaughter more Chinese. After the war, seamen and wharfies refused to load and crew ships carrying weapons for the Dutch colonists to suppress Indonesian independence. Twenty years later, seamen voted not crew cargo ships carrying supplies to wage war against the peoples of Indo-China. That leadership spread until ‘Stop Work to Stop the War’ strengthened the Moratorium of the early 1970s. Peace is union business.
In the late 1960s, Draft Resisters who stood against the lottery of death were on strike against ecocide in Indo-China.
None of these ‘strikes’ was legal. None was to gain what the capitalist media blackguard as ‘selfish’ ends. All expressed the ideals of a movement which understands why ‘The Unity of Labour is the Hope of the World’.
In the depression of the 1890s and again in the 1930s, unionists formed squads to defend the unemployed against eviction and prevent the repossession of their furniture.
Comparable efforts are now stopping expressways and extending rail links, to protect farmland and water from coal seam gas.
32. An agenda of our own
As well as strikes over hours, wages and safety, we need to combine struggles within workplaces with community action for a new social order in which our needs are assured. To be chained down to demands for more dollars in the pocket fails to challenge the nature and delivery of those social goods. Our movement thereby loses sight of socialism.
33. Worker control
Pivotal to such a society will be democratic workplaces. We shall never attain democratic workplaces without democratically run unions and political organisations. Rank-and-file participation at every level prepares our class for taking charge of our entire society.
Taking control of our work involves the most practical of demands:
> control over health and safety, both physical and mental, for instance, by choosing our own health and safety reps;
> take control of the length of the working day; > make ‘flexibility’ serve our needs and not maximise value-snatching by corporates;
> control the intensity of the application of our labour . That is what railway workers did during the great strike in 1917 by refusing to be subject to time-and-motion regimes.
The mechanical appliances consist of a chronometer and a motion picture camera. This invention is the most powerful tool ever for the measurement of efficiency, suggesting the whip of taskmasters and owners in earlier times.
Editorial, Australasian Engineering and Machinery, 1913.
34. Who needs them?
Self-managed workplaces build on the fact that it is our work alone which builds this and every other country. We can produce the goods and services our society needs without being stood over to produce more surplus- value for parasites. They need us. Let them go on strike and we’ll see who starves.
All the while, the Business Council knows that its global corporate members are on the nose. Their chairperson claims that it is capital which provides jobs. The reverse is true. We wage-slaves are the only ones who can add value to the wealth of nature. Out of that added value can flow the profit for accumulation and the next rounds of profit- taking. Hence, it is we workers who keep putting up the money-capital to re-employ ourselves and each other.
35. Four freedoms
To reinforce our rights at work we had to win rights to protest, to march in the streets and to hold meetings in public places. No surprise then that the Victorian Government made such activities illegal to protect corporations from public outrage.
It is our struggles which won and sustain such political freedoms as we retain. Here is an update on the truth uttered by Hobart union organiser Samuel Champ 100 years ago:
Our liberties have not been won by mining magnates (Gina Rinehart) or merchant bankers (Malcolm Turnbull) or media barons (Mass Murdoch). Such liberties as we enjoy result from the struggles of men and women of the working-class who died on the gallows, languished in dungeons, and are buried in nameless graves. It is to them that we owe the liberties we enjoy today.
Our right to vote came from breaking bad laws – think suffragettes. Our forebears had to break bad laws to gain freedom of speech, of assembly and of the press. Activists spoke on street corners without permits and marched down roadways without by-your-leave from the walloppers.
At Eureka in 1854, Italians, Germans, Irish, Yankees and Anglos combined to break a bad law. The men and women who built and defended the stockade had committed treason. No doubt about it. No jury could be found to uphold bad laws by convicting the rebels.
Ex-convict editors who had offended the Governors kept their newspapers running
from their prison cells at Hobart and Sydney. London printers in the 1820s lined up to serve prison terms so they could publish without a licence.
Mass Murdoch deserves to die in gaol. If he does, it won’t be because he has broken bad laws that limit expression on every continent. Rather, he is as great an enemy of a free press as is any of the authoritarian regimes to which he kowtows in order to profit.
The Gurindji walked off Wave Hill Station in 1966-67 to assert unbroken ties to their ancestral lands. They were acting in the tradition of the Port Headland mob in the Black Eureka in 1946. Seven years earlier, 170 residents had walked off Cummeragunja reserve; their protest helped to secure amendments to the misnamed N.S.W. Protection Act.
In each case, the labour movement supported those ‘strikes’. The founding chair of the Aborigines Progressive Association in 1963 explained why:
‘Aborigines are a working class people and it is only natural that we appeal to our fellow workers in the unions to support us in our struggle for justice and equality.’
The 1975 documentary Protected tells the story of the 1957 strike on Palm Island which the Queensland government broke by transferring seven of the leaders to other Reserves, that is, prisons. Fifty years on, Palm saw another ‘strike’ captured by the film The Tall Man.
37. Making ourselves human
The application of our capacities – our labour – has made us human, both as a species and as individuals. Stopping work, like work itself, is a positive, not a negative. Striking and controlling the hours and intensity of our paid work reaffirm our humanity at many levels. Controlling when, how and why we perform paid work expresses and enriches our humanness.
38. Fewer is not better
In considering the prospects for regaining our right to strike by putting it into practice, we have to begin from four facts about union membership today. It is down to fewer than one wage-slave in six; density has not been so low since the 1930s depression. Moreover, the bulk of members are in the government sector. Most are women. Most males are in older age groups.
In many workplaces, the task will be to rebuild from zero membership, and then to advance one by one.
A dynamic is in play against our reversing these downward trends. That obstacle is how capital now recruits and directs its wage- slaves.is how capital recruits and directs its wage-slaves.
Need to replace your fence? To have your carpets cleaned? Your children minded after school? The person who turns up will be ‘self-employed’. That con job starts when sixteen-year olds are told to register for GST and get themselves an Australian Business Number. They labour under the pretense that they are not workers but start-up capitalists.
The victims of this fraud soon learn what it means to be without protection and entitlements. They also learn what it means not to get paid at all. Their own unpaid bills then drive them towards suicide.
Yet the structure of today’s workforce is such that unless you subject yourself to a labour-hire parasite you don’t get work. And if you complain you don’t get shifts. Grumbling is useless unless we organise as Uber drivers are doing. (See Clifford Odets’ 1935 play about a cabbies strike in New York, Waiting for Lefty.)
40. One big union ticket?
Recruiting therefore faces the problem of how to offer cover to casuals who undertake two or more kinds of low-paying jobs across the year, often every week. If it’s hard enough to get younger workers to join one union let alone stay financial in two, or even three. One way through this problem is for ACTU affiliates to accept a single ticket to keep membership affordable for working students. Given the fractured nature of ever more working lives, this joint-membership might need to be extended.
41. To stand by each other
Fewer workers have any experience of engaging in any kind of industrial stoppage.
Most of our unelected officials clearly don’t know how to organise even a couple of hours of protected action. How many unionists are prepared to take unprotected action today? Fairfax journalists did so after the latest round of dismissals. Those sackings spotlight the bosses’ right to take unprotected action. Cricketers could stay out for months because the Players Association is not registered under Gillard’s Un-Fair Work Australia.
Much of the sense of what we can achieve together has been lost. That strength will never be regained just by selling tickets. Being corralled by the chain-stores into the SDA is enough to turn any teen off unionism for life.
Solidarity will be renewed only from taking action to ‘stand truly by each other’, to quote the 1854 Eureka Oath.
Our ‘right’ to strike has never been handed down from on high. Never will it be. Our right to strike is a precious gift which we win and hold for each other by putting it into practice.
One way to rebuild a labour movement with the determination to take unprotected action suggest getting friends and fellow workers around to watch and discuss.
To discuss means ‘discuss’ and neither to hector nor to lecture. To rebuild is first of all to listen.
The aim of all agitation is to encourage the sense of ‘I could do that.’
See my earlier posts on the right to strike.
“The inside story of Glencore’s hidden dealings in DRC
Leaked files reveal for the first time how the secretive firm enlisted a controversial diamond tycoon – ignoring ‘red flags.’
Revealed: Glencore’s secret loan to secure valuable DRC mining rights.A secretive multinational company worth billions, whose founder turned fugitive was pardoned by a president.
An Israeli diamond tycoon, rumoured to be the inspiration for a Hollywood blockbuster.
And a struggling African nation, blessed and burdened by natural resources, riven by war and corruption.
Behind the black letters of the Paradise Papers lies a world of extraordinary colour.
Obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the Guardian and more than 90 media partners across the globe, the Paradise Papers reveal the reality of the arcane world of offshore tax havens and global finance.
Analysis Everything you need to know about Glencore, Dan Gertler and their interest in DRC
It has been revealed the firm lent millions to the Israeli billionaire to secure a mining deal. Here we answer the key questions
And they raise serious questions about the conduct of the commodities multinational Glencore and the Israeli mining billionaire Dan Gertler in Africa.
They show that in 2009, Glencore, the world’s biggest mining company, gave a secret $45m loan to Gertler’s company after it enlisted him to secure a controversial mining agreement in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Over hundreds of pages, the papers expose in forensic detail how Gertler, whose previous diamond monopoly in DRC was described by the UN as a “disaster” for for the country, held Glencore’s imprimatur as key negotiator with Congolese authorities.
Read more here https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/nov/05/the-inside-story-of-glencore-hidden-dealings-in-drc
The tax trick big miners use to avoid paying millions
By Four Corners and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists
Glencoe ruthlessly attacks its workforce
Paradise Papers: Glencore hid link to ghost shipping fleet during Iran scandal
Swiss commodities trader Glencore was struggling to contain a looming sanctions busting scandal when it secured Australian government approval to take over mining giant Xstrata in 2013.
The $US90 billion merger with Xstrata in May 2013 transformed Glencore into the third largest mining company in Australia and one of the largest coal producers in the world.
But behind the scenes Glencore was fighting allegations that linked one of its partners to secret deals with Iran, money laundering and bank fraud – claims which if unchecked could have had impacts on the newly merged group.
Read more: http://www.afr.com/news/policy/tax/paradise-papers-glencore-hid-link-to-ghost-shipping-fleet-during-iran-scandal-20171104-gzf0sz#ixzz4xmmopXXj
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) says the trove of documents “shows how these billionaires and multinational corporations get richer by hiding their wealth and profits and avoid paying their fair share of taxes”
Jessica Corbett, staff writer
Decrying a world “in which a handful of billionaires own and control a significant part of the global economy,” Sanders said the trove of more than 13 million leaked documents detailing offshore dealings “shows how these billionaires and multinational corporations get richer by hiding their wealth and profits and avoid paying their fair share of taxes.”
Sanders said the documents expose a “major problem not just for the U.S. but for governments throughout the world.” According to the Guardian, he also
pointed the finger of blame for the flourishing of offshore holdings on both Congress and the Trump administration.
He told the Guardian that Republicans in Congress were responsible for providing “even more tax breaks to profitable corporations like Apple and Nike.”
The same tax breaks, he said, were being seized upon by super-wealthy members of Trump’s cabinet “who avoid billions in U.S. taxes by shifting American jobs and profits to offshore tax havens. We need to close these loopholes and demand a fair and progressive tax system.” read more
More from Sanders: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/nov/06/bernie-sanders-paradise-papers-leak-international-oligarchy?CMP=soc_567
How big business evades tax while the ATO does bugger all by John Passant
But can we expect government action on this tax evasion
ATO to act https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/nov/05/australian-tax-office-poised-to-investigate-schemes-revealed-by-paradise-papers?CMP=soc_567
Our Queen is avoiding tax https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/nov/05/revealed-queen-private-estate-invested-offshore-paradise-papers?utm_source=TractionNext&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=Worm-Subscribe-061117
ALP commits to crack-down https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/06/we-cant-rely-on-leaks-to-enforce-tax-policy-labor-will-crack-down-on-havens?CMP=share_btn_fb
But Turnbull has cut ATO positions http://www.cpsu.org.au/content/restore-ato-staffing-levels-tackle-tax-dodgers]]>
But the problem for the government from the beginning is that it seems an entirely plausible thing for the executive to have decided, leaving it to fire up over missing paperwork and the like.
That’s not to say such decisions should be above the law. But it is to say that if there’s wrongdoing here, it doesn’t quite seem to match the muscular imagery of the raid – imagery at least one Liberal Party staffer was keen to ensure would be broadcast to the world. And imagery that allows Malcolm Turnbull to intone gravely: “Bill Shorten has questions to answer.”
Questions to answer. What a phrase that has turned out to be in Australian politics. You might remember the last time it was invoked: when Tony Abbott was hounding Julia Gillard over her dealings with the AWU back in the 1990s.and more…
It is one thing looking for political advantages where you can, seeking to frame your opponents in damaging ways and prosecuting a sustained line of attack. But it’s quite another to weaponise important institutions for the task.”
Read whole article here
From Doug Cameron, ALP Senator: “Turnbull and Cash must explain why 32 Federal Police raid the offices of the AWU over what – at best – could be a civil breach. Nigel Hadgkiss, former ABCC Commissioner is allowed to resign and receives two weeks pay when he egregiously breached the Act that he was supposed to uphold. Yet a possible administrative breach attracts 32 Federal Police and the media to the AWU offices. Working people in this country have internationally guaranteed rights to belong to free, independent unions. This right is being trashed by this desperate Turnbull government.” See Doug here https://www.facebook.com/senator.doug.cameron/videos/1407883095998749/
“Anthony Albanese had been out early yesterday saying “we know that Senator Cash’s office was ringing around media organisations yesterday afternoon, telling them that this was going to occur”. Who alerted the media to the raid was always going to be an issue of concern to Labor. The government even understood this — Cash met with Turnbull yesterday before Question Time to assure him she had not personally alerted the media (which no one had ever suggested, and which would be absurd — ministers have staff to do that sort of thing). Cash had also asked her office if anyone had told the media and, she says, been told they had not. The Cash staff member who did alert the media, David De Garis, was present at the meeting with the PM, but apparently said nothing to his minister or the Prime Minister to alert them to his actions or the fact that he had misled his minister.”
Update: October 30 –Unions demand answers over new twist in Michaelia Cash police raids scandal by Adam Gartrell
Don Sutherland on radio https://soundcloud.com/radio-skid-row/don-sutherland-discusses-political-fallout-of-recent-afp-raid-on-awu-27-october-2017
The AWU raids reveal the strange nexus between the Turnbull government, the federal police, The Australian newspaper and the new unions commission.
By Mike Seccombe.
AWU raid something is deeply wrong with how unions are treated in australia
Coalition’s night terrors play out in public as kill Bill missive backfires
Cold, Hard (Michaelia) Cash Lies To Parliament And The People
By Ben Eltham on November 2, 2017
Alex White Secretary Unions ACT: “The Liberal party hates everything unions stand for. They hate the very concept of working people joining together to improve work and society for everyone. That’s why they are attacking us so fiercely, that’s why they are abusing the power of the State and directing the AFP to raid union offices.
But no matter what, we’ll always be here. No matter how many cops they send, we will never back down.
The scale of attack against workers’ unions by this government is unprecedented in Australian history, while the Federal Liberal are colluding with big banks and multinational corporations to enable company tax avoidance and wage-theft.”
Sally McManus ACTU writes “What the AWU raids tell us about the Turnbull government”
The politically motivated raids of a workers’ union this week, put on for camera crews tipped off in time to catch the farce, are symptomatic of a bigger problem facing working people in Australia today. The Turnbull government has one set of harsh rules for working people and their unions and another, far more flexible set, for the big end of town.
Unions are now the most highly regulated organisations in the country. And we are regulated by a politicised organisation, working closely with a union-hating government that constantly leaks to the media.
Imagine if such a body existed for the banks, for big business or for political parties. It’s unthinkable under this government, which is shamefully shielding the banks from a royal commission and handing out tax cuts to big businesses that already find creative ways to pay hardly any tax.
On the other hand, the government has passed laws that make basic union activities to help working people illegal. The Registered Organisations Commission and the ABCC have been given extraordinary and undemocratic powers to attack working people and their unions, which we’ve seen on display this week.”
“The government has more anti-worker laws before the Parliament, which will give the Registered Organisations Commission more power. One will make it illegal for unions to manage insurance funds for redundant workers. The other will give big business or the minister the power to deregister unions and block union mergers.
These bills are anti-democratic and designed to drive down wages and put more workers in casual work. They will make the work of unions harder.”
Sally McManus FB on TV the 7.30 report
For background on the TURC Dyson Heydon attack on unions seehttp://chriswhiteonline.org/2016/01/dyson-dumps-turc-on-workers/
Minister Cash is introducing extreme provisions against unions that have to be defeated. These are a number of Bills into the Senate during the week commencing Monday 13 November 2017 which aim to weaken trade unions and undermine industry superannuation funds. It is important that the Senate reject these Bills which in attempting to weaken the political power of government’s opponents will actually harm working men and women.
The Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2017 and the Fair Work Laws Amendment (Proper Use of Worker Benefits) Bill 2017 will give Minister Cash and the Registered Organisations Commission (ROC) greater power to harass unions and undermine workers’ rights and protections.
The Treasury Laws Amendment (Improving Accountability and Member Outcomes in Superannuation Measures No. 1) Bill 2017, Superannuation Laws Amendment (Strengthening Trustee Arrangement) Bill 2017, and Treasury Laws Amendment (Improving Accountability and Member Outcomes in Superannuation seek to give banks greater access to workers superannuation and in doing so would threaten the benefits that worker derive from investing their retirement saving into low cost high performing industry superannuation funds. These Bills should be rejected on their merits regardless of the circumstances. It is also doubly important for the Senate to send a strong signal to the government that it is not prepared to deal with highly controversial and contestable legislation without knowing whether all members of Parliament have been legitimately elected! from NTEU
Michaelia Cash and the rogue staffer: when political theatre goes off-script
Stop the union witch hunts
by PIP HINMAN
That the Coalition is trying to clamp down on the unions, and campaigning organisations such as GetUp!, by pushing tighter restrictions on their ability to campaign goes to the heart of the battle over freedom of political expression.https://www.greenleft.org.au/content/stop-witch-hunts
Between a ROC and a desperate government
06 NOVEMBER 2017
Malcolm Farr “PM Turnbull can’t completely distance himself from the swoop on AWU offices.
AFP acted independently but the government has left fingerprints in the sudden revival of interest in the GetUp donation. http://www.news.com.au/national/politics/pm-turnbull-cant-completely-distance-himself-from-the-swoop-on-awu-offices/news-story/2ea32a242159448f59b3c1a3dda04275
Malcolm Turnbull’s overreach in raids on Bill Shorten’s former union
by Royce Millar and Ben Schneiders
Secretary AWU Walton responds
Pressure on Cash to resign
Talking Point: Another attack on champions of the battlers
JESSICA MUNDAY, Mercury
October 18, 2017
“IT seems that whenever the Federal Government is in political trouble it reverts to attacking and demonising unions. Its latest attempt to make life difficult for unions comes in the form of the disingenuously titled legislation, the Registered Organisations (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2017.
This Bill is about anything but integrity. It’s a politically motivated attack on unions which will ultimately hurt all workers if it passes the Parliament.
This legislation will mean members are less likely to volunteer with their unions, allows employers and even ministers to interfere with the running of unions and would impose higher standards and tougher penalties on unions and their officials than the Corporations Act does to big business. This is what we now expect from the Turnbull Government. It’s one rule for the big end of town and another for working people.
Unions are not-for-profit organisations. The average union has 18,000 members and $5.75 million in income. They are run by a mostly unpaid and volunteer committee or board. Comparatively, the executives of the Commonwealth Bank are paid collectively $50 million in a year, they have over 16 million customers and a total income of over $23 billion.
How is it that the laws are harsher for unions than for one of the Big Four banks? Why should it be easier to sack a union leader than a CEO?
The Turnbull Government would never propose these laws for big business.” read more
Read more: http://www.afr.com/news/policy/industrial-relations/abcc-legal-counsel-anthony-southall-quits-as-hadgkiss-actions-make-role-untenable-20171023
And corporations use police to smash unions read here of one Australian example
Glencore ordered to stop ‘quasi-militaristic’ surveillance of CFMEU members
The use of private police forces to squash workers combination and union activity is not new. It started with the creation of unionism back in the late 18th century. On this occasion, it’s gone too far even under our broken Fair Work Act.
Australian citizens alarmed
As well, ASIO is a threat to democracy …http://thenewdaily.com.au/news/national/2017/10/20/asio-civil-liberties-concern/
At the same time…
Pay rises in enterprise agreements slump to ‘worst ever’ recorded
Read more: http://www.afr.com/news/policy/industrial-relations/pay-rises-in-enterprise-agreements-slump-to-worst-ever-recorded-20171022-gz64v4?btis#ixzz4wlczktPz
And LNP cuts to penalty rates creates new poor
And privatisation fails https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/23/privatisation-has-failed-we-need-a-moratorium-on-all-new-proposals
Oppose nuclear war with North Korea
Liebowitz on Marx
CWInvitation Chris White Mindfields
Save the Great Barrier Reef
CWInvitation Chris White Mindfields
CWInvitation Chris White Mindfields
The right to strike by Chris White
The right to strike may2016 2
Stop the War on Workers
The Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) commissioned the renowned Australian Marxist historian Humphrey McQueen to write an outline of Marx’s Capital. The purpose of which is to invite job reps and community activists to appreciate and understand the relevance of Marx’s research and analysis of capitalism to their lives.
It is no easy task to reduce three huge volumes of meticulously researched data down to an outline covering a few mere pages. We are indebted to Humphrey McQueen for making the essential features of Capital available in a form that is both a summary and an introduction.
Karl Marx wrote his huge three-volume study Capital a century and a half ago. It remains the single most influential study of the economic laws of motion of capital, of how capital is deployed in an endless quest for continued accumulation, and of how the labour power of the working class is exploited to produce surplus value for the profit of the owners of the means of production.
Volume One of Karl Marx’s, Das Kapital was first published in early September, 1867. To commemorate this anniversary the first two sections of Humphrey McQueen’s “150 years young Marx’s Capital” outline are posted here.
Soon this booklet will be posted on the Vanguard/CPA (M-L) website as a PDF file. The booklet will also be available as a hardcopy for $2.
… the educator must be educated.
Karl Marx spent half of his adult life striving to understand the workings of capitalism. He spent much of the other half battling to replace it with socialism.
To change the world, he learnt why we must learn how to interpret it. To interpret our world, he learnt that we all have a part to play in changing it.
These struggles united the two parts of his public life.
Know our enemy
Every contest between capitalists and wage-slaves is decided by the relative strengths of the opposing classes.
Those strengths combine the political, the cultural, the industrial and the military with the intellectual.
Our class has to be armed to fight on each of those fronts. Capital is a short-, medium- and long-range weapon in the class war.
Few of us will have the opportunity to absorb all of Marx’s gifts to working people.
None of us can afford to ignore his key insights.
Capital explains why capitalists and their agents must behave as they do.
Our exploitation and oppression are not the result of nasty people like Abbott with bad ideas such as neo-liberalism.
Neo-liberalism has been a bad idea for workers but a great idea for most of the boss class. A Turnbull or a Shorten takes over where an Abbott left off.
Tactics and strategies
Capital remains the essential starting point for understanding capitalism.
That understanding is vital in our efforts to change the world towards socialism and thence communism.
To help us move there, this pamphlet takes up seven issues around which revolutionaries can build mass movements: the plunder of nature; the expansion of capital; wage-slavery; exploitation; the future of labour-time; ground-rent, and crises.
The way to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Marx’s Capital in September 2017 is to forge his insights into weapons for our struggles today, and every hour of every day.
The wealth of nature
Capitalist production, therefore, only develops … by simultaneously undermining the original sources of all wealth – the soil and the worker.
Marx, Capital, I, page 638.
Yet, we are unique. Unlike other animals, we are forever remaking what it means to be human.
We created languages, writing and maths. Human nature is neither eternal nor universal.
Hence, capitalism is not in our genes. We alter our relationships with each other.
We change our relationships with the rest of nature. And we transform some of nature.
We do all this through our labours. That is why half of this pamphlet explores wage-slavery, labour-time and exploitation.
Our capacity to work is one outcome of the physical world. If we don’t eat or drink, we can’t work. In short, we can’t add value to the wealth of nature.
‘Value’ is an overloaded term. For Marx, value is an economic category. Value is neither a moral judgement nor an aesthetic preference.
Only human labour can add value. Even a primary school textbook should spell out why labour cannot be the sole source of wealth. So said Marx.
For a start, our capacities can never create the raw materials to which we add value.
To accept that an old-growth forest has no economic value is to say no more than that no human labour has gone into its existence.
By contrast, a pine plantation has economic value because human labour played a part in its growth.
The timber from old-growth forests acquires economic value once it is harvested and dressed.
Marx explains why capitalists are slow to invest in forestry. The production times are too long. They cannot afford to wait forty or more years to take a profit.
Instead, they plunder the wealth of nature in old-growth areas. Or, their state supplies the long-term investment for plantations.
Nature presents its treasures to us as free gifts. Sunlight, wind and water arrive without our having to lift a finger.
To benefit from those gifts we must build a sailing boat, and erect a wind or water mill.
Sunlight is a renewable source of energy only after the parts for solar panels are mined, processed and installed.
How the gifts of nature are distributed depends on property relations.
Who gets what and how much is decided by how society is split between classes. Within classes, wealth is divided along gender lines.
Feudal lords smashed the hand-mills of their serfs to force them to pay to grind their corn at their Masters’ watermills.
In Capital, Marx mentions a mine-owner in the 1850s who exerted property rights over the shit of his wage-slaves.
Switching to 100 percent renewables will not make access to any resource more equal.
Injustice is built into the expansion of capital. Its relentless growth threatens barbarism.
Victory for working people in our class struggle is, therefore, the foundation for survival.
Fouling our nest
Capital pollutes the natural world that its agents plunder for raw materials. To ravage our natural environment is to commit chronic suicide.
We live through nature because nature exists inside us. Hence, we must take heed of Engels:
Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory, nature takes it revenge on us.
Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people … – but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly.
Today we should repeat: ‘and apply them correctly’, but also add ‘before it’s too late.’
Six Commonwealth Bank ATM deals may be linked to terrorism funding, Austral says Read here https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/aug/19/six-commonwealth-bank-atm-deals-may-be-linked-to-terrorism-funding-austrac-says
Commonwealth Bank unmasked: why the government is suing over alleged terrorism trail – explainer
Austrac is accusing the CBA of money-laundering and terrorism-financing breaches, claiming ‘suspicious transactions’ went on for years
CBA facing class action http://www.theage.com.au/business/banking-and-finance/cba-facing-potential-class-action-over-disclosure-of-laundering-allegations-20170821-gy196d.html
Is APRA’s Commonwealth Bank inquiry enough to stave off a royal commission?
The prudential watchdog’s decision to join other regulators in the Commonwealth Bank “culture attack” has been a long time coming.
To be blunt, it should have happened years ago.
Tighter liquidity at near-zero rates makes it harder to profit from lending money. Banks, therefore, are pushing up fees and chasing swindles. They are acting as ATMs for drug-dealers, gun-runners, terrorists – not to mention tax-dodgers. That is the name of their game.
The ‘culture’ problem is not inside Deutshce Bank or the Commonwealth Bank. The culture problem is real existing capitalism. What never makes the headlines is the laundering of cash from the exploitation of wage-slaves. That core business is not a crime.
Our job is to make wage-slavery a crime. The only way to do that is put an end to the capitalist system. As we said last time, calls for a Royal Commission into capitalism aren’t going to succeed. Anyway, the Report is already in. It’s called Das Kapital. In two weeks, we shall celebrate its 150th birthday.
More On bankers
May 11, 2017 — Reproduced from Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Socialist Project — Was Marx a superman or a human being? Joan Robinson once asked a Soviet professor this very question. Of course, Marx was human, he answered. ‘Then he could make mistakes?’ Yes. ‘Would you mind mentioning a mistake that he made?’ The Soviet professor changed the subject.
However, 150 years after the publication of Volume I of Capital, it is long past time for revolutionaries not to change the subject but to talk seriously about mistakes Marx made in Capital and their implications. This article is about one such mistake and how it infected Capital and subsequent practice.
Consider the centrality of the argument by analogy at the core of Capital. Since labour-power is bought and sold as a commodity, Marx explained, its value is ‘determined, as in the case of every other commodity, by the labour-time necessary for the production, and consequently also the reproduction, of this specific article.’ Accordingly, as in the case of every other commodity, its value will fall with reductions in the labour-time necessary for its production – i.e., with increases in productivity.
In setting out this principle of the symmetry of labour-power and other commodities, Marx here was following the path of Ricardo, who Marx credited as the first to formulate accurately the relations (‘laws’) he elaborated in Capital. Ricardo expressed it this way in his Principles of Political Economy:
‘Diminish the cost of production of hats, and their price will ultimately fall to their new natural price, although the demand should be doubled, tripled or quadrupled. Diminish the cost of subsistence of men, by diminishing the natural price of the food and clothing by which life is sustained, and wages will ultimately fall, notwithstanding that the demand for labourers may very greatly increase.’
‘The cynical Ricardo,’ Marx called him in 1844. But he was not commenting upon a personal characteristic of Ricardo; rather, Ricardo’s teaching was the perspective of ‘English political economy, i.e., the scientific reflection of English economic conditions.’ This was a perspective that viewed ‘man as worker, as a commodity,’ as the product of those economic conditions but that also was indifferent to the production of man as ‘a mentally and physically dehumanized being.’ Outside of their direct relation to capital, workers were not recognised by political economy. But, the cynicism of political economy, Marx explained in his Poverty of Philosophy, was simply a statement of ‘the facts’ in capitalism. Quoting the above passage from Ricardo, Marx commented:
‘Doubtless, Ricardo’s language is as cynical as can be. To put the cost of manufacture of hats and the cost of maintenance of men on the same plane is to turn men into hats. But do not make an outcry at the cynicism of it. The cynicism is in the facts and not in the words which express, the facts.’
But, what was that ‘cost of subsistence of men’ that determined the value of labour-power? It ‘can be resolved,’ as Marx explained in Capital, ‘into the value of a definite quantity of the means of subsistence,’ and we can assume that set of use-values to be constant: ‘the quantity of the means of subsistence required is given at any particular epoch in any particular society, and can therefore be treated as a constant magnitude.’ What precisely was that definite quantity of means of subsistence? Irrelevant, Marx explained: ‘whether one assumes the level of workers’ needs to be higher or lower is completely irrelevant to the end result. The only thing of importance is that it should be viewed as given, determinate.’
The Ricardian default
This assumption of a given standard of necessity was the foundation for the direct link between productivity and surplus value present in Ricardo and also underlies the explanation of relative surplus value in Capital. The argument of the ‘Ricardian Default’ is simple. If we assume a given set of necessities, productivity increases for those use-values mean that less labour is required to produce the worker and thus, the value of labour-power ‘varies with the value of the means of subsistence.’ Further, as Marx explained in Chapter 16, since ‘the value of labour-power and surplus-value vary in opposite directions,’ an increase or decrease in the productivity of labour means that ‘surplus-value moves in the same direction’ as productivity.
From Marx’s assumption of the given set of necessities followed not only his theoretical explanation of the generation of relative surplus value but also his stress upon capital’s ‘immanent drive, and a constant tendency, toward increasing the productivity of labour.’ Similarly, the Ricardian Default was at the core of Ricardo’s central tendency – his falling rate of profit tendency (more accurately, a falling rate of surplus value). In the latter case, though, the change moved in the opposite direction: the reduction in productivity (as the result of diminishing returns in agriculture) generated an increase in necessary labour, reduced surplus labour and thus his explanation of a falling rate of profit.
Characteristic of the Ricardian Default is that any link between productivity and the standard of life of workers is precluded by assumption. As the result of the assumption of a given standard of necessity, in the one case workers cannot gain as the result of increases in productivity and, in the other case, workers cannot lose as the result of decreases in productivity. In both cases, it is by assumption and only by assumption that capital alone benefits or loses as productivity changes.
Marx traced that assumption (and, with it, classical political economy) to the Physiocrats. Precisely because they had made the ‘strict necessaire,’ the ‘minimum of wages,’ ‘the equivalent of the necessary means of subsistence,’ the pivotal point in their theory, Marx declared them to be ‘the true fathers of modern political economy.’ By treating the minimum of wages as fixed and as a given magnitude, ‘the Physiocrats transferred the inquiry into the origin of surplus-value from the sphere of circulation into the sphere of direct production, and thereby laid the foundation for the analysis of capitalist production.’ And, this assumption of a fixed set of necessities, of that given subsistence wage, he commented, was followed by Adam Smith ‘like all economists worth speaking of.’
Shouldn’t we wonder, though, about Marx’s acceptance of this classical premise for his discussion of relative surplus value?
The assumption and ‘the facts’
Despite his acceptance of the classical assumption for his theoretical presentation of the concept of relative surplus value, outside of Chapter 12 of Volume I, Marx consistently stressed in Capital the ability of workers to expand their consumption of means of subsistence under the appropriate conditions. The fixed character of workers’ needs, he indicated in Volume III, ‘is mere illusion. If means of subsistence were cheaper or money-wages higher, the workers would buy more of them.’ Similarly, in Volume II, he explained that with rising real wages, ‘the demand of the workers for necessary means of subsistence will grow. Their demand for luxury articles will increase to a smaller degree, or else a demand will arise for articles that previously did not enter the area of their consumption.’ Further, he pointed out in Volume I that, with higher wages, workers ‘can extend the circle of their enjoyments, make additions to their consumption fund of clothes, furniture, etc., and lay by a small reserve fund of money.’
Not only was Marx clear that there is not in practice a fixed set of necessities for workers but he also indicated in Chapter 16 of Volume I of Capital that rising productivity did not necessarily lead to the development of relative surplus value. This was more than a passing observation. As he pointed out explicitly in his Economic Manuscripts 1861-63, the scenario offered in his discussion of the concept of relative surplus value in Capital was only one of several possibilities. Assuming an increase in productivity, there were three possible cases. In the first case, the worker ‘receives same quantity of use values as before. In this case there is a fall in the value of his labour capacity or his wage. For there has been a fall in the value of this quantity, which has remained constant.’ In the second case, ‘there is a rise in the amount, the quantity, of the means of subsistence… but not in the same proportion as in the worker’s productivity.’ Accordingly, the real wage rises but its value falls – i.e., there is both rising real wages and relative surplus value.
‘Finally the third CASE,’ Marx continued, where productivity and the standard of necessity rise at the same rate:
‘The worker continues to receive the same value – or the objectification of the same part of the working day – as before. In this case, because the productivity of labour has risen, the quantity of use values he receives, his real wage, has risen, but its value has remained constant, since it continues to represent the same quantity of realised labour time as before. In this case, however, the surplus value too remains unchanged, there is no change in the ratio between the wage and the surplus value, hence the proportion [of surplus value] to the wage remains unchanged.’
In this third case, Marx explained, ‘there would be no CHANGE in surplus value, although the latter would represent, just as wages would, a greater quantity of use values than before.’ Thus, despite his clear understanding that rising productivity could lead to increasing real wages and no relative surplus value at all, only the first case where workers were limited to a fixed set of use-values informed Marx’s explanation of the concept of relative surplus value. Marx’s assumption of the given standard of necessity was contrary to ‘the facts’ that he knew so well – that workers within capitalism can obtain more means of subsistence and thus can be the beneficiaries of productivity increases.
So, why did Marx employ a critical assumption in Capital contrary to the facts? Very simply, he always understood it as an assumption – one that must be removed. He explained this to Engels at the very point that he formulated his projected six-book plan for his Economics. Throughout the section on capital in general, Marx indicated, ‘wages are invariably assumed to be at their minimum.’ Similarly, he was explicit in the Grundrisse: ‘For the time being, necessary labour supposed as such; i.e., that the worker always obtains only the minimum of wages.’ As he indicated in his letter to Engels, this was a temporary assumption: ‘the rise or fall of that minimum will be considered under wage labour.’ Further, in the Grundrisse he explained that the standard of necessary labour, while treated as fixed, may change and that ‘to consider those changes themselves belongs altogether to the chapter treating of wage labour.’
Nor was Marx’s intention to explore such matters subsequently in a separate study a passing fancy (as is often suggested by some). For example, in his Economic Manuscript of 1861-63, Marx indicated that the question of ‘movements in the level of the workers’ needs’ was not to be explored here ‘but in the doctrine of the wages of labour.’ For now, he insisted that it was essential that the level of workers’ needs be viewed as ‘given, determinate. All questions relating to it as not a given but a variable magnitude belong to the investigation of wage labour in particular.’
Further in that manuscript, Marx noted that his investigation proceeded from the assumption that wages are ‘only reduced by the DEPRECIATION of that labour capacity, or what is the same thing, by the cheapening of the means of subsistence entering into the workers’ consumption’ and that any other reason for a reduction in wages was ‘not part of our task’ and ‘belongs to the theory of wages.’
A few years later, Marx repeated the same point. In ‘The Results of the Immediate Process of Production,’ he explained that ‘The level of the necessaries of life whose total value constitutes the value of labour-power can itself rise or fall. The analysis of these variations, however, belongs not here but in the theory of wages.’ Nor was this his last reference to the book on wage labour. In Chapter 20 of Volume I of Capital, Marx noted that ‘the special study of wage-labour, and not, therefore, to this work’ is where an exposition of the forms of the wage belonged.
But why did he postpone his ‘special study of wage-labour’? Because the ‘general capital-relation’ first had to be developed. Variations in the standard of necessity, he indicated in his Economic Manuscript of 1861-63, ‘do not touch its general relationship to capital.’ To understand the nature of capital and the capital-relation, determining the value of labour-power was essential and ‘the only thing of importance’ for this was to treat the standard of necessity ‘as given, determinate’ since its variations do not ‘alter anything in the general relationship.’
As he had indicated in the Grundrisse, in his letter to Engels and in his comments on the Physiocrats, all that was needed for the study of capital was to assume that ‘the worker always obtains only the minimum of wages’; changes in the standard of necessity are not part of the study of capital and ‘belong to the investigation of wage labour in particular.’
Certainly, Marx was not following classical political economy by continuing to stress the importance of that special study of wage labour. Rather, acceptance of that fixed set of necessities as the starting point reflected his dialectical methodology. ‘Only by this procedure,’ he explained to Engels, ‘is it possible to discuss one relation without discussing all the rest.’ And, he elaborated his approach in the Grundrisse: ‘all of these fixed suppositions themselves become fluid in the further course of development. But only by holding them fast at the beginning is their development possible without confounding everything.’ What appears fixed and static, in short, is revealed in a dialectical presentation to be fluid and changing. Only ‘for the time being’ was it assumed that ‘the worker always obtains only the minimum of wages’; and this fixed supposition was only held ‘fast at the beginning.’
Characteristic of a dialectical presentation is that all sides are not (indeed, cannot be) introduced immediately, and the deficiency and one-sidedness of the starting points only are revealed in the further course of development. In this sense, we may understand Marx’s decision to retain the classical assumption as a conscious methodological decision, a moment that would be superseded logically as he proceeded. However, what were the consequences of Marx’s assumption for Capital? For classical political economy, this assumption was the foundation for the symmetry of hats and men articulated by Ricardo. But did that symmetry belong in Marx’s analysis of capitalism?
A fearful symmetry?
How can we treat symmetrically the process of producing hats and labour-power? The first is a vertically integrated process of production extending from primary products (which contingently may be interrupted by the equivalent exchange of intermediary inputs). The second, in contrast, is a complex sequence containing (a) the moment of production of articles of consumption, (b) a moment of circulation in which money is exchanged for those articles of consumption and (c) a second moment of production in which those use-values (as well as concrete, uncounted labour) are consumed in order to prepare labour-power for exchange. By treating the two processes symmetrically, only the first of these moments in the production of labour-power is considered: the production of the worker is a footnote to the production of the consumption bundle; the worker disappears and is represented by things. As labelled by a disciple of Ricardo, it is the production of commodities by commodities.
What happens with an increase in productivity? In the case of hats, an increase in productivity at any stage will disrupt the equivalence of embodied social labour and money and will to lead to a fall in value of hats (‘Diminish the cost of production of hats, and their price will ultimately fall to their new natural price’). In the case of labour-power, similarly, increased productivity in the production of articles of consumption leads directly to a reduction in their value. And then? ‘Diminish the cost of subsistence of men,’ and the immediate effect is not a fall in the value of labour-power. Rather, it is a rise in real wages.
How, then, do we go from the fall in the value of articles of consumption to a fall in the value of labour-power? As we have seen, Capital did so by assuming the premise inherited from classical political economy that the standard of necessity is a constant magnitude. However, by doing so, Marx brought with him the baggage of classical political economy – in particular, the treatment of money as a veil. Abstracting from money allowed him to move directly from productivity gains to increased surplus value but it also abstracts from the moment of circulation in which workers purchase the use-values they want and thus it obscures specific characteristics of a wage-labourer. In particular, it obscures the difference between a wage-labourer and an instrument of production or a slave.
The slave, Marx explained in the ‘Results of the Immediate Process of Production,’ receives the means of subsistence he requires ‘which are fixed both in kind and quantity – i.e. he receives use-value.’ In contrast, the wage-labourer receives means of subsistence in the shape of money, and ‘it is the worker himself who converts the money into whatever use-values he desires; it is he who buys commodities as he wishes and, as the owner of money, as the buyer of goods, he stands in precisely the same relationship to the sellers of goods as any other buyer.’ Rather than the product of a fixed set of use-values, the wage-labourer here appears as a subject with money and with her own goals. Accordingly, if productivity gains lower the value of articles of consumption and thereby increase the real value of the quantity of money that workers possess, what will workers do? Will they choose to purchase more or different use-values or will they be indifferent? One would not ask this question, of course, in relation to the slave. With its assumption of a fixed set of use-values, rather than turning men into hats, the discussion of relative surplus value in Capital turns wage-labourers into slaves.
But the ‘facts’ of capitalism are that workers are not slaves. They struggle over wages, the money they receive for the sale of their labour-power. Indeed, in 1853 Marx condemned workers not engaged in the struggle over wages as ‘apathetic, thoughtless, more or less well-fed instruments of production.’ A working class that did not struggle ‘would be a heart-broken, a weak-minded, a worn-out, unresisting mass.’ And, he made the same point in 1865: workers who do not struggle over wages are ‘degraded to one level mass of broken wretches past salvation.’ They thereby ‘disqualify themselves for the initiating of any larger movement.’ These clearly are not the working class that will be the gravediggers of capital.
Rather, those apathetic instruments of production are the products of capital – deformed as well as exploited within capitalist relations of production. Marx understood quite well that not only is capital produced within those relations but that there is as well a second product, a crippled human product. ‘All means for the development of production’ under capitalism, Marx insisted, ‘distort the worker into a fragment of a man,’ degrade him and ‘alienate him from the intellectual potentialities of the labour process.’ And, that was especially true with the development of machinery which, under capitalist relations, completes the ‘separation of the intellectual faculties of the production process from manual labour.’ Thinking and doing become separate and hostile, and ‘every atom of freedom, both in bodily and in intellectual activity’ is lost.
A particular type of person is produced by capital. Producing within capitalist relations is what Marx called a process of a ‘complete emptying-out,’ ‘total alienation,’ the ‘sacrifice of the human end-in-itself to an entirely external end.’ How else then but with money, the true need that capitalism creates, can we fill the vacuum? Capital constantly generates new needs for workers and it is upon this, Marx noted, that ‘the contemporary power of capital rests’; in short, every new need for capitalist commodities is a new link in the golden chain that links workers to capital.
Is it likely that those people can spontaneously grasp the nature of this destructive system, the precondition for overthrowing it? On the contrary, the workers produced by capital believe that there is no alternative. Capital tends to produce the working class it needs, workers who treat capitalism as common sense. As Marx explained in Capital:
‘The advance of capitalist production develops a working class which by education, tradition and habit looks upon the requirements of that mode of production as self-evident natural laws. The organization of the capitalist process of production, once it is fully developed, breaks down all resistance.’
To this, he added that capital’s generation of a reserve army of the unemployed ‘sets the seal on the domination of the capitalist over the worker.’ The constant generation of a relative surplus population of workers means that wages are ‘confined within limits satisfactory to capitalist exploitation, and lastly, the social dependence of the worker on the capitalist, which is indispensable, is secured.’ Accordingly, Marx concluded that the capitalist can rely upon the worker’s ‘dependence on capital, which springs from the conditions of production themselves, and is guaranteed in perpetuity by them.’
Guaranteed in perpetuity to be ‘a heart-broken, a weak-minded, a worn-out, unresisting mass’? Marx’s description of capital’s tendency to produce a working class that looks upon capital’s requirements as self-evident natural laws and his conclusion with respect to the perpetual reproduction of the worker’s social dependence upon capital are entirely consistent with the disappearance of the worker as subject from Marx’s theoretical discussion of relative surplus value.
The missing second product
As I concluded in Beyond Capital: Marx’s Political Economy of the Working Class, missing from Capital is what Marx called ‘the worker’s own need for development.’ Missing too is the key link of human development and practice – that workers produce themselves through their own activity, through that ‘coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-change’ that Marx articulated so clearly in the ‘Theses on Feuerbach.’
That insight is a red thread that runs throughout Marx’s work. From his stress upon the way the struggles of workers against capital transform ‘circumstances and men,’ expanding their capabilities and making them fit to create a new world to his explanation in the Grundrisse that in the very act of producing, ‘the producers change, too, in that they bring out new qualities in themselves, develop themselves in production, transform themselves, develop new powers and new ideas, new modes of intercourse, new needs and new language,’ Marx was aware that every human activity generates a double product. There are always two products of human activity – the change in circumstances and the change in human beings.
In Marx’s introduction of the concept of relative surplus value, however, we have seen that workers there are treated as ‘more or less well-fed instruments of production,’ as slaves who receive means of subsistence ‘which are fixed both in kind and quantity.’ Compare that to ‘the facts’ – that workers are subjects, that they are wage-labourers with their own needs who struggle to realise those needs and produce themselves in that process.
What do workers produce in that process? For success in their struggle to reduce the capitalist workday in length and intensity (in order to have time and energy for themselves) and their struggle for higher wages (in order to satisfy more of their socially generated needs) – and certainly, to succeed in defeating capital’s efforts pressing in the opposite direction – workers must fight against their separation, their competition as sellers of labour-power. The General Council of the First International understood this fact, declaring that ‘what the lot of the labouring population would be if everything were left to isolated, individual bargaining, may be easily foreseen. The iron rule of supply and demand, if left unchecked, would speedily reduce the producers of all wealth to a starvation level…’ Workers, in short, must organize. In ‘trades without organization of the work-people,’ Engels similarly argued, ‘wages tend constantly to fall and the working hours tend constantly to increase… While the length of working day more and more approaches the possible maximum, the wages come nearer and nearer to their absolute minimum.’
Marx made the same point in Capital: the struggle over the workday proves that ‘the isolated worker, the worker as ‘free’ seller of his labour-power, succumbs without resistance once capitalist production has reached a certain stage of maturity.’ Workers, in short, succeed in achieving their goals only to the extent that they are able to negate competition amongst them, only by infringing upon the ‘sacred’ law of supply and demand and engaging in ‘planned co-operation.’ Indeed, commenting in 1868 about the struggles of workers in New York over the 8 hour day, Marx observed that ‘all serious success of the proletariat depends upon an organization that unites and concentrates its forces,’ and he stressed as well the need to struggle against international competition of workers: ‘Nothing but an international bond of the working classes can ever ensure their definitive triumph.’
Insofar as workers do struggle for themselves and break down the divisions amongst them, they are not simply the products of capital. Class struggle is a process of production; and that process is necessary, Marx told workers, ‘not only in order to bring about a change in society but also to change yourselves, and prepare yourselves for the exercise of political power…’ Human beings are the outcome of their own activity – none more so than workers in struggle. Even though they had lost the battle over the Ten Hours Bill, Engels argued, workers had changed significantly in the course of that struggle:
‘The working classes, in this agitation, found a mighty means to get acquainted with each other, to come to a knowledge of their social position and interests, to organize themselves and to know their strength. The working man, who has passed through such an agitation, is no longer the same as he was before; and the whole working class, after passing through it, is a hundred times stronger, more enlightened, and better organized than it was at the outset.’
This is the second product of workers’ struggles, and it is a working class obviously different from capital’s second product, that unresisting mass presumed in the discussion of relative surplus value. But this working class is not entirely absent from Capital: we do see it briefly in Capital’s chapter on the workday, where Marx allowed us to hear ‘the voice of the worker which had previously been stifled.’ There we see workers as subjects, struggling against capital for their own goals; and, it is that struggle that determines ‘the normal working day.’ Unfortunately, those workers disappear when it comes to the subsequent chapter on relative surplus value.
Indeed, the ‘protracted and more or less concealed civil war between the capitalist class and the working class’ over the workday disappears when it comes to the determination of wages. When it comes to introducing the concept of relative surplus value, the worker’s voice is stifled, not by the power of capital but by assumption. In place of the worker-as-subject, in place of class struggle over wages, Capital employs the assumption inherited from classical political economy that treats the worker as an instrument of production without a voice, indeed, as a more or less well-fed instrument of production.
After having introduced workers as subjects in his discussion of the struggle over the workday, though, why did Marx’s succeeding chapter on the concept of relative surplus value silence the voice of the worker? What was the effect of not framing this chapter by the same ‘antinomy, of right against right,’ that struggle between collective capital and collective labour that produced the norm for the workday?
The consequences of Marx’s faulty symmetry
If Marx had not accepted the classical assumption, the basis for relative surplus value and the understanding of capital would be quite different. Revive that working class from where Marx left it in his discussion of the struggle over the workday. When capital faces a working class no longer stifled by assumption but, rather, one that has developed its capacity and organization through its struggles, it faces a working class able to retain the benefits of productivity increases via real wage gains. All other things equal, that unified and organized working class will be the sole beneficiary of the fall in the value of the means of subsistence brought about by productivity increases.
To secure relative surplus value, capital must ensure that all other things are not equal. Capital must defeat the working class. As discussed in Beyond Capital, just as workers struggle to realise their own goals by combining, capital must divide workers. If money values are falling as the result of productivity increases, so too must money wages – and the extent to which capital can succeed in preventing a rise in real wages will determine its ability to secure relative surplus value. Divide the working class becomes the watchword. Every individual capitalist and the class as a whole knows that ‘the workers’ power of resistance declines with their dispersal.’
So, encourage antagonism between different groups of workers (which Marx called ‘the secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power’); make changes in the labour process that, rather than strengthening the capacities of workers and opening up a world of ‘productive drives and inclinations’, suppresses these and turn the relation of head and hand into a hostile antagonism; introduce the machine not as an extension of the power of workers but as their competitor and thus as a weapon used against them. All these have the effect of increasing the degree of separation of workers, and the last in particular expands the competition of employed and unemployed that pushes money wages down.
By dividing and separating workers, capital is able to weaken the working class. But if it does not? If productivity increases were to drop from the sky, what would ensure the generation of relative surplus value rather than an increase in real wages? It is not the increase in productivity that reduces necessary labour. Rather, the displacement of workers by machines increases the separation of the working class and ensures that workers are not the beneficiaries of productivity gains. That question, however, Marx explicitly put aside by choosing to assume the standard of necessity constant:
In so far as machinery brings about a direct reduction of wages for the workers employed by it, by e.g. using the demand of those rendered unemployed to force down the wages of those in employment, it is not part of our task to deal with this CASE. It belongs to the theory of wages.
Unfortunately, Marx’s decision to postpone this discussion had serious consequences. It left productivity increases as the only explanation of relative surplus value. From this followed the inference that capital’s ‘immanent drive, and a constant tendency’ is that of ‘increasing the productivity of labour in order to cheapen commodities and, by cheapening commodities, to cheapen the worker himself.’ Once we understand, however, that productivity increases in themselves do not reduce necessary labour, the implications are profound: we see that the ‘immanent drive, and a constant tendency’ of capital is to divide and separate workers. Class struggle now takes centre stage.
Productive forces do not drop from the sky. They are never neutral but always reflect the particular relations of production within which they emerge. Within capitalism, the impulse to defeat workers is present in everything that capital does. When capital reorganizes the work place or introduces new productive forces, its purpose is not merely to increase efficiency, but also to defeat workers in order to increase surplus value. Given his conclusion that, within the capitalist system, ‘all means for the development of production undergo a dialectical inversion so that they become means of domination and exploitation of the producers’, Marx certainly did not view as neutral those productive forces which degrade the worker ‘to the level of an appendage of a machine.’
Nevertheless, given his acceptance of the classical assumption that underlies the Ricardian Default, there can be no surprise that the productive forces introduced in Marx’s discussion of relative surplus value were treated as neutral. After all, they were for Ricardo, and Marx followed Ricardo in this respect. Inherent in the classical tradition is the conclusion that any increase in productive forces will have the same effect – to ‘cheapen commodities and, by cheapening commodities, to cheapen the worker himself.’ But that tradition is to be transcended, not accepted.
Asymmetry and the critique of political economy
The symmetry of hats and men that Marx early declared to be the cynicism of the facts and then proceeded to follow in Capital has been sufficiently seductive to preclude questioning of its underlying logic. It has also disguised an important asymmetry in Marx’s treatment of the workday and the standard of necessity. The normal workday, Marx indicated, was determined by class struggle. As in the case of the standard of necessity, however, the workday could have been assumed given by historical and moral elements for a given period and given country. This is the other side of the obvious asymmetry between the determination of the workday and the determination of the standard of necessity – between class struggle on the one hand and the classical assumption on the other.
Given the contemporary struggles over the workday, it is easy to see why Marx explained the determination of the workday by the ‘protracted civil war between the capitalist class and the working class.’ But Marx was also well aware of existing struggles over wages! So why did Marx incorporate class struggle into his theoretical discussion of the former but not the latter? Very simply, Marx did not follow the pre-existing classical assumption to explain the workday because there was none! Classical political economy did not recognise the workday as a variable, and that meant that Marx could draw directly upon the facts of class struggle. In contrast, as we have seen, ‘all economists worth speaking of’ began with the assumption of a fixed set of necessities, and Marx followed suit. We need to recognise explicitly, therefore, that when it came to discussion of the standard of necessity, Marx abandoned his critique of political economy and accepted instead the premise of classical political economy.
Marx failed, in short, to transcend completely classical political economy, and that has significant implications for the understanding of Capital. Failing to grasp that the condition of existence of capital is its ability to divide and separate workers means that our understanding of capital is flawed. Further, reliance upon the Ricardian Default has fostered the treatment of productive forces as neutral and independent of particular productive relations. The theoretical conception of relative surplus value based upon the treatment of workers as slaves and instruments of production without a voice has produced the tendency to think in terms of the autonomous development of productive forces, the neutrality of technology and deterministic and automatic objective laws. As I argued in Contradictions of ‘Real Socialism’, that tendency has supported a model of society based upon a division between conductors and the conducted.
Marx’s abandonment of the critique of political economy was a mistake. And the failure of his disciples to recognise this reveals a lack of clarity as to what precisely constitutes Marx’s critique of political economy. Underlying all categories of political economy is the obscure structure of capitalist relations of production, and their critique requires the revelation of those underlying relations. Class struggle must inform every part of that critique.
Michael A. Lebowitz has taught Marxian Economics and Comparative Economic Systems at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia since 1965 and is currently Professor Emeritus of Economics. His latest book is The Socialist Imperative: From Gotha to now (New York: Monthly Review Press 2015).
 Joan Robinson, ‘Marxism: Religion and Science,’ Monthly Review, December 1962, Vol 14, No, 8, p. 435. I am grateful to John Bellamy Foster for relocating this article for me.
 Karl Marx, Capital, Volume I (New York: Vintage Books, 1977), 274.
 Marx, 1977: 660.
 David Ricardo, The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation (London: Dent. Everyman’s Library, No. 590, 1969), Chapter 30, p.260.
 Karl Marx, ‘Critical Marginal Notes on the Article by a Prussian’, in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Collected Works [MECW], Volume 3 (New York, 1975), 192.
 Karl Marx, ‘Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844’ in Ibid., 283-4.
 Karl Marx, Poverty of Philosophy, in MECW, Vol 7, (New York: International Publishers, 1976), 125.
 Marx, 1977: 275-6, 655.
 Karl Marx, Economic Manuscript of 1861-63, in MECW, Vol. 30, (New York: International Publishers, 1988), 45-6.
 See the discussion of the Ricardian Default in Michael A. Lebowitz, ‘Trapped Inside the Box? Five Questions for Ben Fine’, Historical Materialism, 18.1 (March 2010).
 Marx, 1977: 276.
 Marx, 1977: 656.
 Marx, 1977: 436-7.
 Karl Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, Vol. 1, (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, n.d.), 44-5, 68, 296. See the discussion of Marx’s assumption and his intention to remove it in Michael A. Lebowitz, Beyond Capital: Marx’s Political Economy of the Working Class (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).
 Karl Marx, Capital Vol. III (New York: Vintage Books, 1981b), 289-90.
 Karl Marx, Capital Vol. II (New York: Vintage Books, 1981a), 414.
 Marx, 1977: 769.
 Marx, 1977: 659.
 Karl Marx, Economic Manuscript of 1861-63 (Conclusion) in MECW, Vol. 34 (New York: International Publishers, 1994),:65-6.
 MECW, Vol. 40, (New York: International Publishers, 1983), 298.
 Karl Marx, Grundrisse (New York: Vintage Publishers, 1973), 817. By this ‘minimum’, Marx explicitly explained, he meant ‘not the extreme limit of physical necessity but the average daily wage over e.g. one year’ (Marx, 1988: 52).
 Karl Marx, Economic Manuscripts of 1861-63, in MECW, Vol. 30 (New York: International Publishers, 1988), 44-5.
 MECW, 1994: 23.
 Marx, 1977: 1068-9.
 Marx, 1977: 683.
 Marx, 1988: 44-7.
 Marx, 1977: 1033.
 MECW Vol. 12 (New York: International Publishers, 1979), 169.
 Karl Marx, Value, Price and Profit, MECW Vol. 20: (New York: International Publishers, 1985), 148.
 Marx, 1977: 548, 643, 799.
 Ibid., 482–84, 548, 607–8, 614.
 Marx, 1973: 488.
 Ibid.: 287; Lebowitz, 2003: 32–44.
 Marx, 1977: 899.
 Ibid., 935.
 Ibid., 899.
 Cf. Chapter 10, ‘From Political Economy to Class Struggle,’ Lebowitz, 2003.
 Karl Marx, ‘Address of the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association to the Members and Affiliated Societies,’ July 9, 1867, Minutes of the General Council of the First International, 1866‑8 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, n.d.)., 137.
 Friedrich Engels, ‘Trade Unions’ (part I) The Labour Standard, 28 May 1881 in W.O. Henderson, Engels: Selected Writings (London: Penguin, 1967), 104; Cf. Lebowitz, 2003, Ch. 4, ‘The Political Economy of Wage-Labour.’
 Marx, 1977: 412.
 Marx, 1977: 793.
 Lebowitz, 2003: 185.
 Lebowitz, 2003: Ch.10, Section 1, ‘Class Struggle as Production.’
 Karl Marx, Revelations Concerning the Communist Trial in Cologne, in MECW, Vol. 11 (New York: International Publishers, 1979), 403; Lebowitz, 2003: Ch. 10.
 Marx discovered the point that every activity in which people engage forms them in Hegel’s Phenomenology. The outstanding achievement of the Phenomenology, Marx announced, is that ‘Hegel conceives the self-creation of man as a process’; thus, Hegel grasps real human beings ‘as the outcome of man’s own labour.’ Karl Marx, 1844 Manuscripts in MECW, Vol. 3: 329.
 Friedrich Engels, ‘The Ten Hours’ Question’ (1850), MECW, Vol. 10 (New York: International Publishers, 1978),275.
 On the question of the second product, see Michael A. Lebowitz, The Socialist Alternative: Real Human Development (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010), in particular, Chapter 2, ‘The Production of People’. See also Michael A. Lebowitz, The Socialist Imperative: From Gotha to Now (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2015.).
 Marx, 1977: 342.
 Ibid., 412.
 Ibid., 344.
 Ibid., 591.
 Ibid., 481, 548, 526, 557, 562-3,643, 799.
 Marx, 1994: 23.
 Marx, 1977: 799.
 See Chapter 8, ‘Good-bye to Vanguard Marxism,’ in Michael A. Lebowitz, The Contradictions of ‘Real Socialism’: The Conductor and the Conducted (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2012).]]>
Ken McAlpine, National Tertiary Education Union, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sarah Roberts, National Tertiary Education Union, email@example.com
The Australian union movement has been in decline for several decades. The social and economic factors which have led to the decline are briefly examined. Unions have spent many years developing strategies based on improved organising and recruitment methods, and academics have devoted research to analysing and assessing these. However, this paper argues that this concentration is misplaced, and that the legal framework in which unions operate is the central determinant of their limited success in recent years. Finally, a minimum legal framework, based on collective bargaining, is proposed as an example of what type of changes unions should prioritise if they are to recover.
Anyone who looks at the trade union density figures in Australia over the past forty years could be forgiven for thinking that the union movement is in crisis, if not terminal decline. Since at least the early 1990s, the ACTU and many unions have been aware of the problem and have embarked on a range of strategies and tactics to address it.
Discussion about trade union strategies in Australia, especially within the union movement itself, has understandably concentrated upon how trade unions organise and structure themselves, how they organise and recruit, and how they sell their message. For example, in the wake of an ACTU Leaders Forum in February 2016, ACTU President Ged Kearney was asked on ABC Radio why union density had fallen so drastically in the past three decades. Her answer was to the effect that perhaps unions haven’t been good enough at explaining their achievements and getting their message across. While this self-criticism may be true, it overlooks the systemic hurdles which prevent union revival, and which we examine in this paper.
The purpose of this paper is not to criticise the tactics and methods adopted to combat union decline.
Instead it is to identify the role of the legal framework in which unions operate as the central and critical factor which prevents any of these tactics and methods from succeeding. Our argument is that restoring the right of unions to do what unions are supposed to do is a necessary pre-requisite for any sustained union growth, and that much discussion within unions and academia ignores or avoids this central but obvious conclusion.
It is well known that membership of trade unions in Australia over the past four decades has declined steadily, from above 50% of the workforce in the 1970s to a little above 15% now. Unless something changes in the next couple of decades, the union movement may no longer be viable.
It is also clear that across nearly all the advanced capitalist world, to varying degrees, unions have had declining membership and influence, which suggests that the problems go deeper than the choices made by particular unions, or by the labour movements in particular countries.
Sympathetic analysts have identified and debated the relative importance of the ‘external’ factors in the decline of union membership. These include:
Fundamental changes in product and labour markets, with firms subject to greater competition, including global competition, limiting unions’ capacity to increase labour’s share at the level of the firm.
The loss of union ‘bastions’ – large employers with stable unionised workforces, such as the post office, the vehicle, steel, rail and power industries, and many large manufacturing plants.
Chronic high unemployment and underemployment since 1975, with its consequent effect on the bargaining power of employees as individuals and collectively.
Alleged changes in culture, away from collectivism and towards individualism, along with a more explicitly anti-union attitude on the part of employers.
We don’t propose to analyse the relative contribution of each of the factors listed above, nor to disentangle them from each other. However, none of these is likely to change in the short term.
The legal framework
These changes have occurred alongside, and have been compounded by, radical changes in the legal rights of trade unions since 1977.
Perhaps the most obvious of these changes has been in relation to industrial action. During most of the twentieth century, despite the theoretical existence of the industrial torts, and the reality of ‘bans clauses’ and other Commission orders, unions were in practice able to take industrial action. In most industries, industrial action was used sparingly, but it was always in the background as a possibility when a delegate or organiser was raising a grievance or making a claim. Industrial action underwrote ‘organising’ by demonstrating actual or potential union power on-the-job.
In several steps, the union movement has lost nearly all of its previous de facto rights:
Statutory prohibitions against secondary boycotts – from 1977 (Sections 45D and 45E of the Trade Practices Act 1974).
‘No Extra Claims’ Clauses associated with the Accord – 1983-1994 (Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, Print F2900 23 September 1983).
The confirmation of the availability of the industrial torts – 1985 (Dollar Sweets Pty Ltd v Federated Confectioners Association and Others  VicRp 38;  VR 383).
Protected industrial action, and its implied converse – from 1993 (Section 170PG Industrial Relations Reform Act 1993).
Orders against unprotected industrial action – from 1997 (Section 127 Workplace Relations Act 1996.
Mandatory orders against unprotected industrial action – from 2005 (Section 496 Workplace Relations Act 1996, re-enacted in Fair Work Act 2009).
All unprotected action specifically unlawful and injunctible – from 2005 (Section 494 Workplace Relations Act 1996, re-enacted in the Fair Work Act 2009).
Mandatory restrictions on industrial action which harms or threatens to harm the ‘welfare’ of ‘part of the population’, making effective industrial action difficult in many industries – from 2005 (Section 430 of the Workplace Relations Act, re-enacted in Section 424 of The Fair Work Act)
The right to take action in pursuit of an enterprise agreement is still significant, but it is a pale shadow of previous rights, and can rarely confer the right to use industrial action to resolve an acute workplace dispute. Until the 1980s, much union strength was built around the union’s capacity to resolve a specific workplace issue through the use, or the threat of the use, of industrial action.
The loss of trade union rights to take industrial action is reflected in the official figures, which show that industrial action has almost disappeared, even by comparison with the 1970s and even the 1980s (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2016).
The second significant change has been the loss of access to merit-based arbitration. Until 1997, unions had a general power to take industrial disputes to an independent state or federal arbitrator, for example, Section 99 of the Industrial Relations Act 1988, and its predecessors and equivalent State Acts. Although Awards were the most important outcome of arbitration, arbitration was also used to solve acute or immediate disputes. Unions considered these arbitrators were often fairly conservative, but they could and did intervene in acute workplace disputes. Managements, as well as unions, could never be sure what the arbitrator might decide, and this meant they were often willing to reach a settlement rather than run the risk of arbitration. Since 1997, with the limitation of disputes under Section 89A of the Workplace Relations Act 1996 to ‘allowable matters’ and more particularly since the 2005 WorkChoices legislation, unions have almost completely lost the capacity to take merit-based disputes to the Commission. This loss has seriously weakened union power in workplaces, especially for unions which represent less militant groups or were for political reasons less militant.
A third factor has been the collapse of union security arrangements, which it has been suggested has suggested accounted for a large part of the collapse of union density (Peetz, 1997). These ranged from tribunal-ordered or tribunal-sanctioned arrangements which provided for compulsory union membership or varying degrees of preference in hiring or retention to union members, to de facto arrangements won by unions at workplaces.
While it is important to understand how the union movement has been hobbled over the past four decades, union recovery cannot consist of wishing for a return to the past. We now therefore wish to turn from an analysis of what has happened, to what we consider to be the central issues which the union movement need to address in future strategies.
The free-rider problem
Unions in Australia by law cannot secure benefits only for their members to the exclusion of non-members. For an employer to agree to this would be adverse action under the Section 346, Fair Work Act 2009. It is difficult for any membership-based organisation which charges a substantial fee to recruit if it cannot secure the benefits of membership only to members. Moreover unions cannot ensure that non-members contribute to the union on the basis that if all benefit, all should contribute.
The ‘business model’ under which unions operate is the equivalent of local councils collecting household garbage where paying council rates is voluntary, but the council cannot discriminate against those who don’t pay rates. Such a model would quickly send most local councils broke, yet it is exactly the model which the union movement has come to accept as normal. The manifest injustice and irrationality of the position is discussed in an recent article by an ALP-Left activist (McElrea, 2016)
The problem of bargaining at the enterprise level
It also means that in competitive industries where unions have power in only some firms, the union has the choice between achieving big gains and driving those firms to the wall and losing the members, or doing very little to increase returns to labour, and therefore failing to attract members. Moreover, with the increase in employer tactics of contracting-out of work, agreements at the enterprise level do not even protect employees’ wages and conditions within the one enterprise.
Australia’s position is uniquely bad
There are countries where unions are illegal or not independent, and others where unions are extra-judicially suppressed. However, we have suggested over a number of years, and not been challenged, that there is no other comparable country in the world where unions face all of these challenges:
• no general right to take industrial action, and
• no right to merit based arbitration, and
• no right to capture the benefits of their collective bargaining for members or make non-members contribute, and
• no right to bargain at the industry level, and
• no exclusive right to enter into binding collective agreements (i.e. there are non-union ‘collective’ agreements).
In some comparable countries, unions have only 2, 3 or 4 of these rights, but only in Australia do we have none. The hostility to unions of the system in Australia is masked somewhat by the standard of minimum entitlements of workers, which by international standards, is fairly good. However, while independent and democratic trade unions are allowed, successful trade unionism is barely possible in Australia. The best that unions can hope for in these circumstances is survival.
Can unions organise or recruit their way to recovery?
Australian unions are constantly changing by refining and improving their activities. In particular, there has been much energy spent on honing the craft of organising. Over the last 20 years consistent efforts have been made, across the union movement, to build an organising culture in each union rather than a culture that accepts servicing, or fee-for-service unionism, as the norm. Organising Works, the organisers’ program run by the ACTU, and successive ACTU organising conferences heralding SEIU-type member-to-member recruitment programs are emblematic of these efforts. It is now fair to say that across much of the union movement, recruitment is no longer an accidental by-product of good servicing; it is deliberate and choreographed in fine detail.
At the same time unions have honed their administrative activities. Databases and websites have been built, and internal processes refined, leading to huge efficiencies and economies of scale. Members no longer resign from a union or fall off the books without follow-up. They are emailed, called and re-called. This simple measure, amongst many others, has resulted in improved retention rates for some unions.
Yet all the while, unions have continued its decline, measured by density and by the exercise of power. The best that can be said, in fact, is that the union movement’s efforts in organising, recruitment and administrative streamlining have slowed the rate of decline. A demonstrable sign of effective organising might well be an increase in industrial action, but this is very rare.
It is therefore hard to escape the conclusion that unions cannot simply recruit or organise their way out of the present situation. Trying the latest theory from overseas, or trying harder, or improving union messaging have not succeeded, and will not succeed, except at the margins, until the basic rules of the game are changed.
Yet much discussion within the trade union movement, and, in its wake, much academic discussion about trade unionism, concentrates on internal union strategies and tactics, at the expense of discussing what might actually be necessary to revive the trade union movement.
At the micro-level organisers, officers and delegates simply have to fight their battles under the current regime of anti-union laws, and there is little time to consider the broader questions of what a better system might look like.
At the level of union leadership, however, there appears to be a failure to articulate what would seem to be the obvious proposition that unions cannot rebuild under the current legal regime, let alone an articulation or discussion of what changes need to be made.
It is beyond the scope of this paper to explain why this might be. This may have something to do with the relationship between unions and the Australian Labor Party, or a belief that favourable legal changes are impossible, or a misplaced belief that unions can organise their way out of their current crisis, or that until unions can rebuild their industrial or political influence significant change in union rights cannot be pursued. Probably, all of these are factors.
In academia, many have clearly and correctly described how the State in Australia has systematically set out to weaken unions (Cooper and Ellem, 2013). Others have well described and critiqued union organising strategies (Barnes and Markey, 2015). However, to our knowledge there has not been a systematic and extensive discussion of three central questions:
First, whether it is actually possible for unions to organise their way out of their crisis without radical changes to the legal framework, and if the answer to that is in the negative; second, what changes to that framework should be prioritised to rebuild union membership and influence; and third, how might those changes be achieved. We suggest that the answer to the first question is clearly no. If we are right about that, we also suggest that much of the strategic thinking of the union movement should be addressed to the second and third questions.
In the Appendix to this paper, we propose what we consider to be the minimum necessary changes to give unions a level playing field. This has been developed after discussions with colleagues from a number of unions.
We claim no special knowledge or insight into how or over what timeframe it might be feasible to achieve the necessary changes to union rights. However, we suggest that a discussion should commence to develop a consensus about what is needed, and indeed that achieving those changes is the central strategic question facing the movement. Time is running out.
This Appendix proposes changes to the law which would allow the recovery of union density and influence, even in current political and economic conditions. While many other legal changes might be considered fair or desirable, the purpose of what is proposed here is only to achieve that recovery, not to fulfil a workers’ or union or public policy wish list.
What we put forward is nothing more than the basis of discussion, and for the sake of brevity there are important and necessary aspects of such a scheme which are not addressed here. However, they do proceed from the assumption that, given a genuine choice, most workers in most industries would vote for collective representation, especially if that representation was allowed to be effective.
Establishment and coverage of bargaining electorates
All employees in the whole country, including employee-like independent contractors, would by law be covered by a defined bargaining electorate. The Fair Work Commission would establish these bargaining electorates in consultation with the ACTU, relevant unions, and employer bodies on the basis of community of industrial interests, labour and product markets, and supply chains.
It should be noted here that the creation of a bargaining electorate itself would create no rights for unions or workers unless the employees in the bargaining electorate voted to establish a collective bargaining unit; this is explained further below.
A bargaining electorate could be a large enterprise or a part of a very large enterprise. However, it could also be an industry, or an occupation, a supply chain or some combination of these, usually within a defined geographic area. Examples of bargaining electorates might be:
• Sydney University,
• Remote aboriginal health services,
• Nurses in NSW private nursing homes,
• Persons employed in retail stores in Darwin,
• Residential construction in Tasmania,
• The Gorgon gas project,
• Contract cleaners in North Queensland, and
Each Bargaining Electorate would have to be of sufficient size that it could support the resources necessary to have effective employee and employer representation. This would require that usually they cover at least 2000 employees. A bargaining electorate would be defined so that the introduction of labour hire or contracting-out would not take an employee or employer outside of the bargaining electorate.
Bargaining electorates would be defined so that they do not overlap. In the list of examples above, the boundary between the Woolworths bargaining electorate and the Darwin retail stores bargaining unit would be clear, and Woolworths employees in Darwin would be allocated either to one or the other, but not to both.
Voting to have a collective bargaining unit
Employees in a bargaining electorate could vote in a ballot to bargain collectively, that is to establish a Collective Bargaining Unit (CBU). An application for a ballot could be made by a union, supported by sufficient employees, and a vote would have to be held within 60 days. In the ballot process, an employer could send employees written material opposing the union’s ballot, but could not hold meetings with employees individually or in groups to discuss it. If a majority voted to establish a CBU, all employees would pay union dues and be members of the union(s), provided that an individual could instead choose to pay the same amount as Union dues to a charity concerned with worker welfare and in these circumstances would not be entitled to individual union assistance. Appropriate procedures would also be required to allow employees to collectively vote to de-unionise.
The great advantage of this system is that the decision to unionise or not is based on a democratic vote of workers with a community of interest. It fundamentally changes the question facing each individual worker from ‘Should I join the union, and what difference will that make?’ to ‘Would we be better off if we had a union to represent us?’
How bargaining would work within collective bargaining units
Employers and unions would be entitled to bargain across the collective bargaining unit, even when this involved many employers. So, for example, if the CBU was Hairdressing Salons in the ACT, the union or the employers could insist that they wanted a single agreement covering all employers and employees, and could add workplaces to a common or ‘core’ agreement. A core agreement in an industry could permit the negotiation of subsidiary agreements at an enterprise level.
Only unions could negotiate agreements, and there would be no employee approval ballots or ‘non-union’ agreements. The union and employer(s) could by consent submit the terms of an agreement to arbitration.
Enterprise level bargaining would still be permitted, and an employer could not be forced to join a common or multi-employer agreement. In some CBUs, enterprise-level bargaining might remain the main form of bargaining if that is what was preferred.
If there was a core agreement which already applied to most of the employees in the CBU, any greenfield sites would by default be covered by that agreement for a specified period until and unless a new agreement could be negotiated.
There are two obvious advantages to sector-based bargaining. First, by grouping employees of small businesses into larger units for the purposes of bargaining, these employees would have genuine access to collective bargaining. Most collective bargaining systems are implicitly structured to leave small business employees stranded on inferior conditions outside effective bargaining. The second advantage of allowing industry or sector or locality bargaining is that it goes some way to taking wages out of competition between firms, forcing employers to compete on productivity and quality, rather than on labour costs.
Rights to take industrial action
It should be emphasised that what we propose about industrial action is not what we think is desirable in a general sense, nor what we consider necessary to establish an appropriate right-to-strike in Australia. Rather, we are describing only what we consider would be necessary to establish a system which would allow unions to be effective.
We propose that industrial action should be permitted generally except in the following circumstances:
Where the industrial action is taken in relation to a matter that has been specifically prescribed or settled by a collective agreement which has not expired. For example, if hours-of-work were prescribed in a current collective agreement, the union could not take industrial action for a shorter working week.
Where a current collective agreement included a ‘no-strike’ provision.
Where the industrial action was about whether a collective bargaining unit should be established or disestablished. Given a CBU can only be established by a vote of the employees themselves, industrial action against the employer could not be justified.
Where the industrial action seriously jeopardises public safety or health, in which case the union would be entitled to require an arbitrated agreement.
Where the Fair Work Commission, on the merits, ordered an end to a secondary boycott. As a broad principle, however, secondary boycotts would be permitted within the confines of a collective bargaining unit, in order to achieve collective agreements.
How things would work outside the collective bargaining units
We expect that the proposals described above would rapidly bring union density to well above fifty percent of the workforce.
However, even then there would still be bargaining electorates covering millions of employees who did not vote to become collective bargaining units.
We propose that in these areas, unions could still recruit and represent individual members in relation to their legal rights or individual grievances, but there would be no system of binding collective agreements.
Employees could take industrial action over a specific dispute, or to attend a protest rally, but would have no access to arbitration.
Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2016) 4102.0 – Australian Social Trends – Industrial Disputes, at http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/latestmf/4102.0~99
Australian Government Treasury. (2016) Small Business Data Card, 23 September 2016, at http://www.treasury.gov.au/PublicationsAndMedia/Publications/2012/sml-bus-data
Barnes, A. and Markey, R. (2015), ‘Evaluating the organising model of trade unionism: An Australian perspective’, Economic and Labour Relations Review, 26 (4): ):513- 525
Cooper R and Ellem B. (2013) ‘The State against Unions: Australia’s Neo-liberalism, 1996-2007’ in Global Anti-Unionism: Nature, Dynamics, Trajectories and Outcomes, ed. Gregor Gall and Tony Dundon, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, United Kingdom, pp. 163-83
McElrea, D. (2016) ‘The Little Red Hen gets her bread back’ in Challenge: The magazine of the Left of the Australian Labor Party, 21 October 2016 at http://www.challengemagazine.com.au/the_little_red_hen_gets_her_bread_back
Peetz, D. (1997) The Paradigm Shift in Australian Union Membership: A Tale of Compulsory Unionism, in Proceedings of the Association of Industrial Relations Academics of Australia and New Zealand Conference, Brisbane, Australia.
For background read the many articles on this blog put in ‘right to strike’, ‘unions’.]]>
Thousands are in Santiago de Cuba to bid farewell to Fidel Castro, including many Latin American and international leaders. Fidel’s ashes have just traveled across the country. http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Cuba-Bids-Farewell-to-Fidel-With-Huge-Memorial-Live-Updates-20161126-0007.html #HastaSiempreComandante
Black America and the Passing of Fidel Castro By Bill Fletcher, Jr.
It is impossible to discuss Fidel Castro outside of an examination of the Cuban Revolution. And, while I hear that there are many Cuban Americans dancing with glee upon news of the death of President Castro, I know that the emotions within Black America are and will continue to be quite different.
For any Black American who knows anything about the history of the Western Hemisphere, both Cuba and Haiti have a special significance. read thoughts here http://billfletcherjr.com/2016/black-america-passing-fidel-castro/
I will not try to offer anything approaching an analysis of the man and his times. What I can say, however, is that there are certainly criticisms to be offered, and differences of opinion of the dynamics of the Cuban Revolution. That is all fair game. At the same time, it has been a rare moment when a leader, particularly of a small country, has been willing to thumb his or her nose at the capitalist juggernaut and seek a different path. Added to this has been, particularly in a Western Hemispheric context, the challenge of taking on racist oppression and approaching it as the cancer that it is, a disease to be removed.
The one and only time that I met Fidel Castro was in January 1999 when I was on a TransAfrica delegation led by the organization’s first president, Randall Robinson. At the last minute, the night before we were to leave Cuba, we were informed that we would have an opportunity to meet with President Castro.
It was close to midnight when we were informed that we needed to board the bus and head to his office. When we arrived we walked into a waiting room in anticipation of the meeting. Suddenly a door opened and out came an old man in an olive green uniform. Yes, it was Castro. I think, quite irrationally, I was expecting the young Castro of the 1960s. But here was someone about the same age as my father. He circulated around the room and was introduced to our delegation. We then retired to another room to begin our meeting.
It is hard to describe what happened next, and probably equally hard for anyone to believe it. We sat in the room with Castro until about 3:30am. He never lost a beat. He never seemed tired. In fact, as the minutes and hours went forward, he seemed to gain energy! Castro spoke with us about the Cuban Revolution, race, and many other issues. Yes, he spoke a lot, but we were transfixed. And, when we asked him questions, he would consider the matter and always offer a thoughtful response, rather than retreating into rhetoric. It was particularly illuminating when he informed us that the Cuban Revolution had underestimated the power of racism. As he said at the time, when the 26th of July Movement (the revolutionary organization that led the anti-Batista struggle) took power they thought that it was enough to render racist discrimination illegal and that should settle the matter. The entrenched power of racism, even in a society that was attempting to root it out, was more substantial than they had anticipated.
Hearing this from Castro represented a special moment. There has frequently been a defensiveness among Cuban officials about matters of race in Cuba, despite the tremendous advances that they have made, advances probably of greater significance than any other country in the Western Hemisphere. Yet, manifestations of racism remain and, to our surprise, Castro was prepared to address them.
My Life by Castro http://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Fidel-Castro-My-Life/Ignacio-Ramonet/9781416562337
Marta Harnecker: Fidel Castro today forever
You always understood that politics was not the art of the possible – a conservative vision of politics – but rather the art of making possible the impossible, not through voluntarist actions but by understanding that politics is the art of building a social, political and military correlation of forces that allows us to transform the existing conditions of struggle and make possible in the future that which seems impossible in the present.
Against the fatalism that reigned within the left at that time, you demonstrated it was possible to defeat a regular army despite the sophistication of its weapons. Using the guerrilla tactic of attacking the enemy by surprise at its weakest points, you carried out victorious actions that weakened both its military force and, above all, its morale.
But for you, the armed struggle was a means and not the objective . Like Marti, you believed that those who promoted a war in a country when it could be avoided were criminals; but so also were those who refused to fight in a war that had to be waged.
Your great historic merit is having being able to clearly define the decisive link that could break the chain and, by doing so, give victory to the revolution. In your case it was the struggle against the dictator Batista and the regime he ruled over.
You saw clearly the need to unite the broadest range of social forces to overthrow this tyranny. It was not enough to only consider working with revolutionary sectors, it was necessary to convoke reformist sectors and even those reactionary sectors that had minimal differences with the dictator.
Fidel Castro — Beyond Words by João Pedro Stédile
We lost Fidel. We gained a history of examples and wisdom.
The story of Fidel is beyond words — we cannot describe it with words alone. So I would like to just give a testimony.
He used all his wisdom, knowledge, leadership, and dedication to build, over 60 years, a united and organized people, who have become invincible, faced with the most powerful economic and military forces of the 20th century: the capital of the United States.
For all those years the people have learned how to face the worst adversities, be they natural, like their hurricanes, storms, and lost harvests. They have faced an intolerable economic blockade. They have faced a permanent war, including a military invasion — the Bay of Pigs in 1961. …
Our movement, the Movement of Rural Landless Workers (MST), has received permanent solidarity and support of the Cuban people, with their technical schools, at the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM), where hundreds of poor Brazilian youths have been trained. Our movement has acquired the experience and methods of adult literacy education (Yes, I Can!). Together we have built international links of movements: Vía Campesina; the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA); the World Meeting of Popular Movements with the Pope; the Cuban peasants of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) and the agroecology experts of the Cuban Association of Agriculture and Forestry Experts (ACTAF); the Federation of Cuban Workers (CTC); the Martin Luther King Center; etc. But above all we have learned a great deal from their exemplary struggle and persistence….
I would just emphasize, for our activists, his example in two fundamental aspects of life. The love of study. Fidel was a permanent propagandist for the importance of study, scientific knowledge, and liberating education. He had constantly studied from youth till his last days. He used to always say, quoting his inspiration Jose Martí: “Only knowledge truly liberates people.”
He was always with his people, every moment, on the front line, in all difficult situations: in war, in the organization of production and knowledge. He spared no efforts and set an example of the spirit of sacrifice.
read the article here http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2016/stedile261116.html
Fidel Castro and the Question Of PowerVan Gosse says: “The U.S. had to be taught, over and over, that the strong do not always dictate. The legacy of the Cuban Revolution is their insistence on the independence and equality of peoples. Perhaps, in an era when neoliberal “globalization” carries all before it, that seems like an antique stance, left over from the era of anticolonial Third World revolution. I think not.”
Fidel Castro’s life, and the example of the Cuban Revolution, demonstrates the enduring relevance of state power. It is fundamentally irresponsible for anyone on the left to think one can avoid the question of power, and let someone else face its contradictions and deformations. Somebody will exercise it, for good or ill. Fidel Castro embraced this question, choosing to wield power in as many ways possible for what he deemed social goods, even on the global scale.http://portside.org/2016-12-04/fidel-castro-and-question-power
Fidel Castro was a towering champion of the oppressed, but we shouldn’t ignore the limits of the socialism he helped build.
by Mike Gonzalez https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/11/fidel-castro-obit-cuban-revolution-imperialism/
Again and again, Fidel Castro refused to surrender to threat or blackmail — it is that refusal that explains the blind fury and wrath of his enemies. Republican and Democrat administrations sustained the siege of Cuba for six decades, ranting in disbelief at their own ineffectiveness….After the Bay of Pigs invasion, Castro declared that the revolution was socialist. Though Fidel himself came from a radical nationalist background, his announcement was a recognition of both Cuba’s economic dependence on the Soviet Union and of the central role the soon-to-be-refounded Communist Party would play in its future.
In this context, socialism was understood to mean a strong centralized state along Soviet lines. This coincided with both Castro’s and Guevara’s views of how revolutions are won — by the actions of small and dedicated groups of cadre acting on behalf of the mass movement.
When the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, Castro supported the action, confirming once again Cuba’s dependence on the Soviet Union and the nature of the new state in the wake of Che’s death. But in Southern Africa, the country asserted its own, bolder, foreign policy.
During the seventies, the role of Cuban forces were key to defeating right-wing insurgencies and sustained Castro’s anti-imperialist reputation. There is little doubt their actions hastened the end of apartheid. Yet in the Horn of Africa, Cuban troops defended governments allied with Soviet regional interests that brutally repressed internal liberation movements.
Fidel was never a pliant subordinate. He used his extraordinary charisma and clout to fire occasional warning shots towards Moscow, on the one hand, and to reinforce his personal control of the state on the other. The survivors of the guerrilla force that landed from the “Granma” in 1956 and brought down the Batista dictatorship remained, for the most part, at the center of power for the five decades that followed.
The socialism that Castro espoused had little resemblance to Marx’s “self-emancipation of the working class.” It was a socialism with a command structure much like that of the guerrilla army in which Fidel was commander-in-chief. What held it together was both Fidel’s incontestable authority and the unrelenting hostility of the United States, which not only tried to murder him hundreds of times but was willing to starve the Cuban people into submission.
Under these tough conditions, the system that the revolutionaries built left real gains. Most celebrated of these were efficient and universal systems of health and education. Beyond that, daily life was hard, even before the withdrawal of Soviet aid and the “special period” that followed, which brought the island to the brink of disaster. Read more of the article.
A major feature of Fidel Castro’s 47-year-old rule was his manipulation of popular support and the creation of a political system that does not hesitate to use repression, and not only against class enemies, to cement its power.
BY SAMUEL FARBER http://inthesetimes.com/article/19672/fidel-castro-1926-2016-death-history-communist-party
“For the Left, Fidel always had another meaning. He was the principal designer of a revolutionary socialist project of Latin American emancipation. He put into practice the objective inaugurated by Lenin in 1917 and therefore occupied in Latin America a place equivalent to that of the promotor of the soviets.
But unlike his precursor, Fidel led for decades the process he initiated in 1960. He can be assessed as much for his triumph as for his management.
From a longer-lasting perspective, Castro’s achievement is comparable with the campaigns undertaken by Bolívar and San Martín. He led regional actions attempting to link a second independence for Latin America with the international advance of socialism.
Fidel tackled these tasks of Cyclopean proportions while maintaining a very close relationship with his followers.
He addressed his messages to millions of sympathizers who cheered him on various continents. He achieved a rational and passionate connection with the multitudes who heard him speak in countless meetings.” Read here
Castro survives many US assignation attempts is fascinating on our understanding of the “secret” state
Castro’s life in photos ABC http://abcnews.go.com/International/photos/fidel-castro-years-17447023/image-41342631
Wall Street Journal Counting Castro’s victims http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB113590852154334404
LNL 2013 ABC Radio on Cuba and Fidel http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/latenightlive/cuba-without-fidel-castro/4997132
The Secret History of How Cuba Helped End Apartheid in South Africa
DECEMBER 11, 2013
Green left Socialist reflection 2012 to promote the conference “Fidel in the 21st Century: His Contribution and Ideas for a Better World”, at the New South Wales Teachers Federation building.
By Marce Cameron
The hundreds of millions of the 99% for whom Fidel has been something of a political compass, and a spiritual compass in the secular sense, will want to reflect and recommit to our shared visions of a better world — a world without Fidel, but nourished by his presence in our struggles.
…on solidarity internationally; Fidel is daring to dream of such a revolutionary transformation of our own society. And working patiently towards it in ways that are meaningful to each of us, respecting each other’s contributions and seeking the path of principled unity. Fidel is contributing our little grain of sand to the revolutionary hourglass, recalling that he began his struggle with a handful of idealistic youth with hardly a cent among them.
ALP Socialist left Tristan Ewins on Castro http://alpsocialistleft.blogspot.com.au/2016/11/remembering-fidel.html
Vanguard tribute http://www.cpaml.org/posting1.php?id=392
From Links Castro and the Cuban Revolution
From Diego Maradona
Died my friend, my confidant, the one who advised me, the one who called me at any time to discuss politics, football, baseball, the one who told me that when it was Clinton who came was worse, that was bush. As he was not wrong, never for me fidel is, was and will be eternal, the only, the greatest. My heart hurts because the world loses the wisest of all.
Not just anyone grave a dictatorship with 20 men challenging the American Empire.
Not just anyone removes illiteracy in a year.
Not just anyone low infant mortality of 42 % to 4 %.
Not any way more than 130 thousand doctors, ensuring 1 Doctor per 130 people, with the highest rate of doctors per capita in the world.
Not everyone believes the greatest faculty of medicine in the world, graduando1500 foreign doctors per year, with 25.000 doctors graduates of 84 nations.
Don’t anyone send more than 30 thousand doctors to work in over 68 countries of the world by adding nearly 600.000 missions.
Not everyone gets to be the only Latin American nation without child malnutrition.
Not everyone gets to be the only Latin American country without drug problem.
Not everyone gets 100 % of schooling.
Not everyone can move in their country without seeing a single child sleeping on the street.
Not everyone gets to be the only country in the world that fulfills the ecological sustainability.
Not everyone gets that its population has 79 years of life expectancy at birth.
Not everyone believes vaccines against cancer.
Not everyone gets to be the only country that eradicates the mother to child transmission of HIV.
Not everyone gets to have the largest number of Olympic medals of Latin America.
Not everyone survives over 600 attempts on his life and 11 Presidents Americans trying to overthrow him.
Not everyone survives 50 years of blockade and economic war.
Not everyone gets to be 90 years old, with so much prominence in world history.
Loved by millions. Misunderstood by many others. What you can’t make anyone, is to ignore it.
R.I.P Fidel #Castro!