define('DISABLE_WP_CRON', true); Workers Rights – Chris White Online http://chriswhiteonline.org Blogging from a life-long unionist Sat, 25 Nov 2017 20:13:47 +0000 en-AU hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.4.7 Mindfields http://chriswhiteonline.org/2017/11/mindfields/ Sat, 25 Nov 2017 20:09:47 +0000 http://chriswhiteonline.org/?p=6238 Wonderful opening of Mindfields – my Exhibition of my ‘political paintings’.
Mindfields
Thank you all who came and to the Gallery One at Mitcham South Australia and to Wende Dahl who encouraged me to exhibit and who organised this Exhibition, and Russell Starke, an old family friend actor and Art Gallery owner and Curator who chose these particular paintings. And thank you to Kathryn Moyle, professional organiser who did all the leg work.

My paintings (click on the website and scroll down) are for sale and the proceeds donated to a Peace group. They range from $500 to $1500. Please contact Sanya on (08) 8272 4504 about pricing.

For the printed Catalogue please contact the Gallery $10.

http://www.galleryone.org.au/2017/11/24/chris-white-mindfields-online/

I add that apart from these paintings, I have many others you may like to see and purchase.

From the Introduction
Chris White – ‘Mindfields’ is the first exhibition by a life-long left union and political activist; and a long-time artist. The title of this exhibition is a play on the words ‘mind’ and ‘minefields’. It is a retrospective of paintings over a 25 year period with the focus falling squarely on some of Chris’ more political works.

The retrospective was curated by Russell Starke and includes paintings from the past quarter of a century, covering different political times. Chris brings a raw and primitive energy to his work by employing a wide range of styles, brush strokes and colours: this is his mind at work. Chris ‘paintings are practices in using colour. Chris has also adapted well-known paintings and reinterpreted them in contemporary society

Some of the works selected for this showing are not easily approached. Primary colours dominate, dance and happily clash and wheel to create tension, emotion and message. They challenge to make their public take a hard look and to ask you to have a long think about their messages. You will be thinking about them long after you have left them behind.

Wende Dahl

Mindfields is showing live at Gallery One from November 24th to December 15th 2017.

Gallery One is proud to present these works as our inaugural online exhibition.

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Strike force http://chriswhiteonline.org/2017/11/strike-force/ Wed, 22 Nov 2017 07:12:20 +0000 http://chriswhiteonline.org/?p=6231 I post Strike Force by Humphrey McQueen

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.’

strike as a last resort

strike as a last resort


Two vital issues are back into the contest of ideas. In some sense, McManus has opened a local window onto the anti-capitalism of Bernie Sanders,Jeremy Corbyn and the Pope. None of them can win our battles for us.

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.
BS1
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.’
ABCC2
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.
ctustrikeday1

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.
airport

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.

strike weapon as a last resort

strike weapon as a last resort

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.
anti-union laws
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.
Globalsolidarity
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.
Touch One Touch All
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.

GLWsystemchange
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.
WSN  Right To Strike flyler - front page - FINAL
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.
Michael O'Connor CFMEU

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.
Arthur Rorris
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)
Thomas Mayor
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.
OHS

10. Then and Now
Bust the Budget Melbourne  2014
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.
ABCC2
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.

SA May day

SA May day


During the next more enlightened phase of liberal justice, the jobless were locked up in industrial prisons known as Workhouses.

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.

Rights on site campaigns to abolish the ABCC

Rights on site campaigns to abolish the ABCC


The masters never cease to call aloud for the assistance of the civil magistrate, and the rigorous execution of those laws which have been enacted with so much severity against the combinations of servants, labourers, and journeymen.
Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (1776)
Worse still, the inequality of these implied contracts meant that workers had no redress if injured or killed on the job. Until 1880, English law presumed that they had accepted the ‘risk’. The courts decided that the worker’s ‘risk’ was only ‘fair’. After all, the judges reasoned, capitalists had accepted the risk that they might not profit from the labourers they put in harm’s way.
The mentality of ‘master and servant’ persisted in the High Court which used those terms as late as 1986.

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.

joe hill

joe hill


A mass campaign won their release two years later. That fight did far more to secure our freedom to combine than had the repeal of the Anti-Combination Act ten years earlier.

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.
Dyson dump
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.
cfmeu_worker
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.

17. Torts
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.
MUA Portland

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.
FWBCjpg
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.
ctustrikeday1
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.

21. Mal-Practice
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.

dhimg_1130
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.

Heldon dumps on workers

Heldon dumps on workers


All six Commissions have targeted construction workers. They are singled out for two reasons. First, the hazards of their work and the uncertainty of their employment keep them militant. Secondly, construction work is not as amenable to mass production as are process lines. Therefore, the companies need the state to intervene around the jobs as a second-line of foremen. One example is the A.B.C.C.’s fining a worker who gets back more than five minutes late from lunch.

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.

24. Hegemony
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.
penalty rates cut_n
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?
CPSU

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.

28. Crippling
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’.

Rights on site campaigns to abolish the ABCC

Rights on site campaigns to abolish the ABCC


31. Social into socialism
Taking industrial action goes beyond demands for higher wages and shorter hours. Workplace and community campaigns unite to secure advances in the five pillars of everyday life: housing, employment, health, transport and education.

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.

36. Walk-offs
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.

39. Sub-sub-subbies
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.

http://chriswhiteonline.org/2016/06/right-to-strike/

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Update: Stop the corporate LNP war on workers http://chriswhiteonline.org/2017/11/update-stop-the-corporate-lnp-war-on-workers/ Tue, 21 Nov 2017 06:00:34 +0000 http://chriswhiteonline.org/?p=6232 I post more on the relentless corporate and LNP attack on workers and their unions and our response.

UglyEsso
New anti-union laws: Stop the war on workers
fromSMH
Employment minister Michaelia Cash and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull discuss how they plan to destroy the unions.
by SUE BULL November 11, 2017
Four years on — after the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption and the re-introduction of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) — several unions have begun campaigning against another set of laws.

These laws have tame, even innocuous names like the Proper Use of Workers Benefits Bill, the Corrupting Benefits legislation and the Ensuring Integrity Bill. They also target secondary issues like superannuation, entitlement funds or the abilities of unions to merge.

“Everyone should be worried that this is an attack on democracy by interfering with the running of unions,” McManus said on September 12. “Whenever the job of unions is made harder, it hurts all working people, that is time and money we won’t be able to spend raising wages and making jobs more secure.”

Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union national construction secretary Dave Noonan has outlined exactly what the Proper Use of Worker Benefits Bill has been designed to do.

He notes on the union’s website that this legislation could lead to the loss of apprentice jobs and the union movement’s ability to deliver health and safety courses.

Noonan wrote: “[The] bill seeks to control worker entitlement funds, which support workers who are made redundant. Interest from these funds supports health, safety and welfare programs, training and education in one of the most dangerous industries with high rates of suicide”.

Noonan told a Senate Committee hearing on October 30 that what the government is proposing is an unprecedented and unwarranted level of control and interference over union funds, for which there is no equivalent in the corporate world.

If passed, the bill would prohibit donations to welfare or charitable organisations, meaning support for programs such as Mates in Construction, a mental health/self-harm and suicide prevention program, would be made illegal.

The ACTU has also been at pains to point out the shortcomings of legislation undermining superannuation funds.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said on November 1: “We are deeply troubled that the government would make changes to super which will not address the massive theft of workers’ super, but in fact make it worse.

“Instead, the government has decided to attack working people, open up their financial security to the scandal plagued big banks, and make it harder for unions to do their job standing up for working people.”

The ACTU’s Change the Rules campaign is aimed at uniting workers to defend their interests and oppose the raft of anti-union legislation being put forward by the federal government.

The Change the Rules Campaign Kit issues a call to action, asking workers to join their union and get involved. “Once we build our movement, we will need to fight for the solutions,” it reads.

Strong stuff if it leads to unions coming out onto the streets to confront the entitled bluster and bankrupt rhetoric of the likes of Cash and Turnbull.
Read here
https://www.greenleft.org.au/content/new-anti-union-laws-stop-war-workers

dhimg_1130
Statement from ACTU President Ged Kearney:
Ged ACTU Congress 2015
The Australian Council of Trade Unions is calling for all controversial IR legislation to be put on hold until we can know for certain who is, and who isn’t, eligible to sit in the Federal Parliament.

There are currently five pieces of controversial industrial relations and superannuation legislation before the parliament. Three bills give more power to the big banks over working people’s financial security, and the other two give more power to the ROC, which is currently embroiled in the controversy over the police raid on union offices.
Read here
https://www.actu.org.au/actu-media/media-releases/2017/controversial-ir-and-super-legislation-must-be-halted-until-citizenship-crisis-is-resolved
Change the Rules Campaign Kit
https://www.australianunions.org.au/change_the_rules

Heldon dumps on workers

Heldon dumps on workers


Union campaigning training for union delegates
https://www.actu.org.au/education-training/win-campaigns
https://www.australianunions.org.au/resourcecentre
16991968_814645525369092_455763650752760588_o
Background to Hedyon’s attack on unions
http://chriswhiteonline.org/2016/01/dyson-dumps-turc-on-workers/
Sydney rally November
Thousands of Workers in their unions rally in Sydney to protest Turnbull/Cash attack on our rights to organise. Campaign to change the rules.
See FB Sydney rally November

On Minister Cash http://chriswhiteonline.org/2017/10/on-minister-cash/
fromSMH
Stop the War on Workershttp://chriswhiteonline.org/2017/03/stop-the-war-on-workers-rallies-march-9th/
16991968_814645525369092_455763650752760588_o
Rally against Ugly Esso

The system is broken. Esso’s corporate greed is out of control.
Together with contractor UGL, Esso is slashing the wages & conditions of hundreds of Gippsland workers.
Esso is ripping off consumers with outrageously high gas prices.
And Esso is even avoiding paying its fair share of tax. In fact in 2014-15 they paid NO tax on $8.4 billion revenue.
We need to return power to the hands of working people.
We need to change the rules.
Make sure you get down to this rally to support the Esso workers who have been out on the picket line for over 145 days.
We need to show greedy corporations like Esso that working people are standing up and fighting back!
Melbourne Rally Midday VTHC Wednesday 22nd November 2017
https://www.facebook.com/events/1937337019851104/
Listen to the union delegate FB
https://www.facebook.com/etuvic/videos/10155892584032884/
penalty rates cut_n

The Government Is Targeting Unions When They Should Really Be Worried About Your Pay Packet
In this lopsided contest between workers and employers, workers need all the help they can get.
…The more aggressive its attacks on the union movement become, the further the government sinks in the polls. And the failure of its scapegoating strategy does not solely reflect errors in political judgment.
…Data on labour compensation per hour of work (from the GDP accounts) suggest nominal wages actually fell 0.5 percent over the past year — the worst showing since World War II.

Many other indicators confirm workers need more power, not less, and hence that the government’s anti-union crusade is fundamentally misplaced. The share of GDP paid to workers fell to its lowest point since the ABS began collecting the data.

Minimum wages are one-quarter lower than 30 years ago, relative to overall wages. Union membership is down to 13 percent of total employment, in large part because of decades of unremitting legislative hostility. Enterprise agreement coverage is collapsing in the private sector, down 25 percent since 2013. The transformation of work from permanent jobs to insecure “gigs” further undermines the ability of workers to demand, and receive, higher pay.

In this lopsided contest between workers and employers, workers need all the help they can get. The power of collective representation is one of the most important tools in their toolbox. It’s no accident that unions and collective bargaining have been the primary target of business-friendly labour law changes over the last generation. But the legacy of that crusade is the stagnation and growing inequality of wages. Most Australians are suffering because of it. And that’s why they’re turning a blind eye to the Coalition’s effort to rouse yet another anti-union witch-hunt.
Read here http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/jim-stanford/the-government-is-targeting-unions-when-they-should-really-be-worried-about-your-pay-packet_a_23277632/

Federal Court cracks down on ‘sham’ enterprise agreements
In the first judicial ruling against so-called “sham” enterprise agreements, the Federal Court has overturned a major labour hire deal voted on by just three workers but which later covered more than a thousand in the mining industry.

The precedent ruling against One Key Resources, which is one of the biggest labour providers in the black coal industry, could mean the end of a common practice for labour hire firms that unions argue undercuts wages and conditions.

Justice Geoffrey Flick found One Key Resources’ 2015 enterprise agreement was invalid because three workers with limited job experience could not genuinely agree to a deal that covered 11 job classifications extending well beyond mining and construction and into road transport, clerks and hospitality.

16991968_814645525369092_455763650752760588_o

Read more: http://www.afr.com/news/policy/industrial-relations/federal-court-cracks-down-on-sham-enterprise-agreements-20171113-gzk12z#ixzz4z2flaWid

How they saved Dave: Worker sacked over undies protest wins back his job
http://www.smh.com.au/business/workplace-relations/how-they-saved-dave-worker-sacked-over-undies-protest-wins-back-his-job-20171110-gzj1wy.html
So Dave and his workmates won an EBA with their employer that included a laundry allowance so their dirty work clothes could be cleaned. Despite it being a legal entitlement, the employer refused to pay it. Because our workplace laws are so broken, it is not quick and easy for working people to enforce our rights – even if they are in black and white in an agreement. Employers who refuse get away with it because the independent umpire does not have to power to enforce rights, workers have to go to the expensive and very slow Federal Court. So the workers had a 10 minute protest in their undies to try and convince the boss to abide by the agreement they had made. They sacked the delegate for it.
anti-union laws
It should have never got to this point! We need to change the rules so the independent umpire has teeth again, so it is quick and easy to enforce our rights.
Touch One Touch All
ETU workers win against Crown
https://www.facebook.com/etuvic/photos/a.10152059119862884.1073741828.41690962883/10155938763507884/?type=3&theater
Meat pies, kangaroos, class struggle and Holden cars
https://redflag.org.au/node/6099

The reasons for Holden’s closure are primarily the neoliberal economic policies of the Australian government and the economic rationalist decisions of the US giant, General Motors. GM calculates that there are greater profits to be made by centralising production in much larger factories with cheaper labour and greater automation. In the end, it showed no loyalty to its workforce.

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On Minister Cash http://chriswhiteonline.org/2017/10/on-minister-cash/ Sat, 28 Oct 2017 03:14:07 +0000 http://chriswhiteonline.org/?p=6202 Here I post articles exposing PM Turnbull and Minister Cash using the AFP to try to smear the AWU and Shorten by again undermining workers’ basic rights to associate and combine together in unions and to engage in political campaigns against the LNP/corporate bosses.
ACTU Change the Rules campaign http://www.australianunions.org.au/change_the_rules
Waleed Aly “The AWU raid was clearly a political act” October 27 2017
…”That the initial complaint came from the government itself, and was directed at the leader of its main political rival makes this an instantly political act.
fromSMH
Then add the fact that the ROC, on whose behalf the AFP was acting, is a creature of the trade unions royal commission – a process whose entire being had clear political overtones. But it’s also the fact that the suspected wrongdoing here was already examined in the royal commission, and seems so relatively banal.
(ACTU explains the ROC https://www.facebook.com/AustralianUnions/videos/1679483072150309/)
At issue is a $100,000 donation to a like-minded political activist group. When you consider that unions are political beasts that frequently donate to fellow travellers – not least political candidates – the donation seems utterly unremarkable. Sure, it would be illegitimate if not properly authorised by the union’s executive. And perhaps one day we’ll learn that it wasn’t.

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
http://amp.smh.com.au/comment/the-awu-raid-was-clearly-a-political-act-20171025-gz8i3h.html

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

http://www.canberratimes.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/unions-demand-answers-over-new-twist-in-michaelia-cash-police-raids-scandal-20171029-gzadu3.html

Don Sutherland on radio https://soundcloud.com/radio-skid-row/don-sutherland-discusses-political-fallout-of-recent-afp-raid-on-awu-27-october-2017

Update November:
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.
https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/news/politics/2017/11/04/the-true-story-michaelia-cashs-union-raids/15097140005451?utm_source=tsp_website&utm_campaign=social_desktop_facebook&utm_medium=social_share
AWU raid something is deeply wrong with how unions are treated in australia
http://www.smh.com.au/comment/awu-raid-something-is-deeply-wrong-with-how-unions-are-treated-in-australia-20171031-gzc4xv.html

Coalition’s night terrors play out in public as kill Bill missive backfires
Katharine Murphy
https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/oct/28/coalitions-night-terrors-play-out-in-public-as-kill-bill-missive-backfires?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other
anti-union laws

Cold, Hard (Michaelia) Cash Lies To Parliament And The People
By Ben Eltham on November 2, 2017
https://newmatilda.com/2017/11/02/cold-hard-michaelia-cash-lies-parliament-people/
fromSMH
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.
http://www.canberratimes.com.au/comment/what-the-awu-raids-tell-us-about-the-turnbull-government-20171026-gz8u39.html

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.”
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Sally McManus FB on TV the 7.30 report
https://www.facebook.com/AustralianUnions/videos/1677665938998689/
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For background on the TURC Dyson Heydon attack on unions seehttp://chriswhiteonline.org/2016/01/dyson-dumps-turc-on-workers/
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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
Katharine Murphy
https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/oct/25/michaelia-cash-and-the-rogue-staffer-when-political-theatre-goes-off-script?CMP=soc_567

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
AUSTRALIAN POLITICS
LIZ ROSS
06 NOVEMBER 2017
https://redflag.org.au/node/6082
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
http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/malcolm-turnbulls-overreach-in-raids-on-bill-shortens-former-union-20171025-gz875y

Secretary AWU Walton responds
https://www.facebook.com/AustralianWorkersUnion/videos/10155718287846411/
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Pressure on Cash to resign
http://www.theage.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/pressure-mounting-on-michaelia-cash-to-quit-frontbench-over-awu-fiasco-20171025-gz8d5q.html
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 safe_image.phppaid 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
http://www.themercury.com.au/news/opinion/talking-point-another-attack-on-champions-of-the-battlers/news-story/0127b404058bec1e44982d35d22a09bf

Heldon dumps on workers

Heldon dumps on workers


Similarly, the ABCC attack on building unions
ABCC legal counsel Anthony Southall quits as Hadgkiss’ actions make role ‘untenable’

Read more: http://www.afr.com/news/policy/industrial-relations/abcc-legal-counsel-anthony-southall-quits-as-hadgkiss-actions-make-role-untenable-20171023
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And corporations use police to smash unions read here of one Australian example
Glencore ordered to stop ‘quasi-militaristic’ surveillance of CFMEU members
http://www.afr.com/news/policy/industrial-relations/glencore-ordered-to-stop-quasimilitaristic-surveillance-of-cfmeu-members-20171024-gz6vwe?btis

cfmeu_worker
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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
https://independentaustralia.net/politics/politics-display/raids-on-awu-and-attacks-on-getup-should-alarm-citizens,10862#.WfF2_tQ9rYY.facebook
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As well, ASIO is a threat to democracyhttp://thenewdaily.com.au/news/national/2017/10/20/asio-civil-liberties-concern/GLWsystemchange

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
Touch One Touch All

And LNP cuts to penalty rates creates new poor
http://thenewdaily.com.au/money/work/2017/10/22/new-class-working-poor/

And privatisation fails https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/23/privatisation-has-failed-we-need-a-moratorium-on-all-new-proposals
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Chris White Reminiscences http://chriswhiteonline.org/2017/10/chris-white-reminiscences/ Sat, 21 Oct 2017 03:35:13 +0000 http://chriswhiteonline.org/?p=6094 ChrisKathryn2017
Chris White Reminiscences
Many photos of a memorable event by Ridley and Ric. Thank you to all the speakers, MC Michael White and Director Kathryn Moyle and organisers. Great to see the hundreds of comrades.
Thank you to Star Theatre, Adelaide.The recording of these celebrations are at the SA Library, please contact Labour Historian Alison Murchie. On this library file is as well an audio recoding done at Radio 3CR with Chris and Mike on Chris’s early years at the AWU and Missos and a number of strikes.

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http://chriswhiteonline.org/2017/02/support-more-funding-for-dementia/
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Chris White blog on the Right to Strike
http://chriswhiteonline.org/2016/06/right-to-strike/
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Please support ICAN http://chriswhiteonline.org/2017/10/international-campaign-to-abolish-nuclear-weapons/
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http://chriswhiteonline.org/2016/02/timor-sea-justice-campaign-2016-protests-24-march/
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Peace movement building by Chris White
http://chriswhiteonline.org/2017/09/peace-movement-building/

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http://chriswhiteonline.org/2017/08/oppose-nuclear-war-and-north-korea/
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Liebowitz on Marx
http://chriswhiteonline.org/2017/07/more-from-leibowitz-on-marx/
CWInvitation Chris White Mindfields
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Save the Great Barrier Reef
http://chriswhiteonline.org/2015/11/more-on-saving-the-great-barrier-reef/
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The right to strike by Chris White
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Stop the War on Workers
http://chriswhiteonline.org/2017/03/stop-the-war-on-workers-rallies-march-9th/

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The 1917 Great Strike http://chriswhiteonline.org/2017/08/the-1917-great-strike/ Fri, 04 Aug 2017 08:54:40 +0000 http://chriswhiteonline.org/?p=6006 From Amalia Wallace SEARCH Foundation
Search members joined hundreds of trade unionists and labour movement activists at a commemorative dinner at the Eveleigh railway yards on Wednesday night in Sydney, to celebrate the Great Strike of 1917. The evening was also one of many fundraisers to support the completion of a documentary that will tell the story of the Strike using film footage from the time.

The 1917 Great Strike

The Great Strike was unprecedented in Australia. It was a mass uprising against management attempts to impose a “card” system, to monitor and drive workers to perform at an increasingly mechanised pace. As part of the new workplace systems, foremen began watching over workers, counting the time it took them to do certain tasks. Workers believed the new system was turning them into machines, de-skilling them and destroying their collective bonds.

This imposition of “Taylorism” by railway management was the last straw for rank and file workers, who already worked in noisy, dirty, and dangerous workplaces, in an environment of unjust and arbitrary treatment, falling wages and deteriorating conditions. The strike commenced in the Eveleigh and Randwick workshops, but such was the outrage of workers that it spread quickly around the state.

Thousands of workers from other unions joined in solidarity and refused to handle goods and materials produced by scab labour. Very quickly, tens of thousands of brave men and women around the state and eventually around the country joined the conflict.

Alex Claassens introduced the evening and spoke of the challenges and legacy of the Strike. Alex, as NSW Branch Secretary of the Rail, Tram and Bus Union, fully understands the challenges of rail workers then and now. Read here
https://gallery.mailchimp.com/5c3859aebacec2a9f474b0369/files/5845cc34-3858-46e0-b5df-6f2e31215813/The_Great_Strike_Dinner_speech_Alex_Claason_2_Aug_17.pdf

He stated, “the story of the Great Strike is central to the story of Australian trade unionism. You cannot fully understand the nature of the labour movement, how it is structured, how it operates, its guiding principles, unless you understand the story of 1917”.
McManus at 1917 Great Strike
Sally McManus, Secretary of the ACTU, spoke on the events of the Great Strike in relation to contemporary industrial challenges and the current struggle to achieve economic justice within a legal system which imposes huge fines on workers and unions who strike.
John Graham, MLC, told of the strikers who went on to play significant leadership roles in the Australian Labor Party, and the fundamental influence the Strike had on the development of the NSW ALP. Mark Morey, Secretary of Unions NSW, discussed the lessons of the Strike and it’s impact on the development of the union movement in NSW.

In 1917, the backlash from the state was savage, many strikers never worked again, and one young striker, Merv Flanagan, a member of the Trolley Draymen and Carter’s Union, was murdered. His death left a young widow and a large family without the support of their breadwinner. Merv’s granddaughter Sandra Williams, and his great granddaughter Natalie were honoured guests on Wednesday night.
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SEARCH members also sat in the audience for a Late Night Life discussion panel on The Great Strike. Panel members were Professor Lucy Taksa, Macquarie University; Sally McManus, Secretary of the ACTU; John Graham, MLC for the ALP; and Dr Jim Stanford; of the Australia Institute. You can listen to the discussion here:

https://radio.abc.net.au/programitem/pgrVamOb4V?play=true

The relevance of the Great Strike today
The Great Strike of 1917 is still relevant today. The dispute was about the impact of worker monitoring, technology and new forms of work organisation. Today, technology is still changing the way we work. After three decades of neoliberalism, the rich still have too much power and the minimum wage no longer keeps people out of poverty. Penalty rates cuts reward exploiters at the expense of working people.
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Recently, Paul Dales of Capital Economics said that the share of national income going to Australian households is close to a 50-year low, that Australian households have not seen “one cent” of the extra income generated by recent soaring commodity prices.

Policies of rampant privatisation, deregulation, tax cuts and free trade deals have liberated corporations to accumulate enormous profits. Conservative governments are capitalist for the few and feudalise the many. At the very moment when climate change demands an unprecedented collective public response, big business stands in the way.

Australia’s workers need to campaign hard on the issue of inequality, and to reclaim workplace rules to repair the damage to workers caused by toxic workplace relations laws. A political debate about inequality needs to transition quickly to address the stranglehold big business has on workers and the environment.
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1917: The Great Strike exhibition

1917: The Great Strike exhibition continues daily until 27 August at Carriageworks. There are guided tours of the exhibition at 11am every Saturday to 26 August. On Saturday 5 August, The Great Strike Community Day commemorates the centenary of this important historical moment and explores its contemporary resonances through artist talks, panel discussions, performances and workshops at Carriageworks.

right to strike

right to strike


Brian Dunnett

While visiting Carriageworks for the exhibition, it is impossible not to think of our comrade Brian Dunnett, a second generation railway worker, who died last year at the age of 81. Brian was one of several SEARCH members who were involved in the early stages of planning the commemorative events for the Great Strike.

Brian was the son of a railway worker. A political and trade union activist for well over 50 years, from his early working life at the Chullora Railway Workshops, where he was a shop steward for the Electrical Trades Union, and later at the Eveleigh Workshops. He was a leading member of the Eureka Youth League in the 1950s-60s and for more than 30 years, a member of the Communist Party of Australia. He participated in the SEARCH Foundation from its formation.

Brian played a significant role in preserving the historical, political and cultural heritage of railway workers in Australia. You can read more about Brian’s contributions here:

https://railwaysongs.blogspot.com.au/2016/06/vale-brian-dunnett.html

https://railwaysongs.blogspot.com.au/2016/12/brian-dunnett-second-generation-railway.html

Keep Left conference php
SEARCH National Forum registrations that are coming in, and please ring the office if you have any questions about travel, billets or subsidies, or if you can help with accommodation for the forum. Please ring Aidan or me at the office on (02) 96984918, if you have any questions, we’ll be happy to help.

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More from Leibowitz on Marx http://chriswhiteonline.org/2017/07/more-from-leibowitz-on-marx/ Mon, 03 Jul 2017 23:26:41 +0000 http://chriswhiteonline.org/?p=6003 Hats and men: Marx’s faulty symmetry
By Michael A. Lebowitz

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.[1]

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.’[2] 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.[3] 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.’[4]

‘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.’[5] 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.[6] 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.’[7]

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.’[8] 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.’[9]

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.[10] 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.’[11] 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.[12]

Marx on profit

Marx on profit

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.’[13] 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.’[14]

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.’[15] 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.’[16] 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.’[17]

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.[18] 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.’[19]

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.’[20] 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.’[21] 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.’[22]

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.’[23]

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.’[24] 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.[25]

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.’[26]

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.’[27] 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.’[28] 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.’[29] 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.’[30] 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.’[31] 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.’[32] 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.[33]

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.’[34] 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.’[35] 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.’[36]

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.[37]

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…’[38] 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.’[39]

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.’[40] 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.’[41] 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.’[42]

Insofar as workers do struggle for themselves and break down the divisions amongst them, they are not simply the products of capital.[43] 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…’[44] Human beings are the outcome of their own activity – none more so than workers in struggle.[45] 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.’[46]

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.[47] 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.’[48] 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.[49] 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?[50]

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.’[51]

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.[52]

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.[53]

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.’[54]

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.[55]

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).

Endnotes

[1] 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.

[2] Karl Marx, Capital, Volume I (New York: Vintage Books, 1977), 274.

[3] Marx, 1977: 660.

[4] David Ricardo, The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation (London: Dent. Everyman’s Library, No. 590, 1969), Chapter 30, p.260.

[5] 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.

[6] Karl Marx, ‘Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844’ in Ibid., 283-4.

[7] Karl Marx, Poverty of Philosophy, in MECW, Vol 7, (New York: International Publishers, 1976), 125.

[8] Marx, 1977: 275-6, 655.

[9] Karl Marx, Economic Manuscript of 1861-63, in MECW, Vol. 30, (New York: International Publishers, 1988), 45-6.

[10] 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).

[11] Marx, 1977: 276.

[12] Marx, 1977: 656.

[13] Marx, 1977: 436-7.

[14] 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).

[15] Karl Marx, Capital Vol. III (New York: Vintage Books, 1981b), 289-90.

[16] Karl Marx, Capital Vol. II (New York: Vintage Books, 1981a), 414.

[17] Marx, 1977: 769.

[18] Marx, 1977: 659.

[19] Karl Marx, Economic Manuscript of 1861-63 (Conclusion) in MECW, Vol. 34 (New York: International Publishers, 1994),:65-6.

[20] MECW, Vol. 40, (New York: International Publishers, 1983), 298.

[21] 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).

[22] Karl Marx, Economic Manuscripts of 1861-63, in MECW, Vol. 30 (New York: International Publishers, 1988), 44-5.

[23] MECW, 1994: 23.

[24] Marx, 1977: 1068-9.

[25] Marx, 1977: 683.

[26] Marx, 1988: 44-7.

[27] Marx, 1977: 1033.

[28] MECW Vol. 12 (New York: International Publishers, 1979), 169.

[29] Karl Marx, Value, Price and Profit, MECW Vol. 20: (New York: International Publishers, 1985), 148.

[30] Marx, 1977: 548, 643, 799.

[31] Ibid., 482–84, 548, 607–8, 614.

[32] Marx, 1973: 488.

[33] Ibid.: 287; Lebowitz, 2003: 32–44.

[34] Marx, 1977: 899.

[35] Ibid., 935.

[36] Ibid., 899.

[37] Cf. Chapter 10, ‘From Political Economy to Class Struggle,’ Lebowitz, 2003.

[38] 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.

[39] 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.’

[40] Marx, 1977: 412.

[41] Marx, 1977: 793.

[42] Lebowitz, 2003: 185.

[43] Lebowitz, 2003: Ch.10, Section 1, ‘Class Struggle as Production.’

[44] Karl Marx, Revelations Concerning the Communist Trial in Cologne, in MECW, Vol. 11 (New York: International Publishers, 1979), 403; Lebowitz, 2003: Ch. 10.

[45] 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.

[46] Friedrich Engels, ‘The Ten Hours’ Question’ (1850), MECW, Vol. 10 (New York: International Publishers, 1978),275.

[47] 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.).

[48] Marx, 1977: 342.

[49] Ibid., 412.

[50] Ibid., 344.

[51] Ibid., 591.

[52] Ibid., 481, 548, 526, 557, 562-3,643, 799.

[53] Marx, 1994: 23.

[54] Marx, 1977: 799.

[55] 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).

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Responding to the penalty rates decision http://chriswhiteonline.org/2017/02/responding-to-the-penalty-rates-decision/ Mon, 27 Feb 2017 04:34:28 +0000 http://chriswhiteonline.org/?p=5952 1. From Don Sutherland (‘retired’ AMWU): Please debate.
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“Like many others I am very angry on several counts with the Fair Work Commission’s decision to cut Sunday penalty rates for Australia’s lowest paid workers. Read decision https://www.fwc.gov.au/awards-and-agreements/modern-award-reviews/am2014305-penalty-rates-case
How else to react? here is my current thinking …

This very wrong decision on several counts is making a lot of people angry and so it should.

If you know someone who is not angry they need a discussion about how this decision lays a foundation to be spread to other Awards, perhaps the Awards they work under, and will put downward pressure on penalty rates in bargaining for enterprise agreements.

How should the workers’ movement respond? In my view, not just with anger, but with a widely and deeply discussed and developed strategy to win.

I am against a “strategy” based on immediate anger that sets us up for a satisfying day out and another “glorious defeat”.

This Full Bench decision of the Fair Work Commission comes out of an Award review that is required by the Fair Work Act. In this particular review all Awards are under the microscope. The focus in these these particular Awards for workers in hospitality, pharmacy, fast foods has been on their penalty rates, especially the penalty rate paid for working on Sunday.

Employers in the industry and beyond have over several years invested big money and resources to convince the FWC to agree to cut penalty rates for Sunday work. Originally, they wanted cuts to all penalty rates but decided for a strategic reason to focus on Sundays. Do not doubt that their “victory”last week to get Sunday rates cut is a foundation for a renewed assault at some time in the future on other penalty rates also.
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While the employers were investing big in their own way to achieve their victory, the workers’ effort – mainly through their unions – was valiant and well-intentioned but puny in comparison. It was entirely defensive, and based on accepting the rules of the Commission and the Fair Work Act.

The employer strategy successfully used prominent Labor pollies, some of them willingly and ex pollies (most notably perhaps Martin Ferguson, formerly a President of the ACTU).

The employer strategy relied very much on the historic memory loss in today’s working class about what an Award actually is. Nothing significant has been done by unions to counter this with worker education.

Remember, the employers originated and escalated this war on living standards, not the Commission. The outcome is a reflection of the current balance of power between Australia’s 21st century ruling class relative to that of the working class.

That is the situation that our strategy must change.

Can we build a strategy loaded with mindful militancy that can reverse this decision and also the whole current momentum against working people facilitated in the bosses’ favour by the Fair Work Act, e.g. lockouts, agreement cancellations, Building Industry code?

Of course we can. Here are some ideas.

The first big strategic decision for all union leaders no matter what level of the union movement you are active in: should we leave the reversing or whatever of the decision to heroic leaders, those at the “top” of the union movement and especially those in the ALP and the Greens in the parliament?

Or, should we return en masse to a conviction that the workers in these industries, and their brothers and sisters in others, can grow together as a social force to reverse the decision themselves through their own industrial and political action?

Put another way: do we see workers of the twenty first century as capable of learning fighting their struggles or as objects whose conditions are decided for them by elites, well meaning or otherwise?

The union movement at all levels must, absolutely MUST, embrace the second approach.
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That still means lots of education work and lots of communication that is educational (not cheap slogans and memes) leading to days of action on carefully selected dates.

The Commission is now waiting for submissions from the parties about the timing and process for phasing in the new reduced rates. After that the Commission will set dates for the start of the new rates, probably later this year. So, for example, this year these days of action might be 2-3 days before or on the day of the “submissions” hearing and then again 3 days before the start date. Embedded in these days there must be a workplace, public, social and political demand that each individual employer NOT implement the decision, but infused also with basic education and learning about “what is an Award”, “who are the employers”, “what is their strategy”, and “what is the Commission”.

To the extent that it is necessary, a secondary level of campaigning in these 2 periods might help reinforce worker pressure on MP’s to come out at a local level to urge local employers not to implement the decision.

The second big strategic decision is a notional time frame that this campaign will take 2 to 5 years to win. That is good from our point of view in the workers’ movement.

We need time for education work and union growth organising to build the power to win. We do not have it right now, just the same as the employers did not have enough power to win their objective in 2007. They have understood strategy much better than us and have been ruthless enough against working people and their unions to stick to it.

We have to be every bit as cold and calculating as they have been and more.

Therefore, These days of action MUST be educational and acknowledge that the defeat of this decision might take 2 to 4 years.

Our strategy will probably have to escalate over that 2-4 year period in the spread and depth of awareness among the workers immediately affected and those who will experience the flow on effects of it.

A strategy of this type must culminate with the consequence of economic pain for the employers who wanted this decision and who decide to implement it.

Within it there is the opportunity for the union movement to actively regrow from within the 21 st century working class, basing that on education-driven organising of both union members and potential members.
Man_Red_Apron_Supermarket_1050x700
The next award review will be in 4 years or so, Possibly less. That is the moment for the first really big “culmination” of our strategy in which employers can face the prospect of real economic consequences for their actions.

Genuine working class power can be built to demand not just the restoration of current rates but a significant increase in the minimum award rate, and automatic casual conversion after 3 months for those who want it.
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These issues are relevant to all other Awards as well. Common, multi industry actions to take on common big employment problems.

This will be a campaign for all workers because the huge gap between award rates and union negotiated agreement rates is contrary to the fundamental rationale for unionism.

The focus of the whole movement must turn steadily (although not absolutely) to AWARDS not enterprise agreements.

Finally, this “ordinarily people” rooted strategy will require that the Fair Work Act be defied, and probably broken, and ultimately genuinely re-written for workers’ benefit.”

https://donsutherland.wordpress.com/2017/02/25/why-and-how-the-fair-work-commissions-cuts-to-sunday-penalty-rates-can-be-defeated/

That’s not a reason not to do it but it is a reason for a lot of educational work in preparation.
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Update i March: CFMEU taking action to fight back against the war on workers next thursday march 9th: see details in every state. In melbourne at VTHC 10.30am.
https://www.facebook.com/cfmeuvic/videos/815243825309262/?pnref=story

Radio 3CR report: http://www.3cr.org.au/sticktogether/episode-201703010830/penalty-rates-cut

2. ACTU Ged Kearney on the day of the decision: “Prime Minister must act to protect workers from drastic penalty rate and public holiday pay cuts.
Ged ACTU Congress 2015
The Fair Work Commission’s (FWC) decision to radically cut Sunday and public holiday pay will give almost one million Australian workers a huge pay cut.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) calls on the Turnbull Government and all political parties to immediately act to protect working people from any cuts to their take home pay, as the cuts are due to come into effect on 1 July, 2017.

Hospitality, restaurant, fast food, retail and pharmacy workers will have their Sunday penalty rates cut between 25% and 50%. Public holiday pay was also slashed by up to 25%.

This is a loss of up to $6,000 per year for some workers. No worker will be better off as a result of this decision.

This is a cut Australian workers cannot afford and do not deserve. The decision also comes a day after record low wage growth was reported for the second consecutive quarter. Australians deserve a pay rise, not a pay cut.
https://www.facebook.com/AustralianUnions/photos/pcb.1415258418572777/1415257835239502/?type=3
This decision is a game changer for industrial relations in Australia. The independent umpire makes decisions based on the rules they are given. These rules are contained in our laws. We need the rules to change so penalty rates cannot be cut and our parliament must act now to protect working people.

The ACTU will never accept cuts to penalty rates that result in cuts to take home pay and this is exactly what this decision has done.
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Unless he acts now, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will be forever remembered as the prime minister who oversaw the cutting of the take home pay of almost one million of Australia’s lowest paid workers.

Retail, fast food, pharmacy and hospitality workers work extraordinary hours and deserve to be compensated for working on weekends and late nights when the vast majority of the Australian workforce does not.
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Families across Australia rely on penalty rates to put food on the table every week and to keep households afloat in difficult times.
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This decision now leaves the door open for pay cuts for all Australians who rely on penalty rates and public holiday pay to support themselves and their families, including nurses and all other frontline emergency service workers.

first join a union

first join a union

http://www.theage.com.au/comment/this-is-who-penalty-rate-cuts-will-hurt-the-most-20170223-guk8de.html
3.Employers’ pyrrhic penalty rates win reflects self-defeating economics
by Jim Stanford
http://www.canberratimes.com.au/comment/employers-pyrrhic-penalty-rates-win-reflects-selfdefeating-economics-20170224-guktj2.html?utm_content=buffer56b09&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

The equity implications of the commission’s decision are odious.
Store clerks and baristas are already among the least-paid, least-secure members of Australia’s workforce. The retail and hospitality workforce is disproportionately female, young and immigrant. Most work part time, and casual and labour-hire positions are common. In short, the burden of this decision will be borne by those who can least afford it….
Touch One Touch All
Young workers hit by Fatima Measham
http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=50702#.WLi-d7Fh00o

4. Penalty rate cuts to hasten “mass casualisation” of Australian workforce: report
Adam Gartrell

‘The McKell Institute says the Fair Work Commission’s “alarming” decision to cut penalty rates for a range of retail, hospitality and fast food workers will further discourage employees from pursuing secure part-time or full-time work, pushing them instead into less secure but higher-paying casual jobs.’
http://www.canberratimes.com.au/comment/employers-pyrrhic-penalty-rates-win-reflects-selfdefeating-economics-20170224-guktj2.html?utm_content=buffer56b09&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Right to strike

Right to strike


‘There was no emergency in Australia’s retail and hospitality sector; no crisis that needed immediate attention. It’s not that stores and restaurants couldn’t do business on Sundays under the existing rules; any casual observer can attest to the brisk trade that now takes place right through the weekend. It’s just that those businesses would be considerably more profitable if wages were lower.

So penalty rates became the target of a sustained pressure campaign by business, backed by conservative political leaders. The commission heard those complaints and acceded to them.

Whatever the precise wording of the commission’s legislative mandate, it was never envisioned as a mechanism for rolling back employment standards; it was supposed to protect them. This decision will therefore spark a political debate not only over the merits of this specific decision, but over the commission’s overall mandate and function.’…
ctustrikeday1
The report warns the changes may also impact future EBA negotiations because it “signals an economy-wide devaluation of Sunday penalty rates” and may serve to undermine future collective bargaining.

Labor hopes to neuter the cut by introducing legislation that would prevent the Fair Work Commission’s decision from taking effect.
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Opposition leader Bill Shorten has written to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull seeking his support for the bill.

“You say that you will not intervene because you respect the independence of the Fair Work Commission but it is absurd to suggest that it is not the role of the Parliament to rectify decisions of statutory bodies which undermine the Parliament’s intent in setting them up,” Mr Shorten said.

“It was clearly the Parliament’s intent that the award review process would not ever result in a cut to worker’s pay.”

strike as a last resort weapon

strike as a last resort weapon


The Coalition has previously overturned decisions of independent tribunals, Mr Shorten said, pointing to its intervention in Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal and the Country Firefighters Association.”

5.Penalty rate cut: unions have golden opportunity to flex their muscles
It’s not compulsory for employers to fall in line – this could be ‘the greatest workplace organising opportunity in 20 years’

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/feb/25/penalty-rate-cut-unions-have-golden-opportunity-to-flex-their-muscles?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+AUS+v1+-+AUS+morning+mail+callout&utm_term=214899&subid=11929904&CMP=ema_632
6. The penalty rates cut rewards exploiters at the expense of the exploited
Van Badham

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/feb/24/the-penalty-rates-cut-rewards-exploiters-at-the-expense-of-the-exploited

7. Sundays aren’t so special – according to the Fair Work Commission
Greg Jericho

Has our view of Sunday really changed enough to warrant a 25% cut in penalty rates for retail workers?https://www.theguardian.com/business/grogonomics/2017/feb/26/sundays-arent-so-special-according-to-the-fair-work-commission?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+AUS+v1+-+AUS+morning+mail+callout&utm_term=215005&subid=11929904&CMP=ema_632

8. “In November last year, a group of unionists, volunteers and supporters fed up at the SDA’s inaction formed the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union, or RAFFWU.
http://www.raffwu.org.au

Since then, RAFFWU has taken a far more active and vigilant stance against employers who underpay, mistreat and exploit their workers. They’ve visited hundreds of workers in supermarkets and fast-food chains around the country, launched the Taking Back Our Penalty Rates campaign, and started renegotiating employment terms for around 400 Bakers Delight workers in Victoria.

RAFFWU President Josh Cullinan reckons if fast-food workers and shelf-stackers under agreements negotiated by the SDA had been receiving award weekend penalty rates like everyone else, it would have been much harder for the Fair Work Commission to cut them like it did today.
Group_Lot_1170x700
“Those workers at the major retail and fast-food outlets have already had these penalty rates cut,” Cullinan says. “That’s half a million workers out of the fight. We don’t think the Commission could have cut rates today if those 500,000 workers were in the fight.”
p11-josh
Cullinan strongly believes the SDA has little interest in trying to protect Sunday rates from going. “If people want their penalty rates back, they shouldn’t be turning to the organisation that cut them in the first place. It’s akin to putting the vampire in charge of the blood bank. There’s only one organisation that’s fighting for these rates, and that’s us.”

RAFFWU has no intention of being silent in the fight to keep Sunday penalty rates; the organisation has already had its largest sign-up day since it first launched. Memberships start from as little as $2.30 a week for under-18s and $3.70 a week for casual workers. Money’s often tight when you’re working retail or hospo, but that amount each week is well worth it for getting a union like RAFFWU in your corner.
Man_Red_Apron_Supermarket_1050x700

If you’re not a retail or fast-food worker but still want to chip in, you can become a RAFFWU solidarity supporter 16864124_1412360328862586_6530863331000423974_nfor as little as you like. It’s a great option if you have family or friends in the industry who you’re sick of seeing getting taken for granted, or if you’re furious about the penalty rate cuts but aren’t sure what you can do to help.

Right to strike

Right to strike


Whether or not Sunday penalty rates get the chop will hinge on peoples’ response over the next few months. If you’re looking for a tangible and effective way to contribute to that fight, giving RAFFWU a leg-up is a great place to start.

http://www.thevocal.com.au/want-defend-sunday-penalty-rates-heres/

Earlier post on RAFFWU http://chriswhiteonline.org/2016/12/raffwu/
Campaigns are the lifeblood of a strong democratic union. Our campaigns deliver real outcomes when members get involved and spread the word. Here we list some of our current major campaigns. Of course, if you’d like to see a campaign at your workplace then join up and get in touch!

Our priority in 2017 is to Take Back Our Penalty Rates.

Many hundreds of thousands of workers are being paid less than the minimum wages they would earn under the Fast Food Award and the General Retail Award. While some employers have done this on their own, the vast majority of retail and fast food workers have had these minimum rights taken away because the SDA negotiated away your rights. If you want to take back your penalty rates, join us today. Together we can Take Back Our Penalty Rates.

strike as a last resort

strike as a last resort


Franchise workers targeted by new union

https://www.mst.com.au/food-industry-franchise-workers-targeted-by-new-union/

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The Future of Trade Unions in Australia http://chriswhiteonline.org/2017/02/5943/ Wed, 15 Feb 2017 22:17:57 +0000 http://chriswhiteonline.org/?p=5943 The Future of Trade Unions in Australia 2017

Ken McAlpine, National Tertiary Education Union, kmcalpine@nteu.org.au

Sarah Roberts, National Tertiary Education Union, sroberts@nteu.org.au

Right to strike

Right to strike


Abstract

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.

Introduction

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.
Ged Kearney
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.
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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.

Right to strike

Right to strike


What follows is a brief survey of the generally accepted causes of union decline since the 1970s. We then identify the specific anti-union changes in the law and what these have meant for union capacity, along with those areas in which the law has failed to adapt to changes in labour markets and employer strategies. We then suggest that finding a new legal framework for industrial relations is not only essential to union recovery, but achieving that new framework is the central long-term strategic question facing the union movement.

Economic and social factors

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.
Michael O'Connor CFMEU
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.
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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).
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‘No Extra Claims’ Clauses associated with the Accord – 1983-1994 (Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, Print F2900 23 September 1983).
Jo McDonald CFMEUJPG
The confirmation of the availability of the industrial torts – 1985 (Dollar Sweets Pty Ltd v Federated Confectioners Association and Others [1986] VicRp 38; [1986] 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).
ctustrikeday1
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.

Right to strike

Right to strike


Peetz rightly suggests that these arrangements may have led to neglectful unions not engaged with workers. However, the collapse of union preference arrangements had a disastrous effect on union revenue and density and power, and have undermined the revenue stream which could have been used to adapt to a more hostile environment.
CPSU
While not as important as the factors listed above, the extension of a range of rights to all employees since the 1970s, irrespective of their union membership, has tended to undermine unions. These rights have included those created under various state and federal unfair dismissal jurisdictions, anti-discrimination laws, paid ‘parental leave’, the Modern Awards and the National Employment Standards, and the right to vote on enterprise agreements. Whatever the merits of such arrangements, some of which have been lobbied for by the union movement, much less of the package of rights held by employees has any tangible connection to union action, and the state has established a bureaucratic enforcement infrastructure, for example,the Fair Work Ombudsman, anti-discrimination bodies which acts as a substitute for unions.

What these changes have meant in practice

Right to strike

Right to strike

The loss of the right to take industrial action or have disputes arbitrated, drastically alters the balance of power between each employer and the unions with which it has to deal, in the employer’s favour. Unions are at their core organisations whose job is to persuade, and sometimes coerce, employers to do things they don’t want to. The loss of these de facto and legal rights cripples the project of ‘organising’, ‘union action’ and to some extent ‘community engagement’. It is the loss of rights to contest management power which has, ironically, contributed to greater employer hostility. Moreover, both symbolically and in substance, many employment rights are no longer directly linked to union action.

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.
Strike in India
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

strike as a last resort weapon

strike as a last resort weapon


Contrary to ILO Convention 87, real bargaining, supported by industrial action, is only possible at the level of the enterprise. The union movement will never be able to negotiate separate enterprise agreements in cafes, small shops and the hundreds of thousands of other small enterprises. The diseconomies of scale are prohibitive, which effectively excludes nearly five million employees – those in businesses employing less than 20 staff – from collective bargaining, which is the main thing which the union movement still has to offer. (Australian Government Treasury, 2016).

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.
ctustrikeday1
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).

Thomas Mayor
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?
ACTU
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.
WSN  Right To Strike flyler - front page - FINAL
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.
OHS

Conclusions

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.

strike as a last resort

strike as a last resort

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.
anti-union laws
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.

first join a union

first join a union


APPENDIX: How legal changes might lift union density to fifty percent in five years.

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
• Woolworths.

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.

References

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.

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For background read the many articles on this blog put in ‘right to strike’, ‘unions’.

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