define('DISABLE_WP_CRON', true); ACTU – Chris White Online Blogging from a life-long unionist Tue, 21 Nov 2017 06:00:34 +0000 en-AU hourly 1 Update: Stop the corporate LNP war on workers Tue, 21 Nov 2017 06:00:34 +0000 I post more on the relentless corporate and LNP attack on workers and their unions and our response.

New anti-union laws: Stop the war on workers
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

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
Change the Rules Campaign Kit

Heldon dumps on workers

Heldon dumps on workers

Union campaigning training for union delegates
Background to Hedyon’s attack on unions
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
Stop the War on Workers
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
Listen to the union delegate FB
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

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.


Read more:

How they saved Dave: Worker sacked over undies protest wins back his job
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
Meat pies, kangaroos, class struggle and Holden cars

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.

On Minister Cash Sat, 28 Oct 2017 03:14:07 +0000 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
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.
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
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

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

“Anthony Albanese had been out early yesterday saying “we know that Senator Cash’s office was ringing around media organisations yesterday afternoon, telling them that this was going to occur”. Who alerted the media to the raid was always going to be an issue of concern to Labor. The government even understood this — Cash met with Turnbull yesterday before Question Time to assure him she had not personally alerted the media (which no one had ever suggested, and which would be absurd — ministers have staff to do that sort of thing). Cash had also asked her office if anyone had told the media and, she says, been told they had not. The Cash staff member who did alert the media, David De Garis, was present at the meeting with the PM, but apparently said nothing to his minister or the Prime Minister to alert them to his actions or the fact that he had misled his minister.”

Update: October 30 –Unions demand answers over new twist in Michaelia Cash police raids scandal by Adam Gartrell

Don Sutherland on radio

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.
AWU raid something is deeply wrong with how unions are treated in australia

Coalition’s night terrors play out in public as kill Bill missive backfires
Katharine Murphy
anti-union laws

Cold, Hard (Michaelia) Cash Lies To Parliament And The People
By Ben Eltham on November 2, 2017
Alex White Secretary Unions ACT: “The Liberal party hates everything unions stand for. They hate the very concept of working people joining together to improve work and society for everyone. That’s why they are attacking us so fiercely, that’s why they are abusing the power of the State and directing the AFP to raid union offices.

But no matter what, we’ll always be here. No matter how many cops they send, we will never back down.

The scale of attack against workers’ unions by this government is unprecedented in Australian history, while the Federal Liberal are colluding with big banks and multinational corporations to enable company tax avoidance and wage-theft.”

Sally McManus ACTU writes “What the AWU raids tell us about the Turnbull government”

The politically motivated raids of a workers’ union this week, put on for camera crews tipped off in time to catch the farce, are symptomatic of a bigger problem facing working people in Australia today. The Turnbull government has one set of harsh rules for working people and their unions and another, far more flexible set, for the big end of town.

Unions are now the most highly regulated organisations in the country. And we are regulated by a politicised organisation, working closely with a union-hating government that constantly leaks to the media.

Imagine if such a body existed for the banks, for big business or for political parties. It’s unthinkable under this government, which is shamefully shielding the banks from a royal commission and handing out tax cuts to big businesses that already find creative ways to pay hardly any tax.

On the other hand, the government has passed laws that make basic union activities to help working people illegal. The Registered Organisations Commission and the ABCC have been given extraordinary and undemocratic powers to attack working people and their unions, which we’ve seen on display this week.”

“The government has more anti-worker laws before the Parliament, which will give the Registered Organisations Commission more power. One will make it illegal for unions to manage insurance funds for redundant workers. The other will give big business or the minister the power to deregister unions and block union mergers.

These bills are anti-democratic and designed to drive down wages and put more workers in casual work. They will make the work of unions harder.”
Ged ACTU Congress 201516999110_873971202742506_4120098910438727222_ncontent/uploads/2017/02/16991968_814645525369092_455763650752760588_o.jpg”>16991968_814645525369092_455763650752760588_o
Sally McManus FB on TV the 7.30 report
For background on the TURC Dyson Heydon attack on unions see

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

Stop the union witch hunts
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.

Between a ROC and a desperate government
06 NOVEMBER 2017
Malcolm Farr “PM Turnbull can’t completely distance himself from the swoop on AWU offices.
AFP acted independently but the government has left fingerprints in the sudden revival of interest in the GetUp donation.

Malcolm Turnbull’s overreach in raids on Bill Shorten’s former union
by Royce Millar and Ben Schneiders

Secretary AWU Walton responds

Pressure on Cash to resign
Talking Point: Another attack on champions of the battlers
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

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:
And corporations use police to smash unions read here of one Australian example
Glencore ordered to stop ‘quasi-militaristic’ surveillance of CFMEU members

The use of private police forces to squash workers combination and union activity is not new. It started with the creation of unionism back in the late 18th century. On this occasion, it’s gone too far even under our broken Fair Work Act.

Australian citizens alarmed,10862#.WfF2_tQ9rYY.facebook

As well, ASIO is a threat to democracy

At the same time…
Pay rises in enterprise agreements slump to ‘worst ever’ recorded

Read more:
Touch One Touch All

And LNP cuts to penalty rates creates new poor

And privatisation fails

Chris White Reminiscences Sat, 21 Oct 2017 03:35:13 +0000 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.

Turnbull fails to fund dementia
Chris White blog on the Right to Strike
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Please support IPAN
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Peace movement building by Chris White

Oppose nuclear war with North Korea


Marx’s Capital
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Liebowitz on Marx
CWInvitation Chris White Mindfields

Save the Great Barrier Reef
CWInvitation Chris White Mindfields
CWInvitation Chris White Mindfields
The right to strike by Chris White
The right to strike may2016 2
Stop the War on Workers

The 1917 Great Strike Fri, 04 Aug 2017 08:54:40 +0000 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

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.
anti-union laws
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:

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.
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.
WSN  Right To Strike flyler - front page - FINAL
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:

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.

Stop the War on Workers rallies march 9th Thu, 02 Mar 2017 01:35:36 +0000 17021609_1376254425767533_132788580361253261_nStop the War on Workers. First union 2017 rallies march 9th 10.30am -see all cities for details.
Touch One Touch All
Michael O'Connor CFMEU
CFMEU readies to fight Turnbull’s fight on the fair go
cfmeu_worker’s-war-fair-goNational protests
CFMEU urges action
Background: Union responses to the cut in Sunday penalty rates decision
strike as a last resort

strike as a last resort

Construction deaths continue: support the right to strike on OHS
This blog supports the right to politically protest over our wages, conditions and living standards and no worker should be penalised for attending union protest rallies.

See post Tips on political strikes
CUB win

Right to strike

Right to strike

Debate on changing our labour law
Background on the ABCC and since then the Senate unfortunately has passed the Bill, so, repression on unionised building sites is increased.
These new ABCC laws in 2017 affect all construction workers, building workers, electricians, metal workers and is extended to the MUA:
* Jobs will be lost
* Lives will be lost – safety is at risk
* Job security will be gone
* Limits on casual workers are banned
* Apprenticeships under threat
* No limits on overtime
* No proper rest breaks

the real danger is these repressive anti-union laws are extended to all workers.
Earlier on the ABCC: Turnbull’s Stasi police force against the CFMEU

The Future of Trade Unions in Australia Wed, 15 Feb 2017 22:17:57 +0000 The Future of Trade Unions in Australia 2017

Ken McAlpine, National Tertiary Education Union,

Sarah Roberts, National Tertiary Education Union,

Right to strike

Right to strike


The Australian union movement has been in decline for several decades. The social and economic factors which have led to the decline are briefly examined. Unions have spent many years developing strategies based on improved organising and recruitment methods, and academics have devoted research to analysing and assessing these. However, this paper argues that this concentration is misplaced, and that the legal framework in which unions operate is the central determinant of their limited success in recent years. Finally, a minimum legal framework, based on collective bargaining, is proposed as an example of what type of changes unions should prioritise if they are to recover.


Anyone who looks at the trade union density figures in Australia over the past forty years could be forgiven for thinking that the union movement is in crisis, if not terminal decline. Since at least the early 1990s, the ACTU and many unions have been aware of the problem and have embarked on a range of strategies and tactics to address it.
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.
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.
In several steps, the union movement has lost nearly all of its previous de facto rights:

Statutory prohibitions against secondary boycotts – from 1977 (Sections 45D and 45E of the Trade Practices Act 1974).
‘No Extra Claims’ Clauses associated with the Accord – 1983-1994 (Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, Print F2900 23 September 1983).
The confirmation of the availability of the industrial torts – 1985 (Dollar Sweets Pty Ltd v Federated Confectioners Association and Others [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).
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.
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.
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?
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.


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.


Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2016) 4102.0 – Australian Social Trends – Industrial Disputes, at

Australian Government Treasury. (2016) Small Business Data Card, 23 September 2016, at

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
Peetz, D. (1997) The Paradigm Shift in Australian Union Membership: A Tale of Compulsory Unionism, in Proceedings of the Association of Industrial Relations Academics of Australia and New Zealand Conference, Brisbane, Australia.


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

RAFFWU Sat, 10 Dec 2016 22:04:54 +0000 RAFFWU – the new Retail and Fast Food Workers Union. If you know of workers in the industry ask them to join.

Update 28 January: Relevant speech by new President explaining why a new union

For many years while I was at the UTLC of SA, I worked with the right-wing SDA SA Branch (now ALP right Senator Don Farrell) – until they disaffiliated. The recent exposes of the SDA’s poor business unionism and their continuing right-wing political agenda still dominant in much of Labor’s inadequate response to Turnbull and others means welcoming this RAFFWU initiate. Unions need to win the battle on penalty rates that I have been involved in for over 30 years of maintaining living standards;better wages and conditions at Coles and Woolworths;McDonald’s for delivery drivers; abolition of junior rates and ending migrant exploitation –

New union to challenge ‘shoppies’ after massive wages scandal by Ben Schneiders Royce Millar
The cosy, decades-long relationship between Australia’s largest employers and the Labor party’s biggest industrial backer, faces an audacious challenge from a new retail union committed to boosting penalty rates for hundreds of thousands of workers.
A 15-month Fairfax Media investigation revealed how the deals left more than 250,000 workers paid less than the award – the basic wages safety net – and saved big business more than an estimated $300 million a year.
The industrial researcher who helped unearth the wages scandal, Josh Cullinan, will unveil the new national union on Monday with the help of volunteers and supporters, including disenchanted SDA members….
Under SDA agreements the companies pay either reduced penalty rates or, in the case of McDonald’s, no weekend penalties.

In a landmark decision in May, that followed Fairfax revelations, the the full bench of the Fair Work commission found a Coles agreement with the SDA failed the crucial test that workers under enterprise agreements must be “better off overall” compared to the award….
Union president will be Siobhan Kelly, a barrister who led the historic case against Coles, along with Mr Cullinan and Coles trolley operator Duncan Hart.

In its formative stage the union would be run by volunteers who would seek to sign thousands of financial members and use Pozible​ crowd-funding to raise funds for part-time organisers and offices in major cities.

“We know that’s a big task and it will take time to build our union,” said Mr Cullinan. “But we have a sector of a million workers; half a million of them are subject to exploitative enterprise agreements.”

The new union won’t at be first registered as a traditional union. Instead, it would register as a national organisation under the Corporations Act and as an incorporated association.

here is a Crikey report
In an era of low union membership numbers, it comes as a surprise to many labour movement insiders that a new union has burst onto the scene, the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union. It poses an existential threat to the increasingly infamous and under-pressure, hard-right Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA) or “Shoppies”.

Unions affiliated to the Labor Party wield their internal power by way of the size of their rank-and-file membership. The Labor Right-aligned SDA as the union of retail workers is the largest national union and has almost 250,000 members. As a result of the weight of these numbers, they are well represented in terms of delegates on state and territory party conference floors all over the country, particularly the national conference.

These numbers have ensured the SDA have been for decades able to control the Right’s policy positions on pet issues such as blocking marriage equality, euthanasia and abortion at a branch and national level, and therefore the party’s positions on these issues. It’s been considered something of a secretive paranoid reactionary Catholic cult since the days when Tony Abbott used to socialise with SDA stalwarts Joe de Bruyn and former senator Joe Bullock.

The Shoppies have been constraining prime ministers since the days of Gough Whitlam. The newly re-elected SDA-aligned senator from South Australia, Don “The Godfather” Farrell, was central to Kevin Rudd being dumped as prime minister in 2010. At least 12 members of federal Parliament are believed to owe their positions to the SDA, and that tends to engender loyalty.

The Shoppies also hold three of the 10 Right positions on the finely divided Labor Party national executive. The Left have the other 10 positions, with the Right’s Bill Shorten having the casting vote as leader.

The SDA needs to be kept happy or it can do damage at the highest level of the party if its members were to abstain on any issue in protest; it has had it its own way for many years, using its powerful patronage and numbers machine without hesitation on issues it has conservative convictions on. These convictions are often counter to those of rank-and-file members.

Increasingly, all across the country, the SDA — save for the SDA ghetto, SA Labor — has been looking like losing the power it’s become used to. There was a highly publicised midnight coup against SDA leadership in Victoria that stripped their Victorian secretary of his numbers in the Victorian Labor caucus, and most importantly halved the weight of SDA-aligned delegates at state conference from 21% to around 10%.

Being ruthlessly sidelined in a major power centre is a serious blow to their Victorian delegate numbers next national conference and their ability to get their state and federal candidates preselected in Victoria.

A co-ordinated flood of Right faction federal MPs and senators, including SDA-aligned members such as Tony Burke and David Feeney, came out supporting marriage equality ahead of the 2015 national conference, signalling they were no longer intimidated by SDA powerbrokers and/or embarrassed about being attached to such a retrograde, out-of-touch union.

All but 5% of the federal Labor caucus would now support marriage equality in a conscience vote in this term of Parliament.

Next term of Parliament, members of the federal Labor Party caucus are bound to vote for marriage equality under a deal struck between the Left’s Tanya Plibersek and the Right’s Bill Shorten at the 2015 national conference.

The SDA’s national conference delegates in attendance, about 44 of them, barely whimpered when “those against” was called when voting on that deal. But there was one lone voice: Joe Bullock. Bullock has since resigned as a senator for Western Australia. He said he couldn’t campaign on the current marriage equality position of the party at the 2016 election.

The union is so aware of its reputation the national executive stunningly voted this year to take a “neutral stance” on the issue of marriage equality. The SDA has been the subject of numerous reports of how they keep their officials and members in line, how they ask about various policy positions of candidates seeking to be employed and how they intimidate those seeking to challenge their leadership in elections.

The SDA’s cosy relationship with employers like Coles, Woolworths and McDonald’s has been comprehensively exposed by the media. The Fair Work Commission recently quashed the Shoppies’ EBA with Coles, and ruled that Fair Work was “not satisfied that the Agreement passes the better off overall test”. The better-off-overall test requires that any EBA doesn’t leave any employee any worse off than the award would allow for.
WSN  Right To Strike flyler - front page - FINAL
Independent analysis found that some workers were thousands of dollars worse off as a result of the defunct negotiated agreement. It has also been revealed that the SDA has paid $5 million in commissions to employers such as Woolworths and Coles to secure workers’ union fees being payroll-deducted.

The SDA has rejected the claims and said that most workers were better off, but it’s quite clear what was going on; Woolworths actively encourages union membership with the SDA when employees commence working for the suparmarket, and that is unheard of in any other workforce.

Dating back to the mid to late ’70s, controlling the union was only ever seen as a way to wield power within the Labor Party, and workers were a side issue. Meanwhile, current Coles workers have found themselves thrust back onto the previous EBA as Coles now refuses to renegotiate terms after the Fair Work Commission defeat.

This brings Retail and Fast Food Workers Union into the frame.

People central to the Fair Work case against the SDA and Coles have established it to form a progressive modern retail union that works for the benefit of their members and represents their values within the Labor Party.

It doesn’t intend to be affiliated with the Labor Party at this stage.

Rank-and-file SDA members are increasingly aware of how their union has functioned — for so many years, without their knowledge — as a result of in-depth investigative journalism, whistleblowers and social media. They will put up a fight, but I suspect the SDA has had its day and is mortally wounded by being exposed for what it is.

Many within the Labor Party are hoping it drives a stake into the heart of the out-of-date, out-of-touch, complacent SDA.

I’m led to believe Retail and Fast Food Workers Union — RAFFWU for short — is getting hundreds of applications from workers who want to be represented by a serious and democratic union.

Right to strike

Right to strike

With the rap sheet of the SDA, can you blame them?

Hopefully, retail workers can build this new union and get the representation and the rights and entitlements every worker is entitled to, least of all low-paid and often young employees of huge employers Coles, Woolworths and McDonald’s.

News ABC New union aims to woo retail and fast food workers from the SDA

Green Left Radio’s Jacob Andrewartha interviewed Josh Cullinan, secretary of the RAFFWU, on November 25. Below is an edited version of that interview.
Tell us how this union came to be started

There has been a general disquiet now for the past decade. There have been efforts over the past 30 years to democratise the SDA. But over the past decade there has been a growing disquiet among young workers mostly, but also other workers about the way SDA does its business.

That came to a head last year during the Coles case. I was responsible for working with a young worker at a Melbourne western suburbs Coles store where we were able to identify that the majority of workers were going to be worse off under the new agreement.

right to strike

right to strike

This was then exposed in the national media and, in the end, Coles made undertakings to improve the agreement. They were not small undertakings: it was 5% more pay to casuals and up to 10% more for 17-year-olds.

They were substantial undertakings, worth many millions of dollars. But they didn’t deal with the core issue of mostly ongoing part-time workers, the vast majority of Coles’ workforce.

I then represented Duncan Hart in Brisbane. His case exposed that the SDA had done a very dodgy deal with Coles to undercut the rights of retail workers: they had been paid under the minimum, by probably more than $1 million a year.

That was the catalyst to expose all the other deals, which the SDA now freely admits are more than 100 agreements, that cut about half a million workers’ conditions from the very minimum they would have if there was no agreement at all.

There was a lot of opportunity for a progressive union to do the right thing, own up to mistakes and fix them. It has been 178 days since that decision, so that’s $178 million ripped from the pay packets of some of the lowest paid workers in Australia. The SDA has done nothing for them. Unfortunately, the Australian Council of Trade Unions has also been silent, and the ALP has done nothing either.

So it has come to a head. A group of activists, retail and fast food workers and their supporters have decided enough is enough and that it’s time for a genuine trade union to step into this space. That’s why we’ve launched the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union.

What has been the response from other unions to the RAFFWU?

Unfortunately, this space is fraught with danger for many other organisations because of the influence the SDA has in the ALP.

There is a group of unions that are prepared to stand up and say that the exploitation has got to stop and have a vision that goes beyond the next year or two — a view beyond the parliamentary careers of the current union leaders. Those progressive unions are slowly getting in contact with us.

We’re in contact with the Meat Industry Employees Union. They were the ones who were most affected by the SDA deal with Coles and Woolworths and we’re keen to continue to build a relationship with that union.

We’ll continue to be in contact with the other unions that face the damage that the SDA does to the working class in their shops, their warehouses and across Australia and, hopefully, build stronger relationships with them.

Right from the outset you’ve been very clear about demarcation. Can you explain why?

Yes, we wanted to be clear from the start that we are not seeking a demarcation fight with any other trade union.

So the National Union of Workers, the Australian Services Union, United Voice and the Transport Workers Union have coverage in various shops and in the retail and fast food sectors. We respect that. We want to encourage those workers to get involved and help make those trade unions great.

The reality is that many workers had no other choice other than to join the SDA. But, let’s be frank, the SDA is not a trade union.

So we want to be clear with the workers who do join us that we’ll be encouraging them to resign [from the SDA] and move on to those other unions, because we don’t want to be representing those that can be effectively represented by genuine trade unions.

Does the union have a particular focus on the workplaces that SDA previously covered, including McDonalds, Woolworths and Coles?

They are the three largest employers in Australia and they are the three most obvious and significant worksites for us to get involved in.

Media reports have said that the RAFFWU was started by socialists, greens and ALP members but that the union wants to remain politically independent. Why is this important to you?

I think there is a distinction between being political and being associated directly with a political party.

Obviously all of those engaged with RAFFWU, especially in the early stages, are politically engaged. Every person is political as well as social. We were born out of an experience of SDA members which has come about through the relationship between the SDA and the ALP.

We are acutely aware that, in the foreseeable future, the union’s relationship with a political party is not something our members are going to be interested in.

We need to be able to influence politicians and influence employers through the expression of worker power. We’re not interested in affiliating with any political party or getting engaged in those antics.

Our pursuits are at the workplace level. No doubt, over time, our members are going to want to coalesce at a state and a national level and they will want to develop policy and they will want to implement that policy. But affiliation to a political party is not on our radar.

What sort of democratic structures is the union planning, especially for the rank and file to be centrally involved?

We have not established a structure beyond the national membership electing an executive and a committee. At this stage we have not established a new structure that mobilises representatives from shop stewards upwards. But we have convened a subcommittee to explore that and the way other unions work to see what will work for us.

We cover people who are employed by national employers and we need to be able to implement the decisions of our members in the best way possible.

We are interested in feedback from our members and we’ll go through that process for the next six months to a year, after which we will have a special general meeting of our union to decide on our new structure.
We have already decided we want full proportional representation. The structures and rules of some of the old guard unions, like the SDA, are anti-democratic. So we want to have the best possible democratic structure.

The other element is the way we resource it. Everyone on the committee and at the shop floor is very clear that we want to resource organising of and by our members.

As our members get engaged, as they organise their workplaces and as they organise the workplaces of their colleagues, they will get to a point where they can, through their own resources and through their own membership fees, establish organising efforts. We will be appointing organisers into that space from among them. We are hopeful that that will also be another way we can build a democratic structure into our union.

…fear of the SDA’s political power and dependence on the money they use to buy that power is too high. Even more disheartening is that powerful trade unionists refuse to stand up for vulnerable workers for fear of ‘giving ammunition to the enemy’. They seem not to have realised that the real enemy is worker exploitation, and that the SDA is exploiting workers for their own,
narrow political ends. As Orwell observed, the distortion of facts and self-delusion may seem sensible in the short term, but in the long run it is poisoning us.

The enemy within
By Daniel Nicholson
Let’s be clear about how dire this situation is: an Australian trade union representing young, low-paid workers, who are disproportionately women, was found by the independent umpire to have knowingly pushed the wages and conditions of their members below the minimum legal standards. Why would a trade union do such a thing?

It is an open secret within the labour movement that the SDA’s leadership have maintained cosy relationships with big retailers and fast food giants – Coles, Woolworths, KFC, McDonalds and others – in order to have easy access to workplaces and maximise their membership. …
Australian fast food and retail workers may be some of the best paid in the world but the evidence suggests they would be better off on the award than on SDA-negotiated agreements.

There are a number of possible reasons why labour movement leaders may have been reluctant to condemn the SDA’s behaviour. The most obvious is money. As the country’s biggest private sector union, SDA’s affiliation fees represent a huge source of revenue for both the ALP and the ACTU; criticising the union could jeopardise that revenue. The other reason is the political power of the SDA. The affiliation fees paid by the union buy them significant quotas on conference floors and, with that, significant political power. In 2015, Dave Oliver saw off a challenge from then ACTU assistant secretary, Tim Lyons, with the support of the SDA – he has been their staunch defender ever since.

These justifications are relatively easy to overcome: leaders of peak bodies and political parties should never allow themselves to be beholden to their dishonest affiliates for fear of them withdrawing their financial support or of political retribution.

first join a union

first join a union

But there is a third, more insidious argument that is sometimes used as a justification for not condemning the SDA: that we shouldn’t condemn the practices of the SDA because that would be giving ammunition to the enemy.

It implies that, regardless of the behaviour of any particular trade union – even if their actions undermine the interests of working-class people – we shouldn’t criticise them because they are ‘on our side’. At a time when the trade union movement is under attack from aggressive employers and reactionary governments, this siege mentality is pervasive.

In his 1945 essay ‘Through a Glass, Rosily’, George Orwell took issue with this type of logic:

Whenever A and B are in opposition to one another, anyone who attacks or criticises A is accused of aiding and abetting B. And it is often true, objectively and on a short-term analysis, that he is making things easier for B. Therefore, say the supporters of A, shut up and don’t criticise: or at least criticise ‘constructively’, which in practice always means favourably. And from this it is only a short step to arguing that the suppression and distortion of known facts is the highest duty …

Labour movement leaders are engaged in exactly this kind of obfuscation and distortion when they defend the SDA. We know and understand exploitation they perpetrate but find a reason to do nothing about it.

There are alternatives. For instance, the SDA could be kicked out of the ACTU or the ALP. Union leaders could condemn the exploitation of the SDA and demand it reform itself or face a well-organised opponent at its next union elections.

But currently, fear of the SDA’s political power and dependence on the money they use to buy that power is too high. Even more disheartening is that powerful trade unionists refuse to stand up for vulnerable workers for fear of ‘giving ammunition to the enemy’. They seem not to have realised that the real enemy is worker exploitation, and that the SDA is exploiting workers for their own, narrow political ends.

As Orwell observed, the distortion of facts and self-delusion may seem sensible in the short term, but in the long run it is poisoning us.

Daniel Nicholson is an industrial relations researcher at the University of Melbourne. He is a member of the National Tertiary Education Union and the Australian Labor Party.

More on the strike debate Sat, 16 Jul 2016 01:37:54 +0000 Strike strategy today By Tim Goblet

verizon-strike(I post this article on the US strike debate. I argue this strike debate is critical in Australia.
At the end see references on this post to strikes and the right to strike –
I was in the US for the Verizon strike that was successful – )
June 19, 2016 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — Why has the use of the strike in the US become so scarce?

While subjective factors are more difficult to quantify, certain basic reasons seem more readily evident. Union membership, particularly in the private sector, is at an all-time low. Most of the unions are heavily bureaucratized, and central labor councils ossified.
“Sympathy strikes,” long ago outlawed by Taft-Hartley, militate against the sort of broad-based solidarity so essential to an industrial victory.
Moreover, many unions have accepted no-strike clauses for the duration of their contracts, effectively tying one hand behind their backs.
Despite it all, the recent victory of 39,000 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and Communications Workers of America (CWA) workers at Verizon furnishes a stark reminder of what kind of power resides in the organized section of the working class when it is in motion.
It also shows the power of the strike weapon, and how it can be an effective tool — in not only realizing demands and raising working class living standards — but also rebuilding our unions.

It also stands to reason that all this happened in the midst of a presidential election campaign, where much of the organic political ferment of recent memory had seen the energy sucked out of it. The independent power of the working class is a certainly force unto its own.

As Kim Moody writes in In Solidarity:

The power to stop production, whether of goods or services, remains the central source of power for workers of all kinds. In the final analysis, the search for alternatives to the strike leads us inevitably back to the strike itself.

* * * * *

right to strike

right to strike

Way back in 1926, militant trade union organizer and communist, William Z. Foster, wrote a pamphlet titled Strike Strategy for the Trade Union Educational League (TUEL). The TUEL was a formation that united union militants across unions and multiple industries, bringing socialist ideas and class struggle union strategy to the rank and file. By 1922 it had been incorporated into the Workers Party, the communist party outpost in the US.

While much of Foster’s material is dated there is still much that is of major interest today. Foster wrote the pamphlet, as he felt the rank and file “has an urgent need to acquaint itself with the principles and practices of strike strategy, of the science of effective struggle by the trade unions.”

Foster maintained that up until the time of the pamphlets writing, there had been “no systematization of strike experiences into a definite strike strategy.” Foster wrote Strike Strategy as a companion volume to another booklet entitled Organize the Unorganized, two concepts that went hand-in-glove.

Foster wrote that strike strategy entailed three essential components: policy, strategy and tactics. Policy would entail subordinating all aims to the conquest of class power by the unions. Strategy would entail which industry or company to strike, and tactics would boil down to what worksites to picket, businesses to boycott, level of community outreach, publicity, etc.

The overarching context strike strategy must be situated in rests on the nature of the period, degree of economic development, and current level of class struggle. In other words, strike strategy must be applied to present conditions.

capitalist crisis severe

capitalist crisis severe

Foster listed 13 types of strikes: spontaneous, organized, offensive, defensive, solidarity, intermittent, local, district, industrial, general, international, economic, political, to which more might be added.

Karl Marx wrote, “Every economic struggle is a political struggle.” But it also true that the degree of the political character of a strike varies widely. Foster wrote that it was the duty of socialists to aid in the drawing out of the political character of every strike to the utmost degree, and “to raise them above purely economic ends,” with the aim of uniting “them all into a broad political attack against the entire capitalist system.”

Foster would undoubtedly be turning somersaults in his grave had he lived to witness the shotgun wedding between the leadership of the major trade union federations and the Democratic Party. The “broad political attack” he envisioned could only be realized through the formation of an independent workers party with its own class interests, that could generalize and coordinate the myriad of struggles across unions and industries throughout the country.

But this undoubtedly is not where we are today. What is most notable about Strike Strategy, however, is its organizational orientation, focusing on reaching new workers, and recognition battles with employers. This is one reason it retains its value.

* * * * *
Three key factors to labor organizing that Foster highlights that are still indispensable today include:
1) organizing the unorganized 2) organizing across industries, and 3) organizing the unemployed. A strike can be used effectively to all these ends.

The “first consideration in strike strategy is the development of unity and solidarity among the worker.” This involves more than simply bringing workers into unions and strikes, but it also means overcoming the myriad of intra-class divisions imposed by capitalism and exploited by the employers.

Foster writes that this must include a three-phased policy of 1) education 2) organization, and 3) policy.

The policy must be one that materially counteracts divisions by unapologetically defending the common interests of all workers.

This means organizing both skilled and unskilled workers collectively. In today’s terms this means a policy that presents the interests of the professor as analogous to the janitor that cleans the classroom. This also means uniting the native worker and the foreign born.

Today this translates into combating patriotism, jingoism and economic nationalism in our unions, which is often fed by the employers and reinforced by conservative trade union bureaucrats. It means uniting white and black workers and combating racism in our ranks. These fights, as all others, must extend beyond the parochial boundaries of our shop floors and union halls.

Foster also emphasized the primacy of uniting the employed with the unemployed, a particularly crucial factor during times of economic depression. The government routinely demonizes the poor and those receiving any form of government assistance. This is meant to divide the working class. The bottom line is: the labor movement must fight for the interests of the entire class, and all those oppressed, full stop. No exception.


Foster then takes up strategy and technique, writing that the organizing campaign constitutes the preliminary phase of the strike itself. A proper analysis is necessary that takes into account “(1) the state of the industry, (2) the strength and disposition of the enemy’s forces, and (3) the general political situation.” These questions are bound up with vital strategic questions such as how to hit the enemy at their weakest point, and when they are “least able to stand the blow.”
Debbie Pope
This means the timing of the strike is key, and is best during the time of greatest industrial activity.

Also, “the workers must know exactly with whom they are fighting”. This involves a close study of the employer’s organizations, their financial conditions, and “relation of various companies to each other.” This will allow the workers to “gauge the strength of the enemy, to know where and when is the best place to hit him, and to learn, in the course of the strike, whether he is being seriously weakened or not.”

Rights on site campaigns to abolish the ABCC

Rights on site campaigns to abolish the ABCC

Moreover, “the working class strategists must always bear in mind the existing or prospective general and local political situations”. They are often decisive in strikes.” Foster writes, “National election periods present favorable opportunities that must not be neglected.” During these periods the employers often seek to mobilize the rank and file into voting for a particular “labor friendly” candidate, which typically means a Democrat. That being the case, it is not unlikely that the capitalist politicians will “seek to slough off the rough edges of the class struggle by slackening somewhat the state pressure” on the workers. Strike action culminating in such periods, if handled aggressively, has relatively higher chances of success. Conversely, when elections are over, and politicians no longer seek the labor vote, they will often return to their heavy-handed ways in dealing with stops in production or services.

Organizing campaigns and strikes must be centered on the basic demands of the workers, which should not be outside “the realms of possible achievement under existing conditions.” The nature of demands are typically conditioned by the balance of power between the employer and union, the mood of the rank and file, the tempo of industrial activity, and degree of ideological development, etc.

In periods of economic upturn, strike activity will often be of an offensive character, demanding better pay and work conditions and the right to organize.

In periods of recession, when workers are facing a generalized employers offensive and austerity, the fight will be defensive, looking to preserve previous gains and existing standards.

TPP Profit
Foster describes the strike itself as “the very heart of the class struggle.” They are open fights between exploiter and exploited where the “conflicting interests of the two classes are most manifest.” This is where workers employ their ultimate weapon: the withdrawal of labor-power and consequent cutting off of the employers’ source of profit. In order to maintain this state, it is necessary to achieve an unbroken solidarity against all odds.

It is for this reason that morale is crucial. But it is not a thing unto itself, “It is the product of a generally successful strike direction.” This includes striking an effective first blow, building solidarity networks, deterring “scab” labor, harboring an element of surprise, “dramatizing” the strike, or politicizing it through relentless exposures of employer ruthlessness.

And in the case of a situation such as Verizon, it is about “consolidating the victory.” This is just as important as organizing an orderly retreat in the case of defeat. Such victories “amount to little unless they are followed up by thorough organization of the workers involved and the systematic utilization of their victory to stimulate vast masses of other workers into action.”

Foster maintains that there are “two special periods” that “offer exceptionally good opportunities to draw masses into the struggle. 1) At the beginning of major strikes, when the workers are activated by the fight, and 2) right after a victory has been scored.”

This includes the “urgent necessity of systematically exploiting the victory by initiating great campaigns of organization among workers in the same or allied industries.”

* * * * *

Marx on profit

Marx on profit

The history of modern capitalism in the US has been one marked by cycles of labor militancy, which saw strike waves begin in the 1880s, followed by slump in the 1890s, a recurrence before and after WWI, followed one again by a downturn in the 1920s, an upswing in the 1930s and 1940s, and again in the 1960s and 1970s.

These periods of industrial upsurge were typically the result of deeper underlying social shock waves such as a reorganization of work structures, or dramatic disruptions in working class living standards.

But there has not been another strike wave since. How can the left prepare for the next once? The study of labor history is a critical endeavor. Given the cleavage between the present generation of leftists and the last era of class-struggle militancy, perhaps more so than any other vocation.

Tim Goulet is a shop steward with Teamsters local 810 in New York City and a member of the International Socialist Organisation.
WSN  Right To Strike flyler - front page - FINAL
For past posts

Chicago teachers strike is impressive
On Australian strikes

Strikes and the community assembly

The right to politically strike

Tips for the political strike

Class unionism

Reviving the strike
Bust the Budget Melbourne  2014
From penal colony to penal powers

In 2007 Rudd moves against the right to strike

For the right to strike on our environmental crisis

WorkChoices for lockouts

Turnbull’s ABCC

Construction Stasi

Right to strike

Right to strike

Campaign for the Right to Strike. Fri, 24 Jun 2016 00:59:56 +0000
Unionists organising for the right to strike and for the effective strike

Update July 18: From Don Sutherland Australia’s Penal Powers for the 21st Century
The Australian workers of the twenty first century need a strategy that defeats the penal powers of the twenty first century.
It is all about a deeper meaning of democracy than the very limited form that too many of us are sort of comfortable with these days.

Electing a genuine reforming Labor government backed up by the Greens and genuine pro worker and democratic independents to get rid of these undemocratic industrial laws will make a difference.But this was never on the radar in recent Federal election.

So, that will not happen unless it is part of a conscious strategy that creates a massive and independent movement of workers that makes it impossible for Labor and Green politicians to dodge their responsibilities.

White Australia was born as a penal colony. And throughout its history since there have been plenty of laws that fine, impose financial damages and lock up both the original inhabitants of the land and the working people of all nations who came here to make a living. Those laws swing into play whenever landowners and employers needed a government instrument to protect their profit making and wealth accumulation from the collective action of aboriginal communities and their supporters, and also combinations of workers whether members of unions or not. (For more on this read Jack Hutson’s From Penal Colony to Penal Powers.)

This story about Bluescope suing the AWU over a strike describes how Labor’s Fair Work Act of 2009 replicates that history so that it systematically prevents workers from exercising their collective power in the twenty first century.
Some of us who have been around for a long time know very well that there is NO END to the hypocrisy of employers when it comes to the exercise of their power. Employers like Bluescope Steel, in their own right and through their associations like the AIGroup, AMMA, and the Business Council of Australia, constantly whinge about the role of outside third parties in industrial relations.

For them, “outside third party interference” means unions, especially those that coordinate effective worker action across industries, and a Fair Work Commission with genuine democratic powers to ensure that workers human rights to organize and take collective action are protected.

right to strike

right to strike

Original post: I urge all unionists to press for the right to strike if the ALP wins government and Bill Shorten is PM on July 2nd. OR if PM Turnbull wins. Considerable union organising and pressure would have to be put on the ALP to move to legislate for the lawful strike and for the Parliament to support the right to strike.
Right to strike

Right to strike

After YourRights@Work defeated Howard, union and the ACTU leadership dropped campaigning. Then DPM Gillard was able to retain the repression on strikes contained in WorkChoices.

This anti-strike repression remains today in the “Fair” Work Act. The following is based on a speech at the 2012 ACTU Congress and is more relevant. This current ACTU policy is strong but not publicly pressed by the ACTU or Union leadership.

right to strike

right to strike

1. Unions’ right to strike campaign is to repeal all “Fair” Work Act penal powers. We argue for a “firewall” protection for workers in their unions taking industrial action,
i.e., protected action for all or any strikes, full stop.

These ILO principles are accepted by unions, government and most employers and can prevail. Note the scope of this right to strike:

“The right to strike is one of the essential means available to workers and their organisations for the promotion and protection of their economic and social interests. These interests not only have to do with obtaining better working conditions and pursuing collective demands of an occupational nature but also with seeking solutions to economic and social policy questions and to labour problems of any kind which are of direct concern to the workers.”
Working class principles justify the refusal to follow unjust and illegitimate restrictions for withdrawing our labour-power. “Labour is not a commodity,”
“the right to strike is a basic freedom that distinguishes us from the slave or from bonded labour or from fascism.”
ACTU policies and submissions endorses these ILO principles based on the right to strike as a civil, political, and socio-economic entitlement.
2. The ACTU argued these ILO principles with the 1993 Keating reforms for the first enterprise bargaining protected action regime, but we did not achieve all our aims. Reith’s 1996 WRAct weakened this protected action limited right to strike.
Joe Hill by Mike Alewitz

Rudd attacks the right to strike
“Repressive tolerance” of strikes came under corporate legal attack and moved
to repression of strikes under WorkChoices – the most severely regulated anti-strike regime in the OECD world. But as we know the Fair Work Act retained this repression of strikes.
Touch One Touch All
Howard’s WC spin said ‘we are not taking away the right to strike’ and similarly the Rudd/Gillard governments and now Abbott/Turnbull and opposition leader Bill Shorten all say they support the principle of the right to strike. But in practice unionists are not free to strike.

3. Assuming that Bill Shorten is PM, then unionists can insist his government deletes all of the FWA anti-strike provisions. Then insert the above ILO principles.

Then insert a section to ensure no employer or state apparatus can take a legal case against any industrial action, full stop.
Employer legal sanctions to stop strikes and fine striking workers and union officials are not to be available. Corporate law firms are removed from the industrial relations practice of stopping strikes with injunctions. The right to withdraw our labour-power is ‘firewalled’ legally paramount over corporate law.

4. What does this ‘firewall’ protection for the strike mean? What follows illustrates the strike that is now ‘unlawful’ but ought to be ‘lawful.’
Such a new FWA right guarantees freedom for workers in unions to collectively bargain with strikes.

Unionists are free to determine the strike processes, the timing, the negotiations, the notices, the tactics and free to determine how we take industrial action democratically decided in paid workers’ meetings.
Workers are free to pursue any demands – not in anyway legally constrained, not restricted by old legal restrictions of ‘matters pertaining to employment’ or so-called ‘not permitted’ matters.

Unions are free to bargain with industrial pressure for claims not only for collective agreements but over unfair management prerogative decisions, over industry development strategies, for job protection provisions, and for environmental demands.
Industry and pattern bargaining industrial action is lawful as the industrial parties are free to determine at what level to bargain.
The right to strike on occupational health and safety has to be absolute.

Right to strike for the environment
The employer right to lockout is repealed, with Qantas tactics unlawful.
The Workplace Relations Minister does not have the discretion to stop industrial action.
Competition law and Trade Practices law outlawing solidarity strikes and secondary boycotts is removed.

The individual worker on strike is protected: no return to work orders, no threat of dismissal, no victimization, no fines. No exceptions such as ‘for damage to persons or property’.
WSN  Right To Strike flyler - front page - FINAL

The Building and Construction regime, the STASI-like ABCC or FWBA current provision, is repealed.
Restrictions in trade-related industries are repealed.

The lawful strike extends internationally as it is essential for unions to organise global solidarity against multi-national corporate interests.
This right to strike politically is a last resort response to bad government policy affecting workers’ interests.
Workers, as citizens in a democracy, have legal protection for political protest assemblies e.g. against WorkChoices and the ABCC; no penalties against workers taking time to attend rallies or protests on foreign affairs against dictatorships e.g. in Fiji and or anti the fascist acts such as Indonesian TNI genocide against the East Timorese. The lawful strike supports human rights struggles.
Ged Kearney ACTU
Union officials organising the strike have legal protection against ancient British master and servant common law actions in tort, contract and in equity – no possibility of crippling damages.

Industrial disputes are settled by the parties or in the FWA system and not in the courts.

Picketing is protected industrial action not subject
to injunctions. Employers cannot employ ‘replacement’ labour to break a strike, as this is a violation of our freedom of association. Then workers can freely bargain.

2. The question is then reviving the strike so working people can regain power and transform Australia.

Unions know the strike is the essential means for the power to win our demands, e.g. higher pay and secure permanent jobs.

How workers organise a winning strike is a priority. In this era strikes are essential to respond to the capitalist and environment crisis and in response to the political attacks on workers’ rights, but are at a historical low point.

Democratic control by workers in their unions of their industrial action is central to defeat the employers’ decisions, defeat the corporate attack and defeat right-wing Abbott/Turnbull ‘austerity’ cuts.
The effective strike now is very difficult because of the FWA repressive regime and corporate/government
lawyers taking legal actions against unions. Employees in their unions in enterprise bargaining have to struggle to win ‘protected’ strikes as best we can.

Recruitment succeeds when integrated into successful strike action.

Unions cannot resolve our membership crisis simply by adding new members – without a powerful strike in place.

Australian unions are good at the one-day protest publicity strike. But this gives the illusion of progress, distracting from our real problem, which is the lack of an effective traditional lengthy strike.

Secondary bans, boycotts and solidarity strikes have to return as powerful means of union strength.

yraw vote for

yraw vote for

Mass general strikes in many countries are being organised as the global capitalist order is in another chronic crisis period with corporate and state austerity attacks on workers. Activists call for a general strike on May Day. But look back through history about how general strikes happened. They are organized in the workplace only by union delegates and organisers organizing step by step all their co-workers across all unions.

Co-ordinated strikes against the repressive anti-strike regime requires union members organising across industries, a mass strategy to defeat the penal powers, learning from the 1960’s anti-penal powers organising model resulting in mass national ‘Clarrie O’Shea’ strikes.
Ged ACTU Congress 2015
Our Your Rights at Work campaign proves our capacity strategically to win in civil society. Unions defeated Howard, but we failed with the Rudd/Gillard government to secure the right to strike. We organise outstanding social unionism struggles with community support.

Rights on site campaigns to abolish the ABCC

Rights on site campaigns to abolish the ABCC

But to win requires the power of collective strike action.
Social unionism is not a replacement for direct struggle against employers. Social unionism where the strike is abandoned loses the central role of workers at the point of production.

But the strike is only a means. We return to work. Then workers’ struggles need to develop more collective power at work.

Workers’ control over our work to counter employers’ control is the challenge.

We can develop democratic self-management agendas.

Tactics historically are sit-ins and occupations when workers facing redundancies took over factories and ran them cooperatively.

We can learn about workers self-management cooperatives.

We study workers control developments.

As unionists we listen to the history of militant workers who did strike against capitalist rulers.
Updated from Chris White speech at ACTU Congress May 2012. I worked for Unions for 30 years, AWU and Misscos, 17 years as Assistant Secretary and Secretary of the United Trades and Labor Council of SA. I am now in Melbourne.