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Thursday, March 04, 2010

Abbott vs unionism by Chris White

Abbott tells corporate leaders that WorkChoices was not an economic mistake, not all bad, but politically a mistake.
WorkChoices was necessary as regulation for unlimited freedom for profit making and undermining unions.

Turnbull was to hide WorkChoices 2. With Abbott the contest is back in the open.

But the Murdoch press weekly has propaganda “Abbott pledges fair deal on IR.” (The Australian front-page headlines 17/2/2010).

In 2010, globalisation is slowly recovering from one of the severest capitalist financial crises since the 1930’s depression.

Rudd’s stimulus reduced the impact of the GFC crisis.

Australia technically was not in recession, but many regions were.

Workers everywhere were made redundant, forced onto shorter hours or part-time, feared for job security and had living standards attacked.

Capitalism’s everpresent drive for capital accumulation and placing profits before human needs is a key determinant in the politics of work.

The dominant global corporations want to recover their profits and in resources will act ruthlessly to destroy the beginnings of workers bargaining through their unions.

Take one powerful corporate association regularly on the front page of the Murdoch press, the Australian Mines and Metals Association.

Chief executive Steve Knott (front page ‘Big miners want flexibility’ Australian 23/2/10) wants employers to make ‘greenfields employment contract deals’ without union involvement.

The powerful companies demand changes to the Fair Work Act for immediate penalties against their workers who take unlawful industrial action (as opposed to the current return to work orders and penalty processes).

The miners old cry is resurrected that ‘Australia’s reputation as a reliable supplier of mineral resources is being threatened by “damaging industrial action” in the sector.’

Knott says where industrial action is unlawful, workers should immediately be vulnerable to penalties, for example infringement notices payable within 28 days, like the anti-union repressive Building Industry Act, the model that they push.

It was who Abbott initiated the repressive policing of building workers to destroy union organisation.

The Building Commission (on this post see ABCC) interrogates in East German Stasi-like means for the prosecution of union organisers and workers legitimately going on strike against unjust building corporations.

These are severe restrictions against the right to strike, yet to be repealed.

The wild exaggerations of strikes are re-cycled. The reality was few strikes, as 99.5% of time there were no strikes in the building industry.

Howard’s WorkChoices cemented one of the world’s most repressive regimes against the right to strike.

The human right to withdraw your labour with others to bargain and to not be ordered back to work under the cry of unlawfulness and your union is fined is critical for union bargaining under capitalism.

Rudd/Gillard kept this repressive anti-strike regime (you can see in posts on this blog).

The repression continues against strikes because unions did not achieve all the essential rights under the Fair Work Act.

Regular ‘orders to return to work’ and fines for past legitimate but ‘unlawful’ disputes are still being made.

The AWU is being sued for a legitimate stoppage by the Employee Ombudsman, a Howard appointee (kept by Gillard) a former SA Employers Federation and Liberal party and IR warrior.

Despite these current restrictions, the giant corporates want protected action further limited legally by requiring that the FWA only grant ballot applications where genuine bargaining has been exhausted – more legal technicalities.

Freedom of association in a democracy means that workers, employees can get together, meet and organise in unions around their claims in their interests and withdraw labour if necessary.

WorkChoices made it impossible to have collective bargaining when a powerful employer refused and was backed by corporate lawyers.

Abbott will try again to finish off our unions.

He will weaken further workers collectively to be effective in bargaining and against employer injustice.

He will unwind employee minor FairWork protections in the name of a free labour market. http://www.actu.org.au/

‘We will seek to renew our former mandate to take the unfair dismissal monkey off the back of small business and to allow workers and managers to make individual employment agreements that are fair.’ (Abbott Australian 1/3/10)

Many Australians already oppose this.

The ACTU shows: ‘The poll of 2,099 working Australians finds fewer than one fifth (18%) believe it unlikely the Liberals will reintroduce WorkChoices.

And more than half (53%) believe it is likely or very likely Tony Abbott’s Liberals would reintroduce WorkChoices.’

Australians already have concerns about Abbott’s IR.

(i) The potential cuts to wages and conditions.

Young workers would be even more vulnerable. Abbott will scrap minimum 3-hour shift requirements.

Liberals attack minimum awards and penalty rates are to be abolished.

Many again will have take home pay reduced.

88% cannot see wages keeping up with costs of living under Abbott.

Despite his saying there will be individual agreements based on Labor’s ITEA arrangements with a no-disadvantage test and it will be fair, no unions are allowed.

It is another big lie that under Abbott ‘no worker shall be worse off’.

ii. Australians are opposed to employers having more ‘flexibility’.

Management want even more power to dictate working hours. Workplaces where you can work any 24 hours at the cheapest rates. More little Hitler HRMs.

82% of employees want more job security, not less.

Flexibility under WorkChoices meant a ban on employers and unions agreeing in a collective agreement about matters between a union and the employer – prohibited content returns.

iii. Australians do not want a workplace where the employer can unfairly dismiss.

Too many are sacked at will harshly and unreasonably, rather than the respect for the individual to be treated fairly.

A right to argue your unfair dismissal case and be possibly be reinstated is fair.

For all the Howard years, with Abbott a proponent as Workplace Relations Minister, the big lie, the ideological chant, that ‘taking away an employee’s right to go to a tribunal to argue unfairness somehow creates jobs!’

Peter Reith told me laughing his press secretary made up this big lie. Employers have to be free from unfair dismissal claims to create more jobs! Endlessly repeated this big lie surfaces again.

The real target is unionism.

The core of the individual contract bargaining for Abbott is they occur without unions.

The unequal power of the corporate resources – BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, banks, Qantas, multinationals etc – in bargaining against each individual worker cuts deep into democratic values of the right to collective organisation.

This is clearly an attack on our core values as in the song ‘Solidarity forever.’

‘When the union’s inspiration through the workers’ blood shall run


There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun 


Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one 


For the Union makes us strong.’

The 2005 election version had: ‘They seek to crush our spirit 


Steal the workers’ hard fought gains 


Make us sign their dirty contracts.’

Every worker ought to have the right to bargain collectively and to be treated by the employer with respect and dignity and be supported as a union activist.

But the corporations wanted, lobbied for and got WorkChoices.

They know with Abbott they have a right wing warrior dedicated to their unfettered profit making.

Abbott will use the government’s resources and the state to give employers the authoritarianism at work they want against unionism.

Abbott has the political drive to finish off unions – what Howard couldn’t do for the corporates.

But in the last election the Liberals underestimated YRAW, how unions can organise socially in the community.

YRAW was not only the ACTU TV ads, but with thousands of unionists door-knocking and talking to workers also the battle of political values about work.

Social unionism campaigning and communicating on real workplace issues changed votes.

That WorkChoices was the key to the Liberals’ defeat is confirmed by research by Clive Bean and Ian McAllister. 2009 ‘The Australian election survey: the tale of the rabbit-less hat. Voting behaviour in 2007’ Australian Cultural History. 27: 2, 205- 218.

Can Abbott deceive voters to return to the Liberals with the propaganda ‘I will be fair? ‘

What Abbott and the right have is the political spin for the big lies, doublethink.

I cite the notion of ‘Doublethink’ in George Orwell’s 1984.

‘Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.

…the essential act of the Party is to use conscious deception while retaining the firmness of purpose that goes with complete honesty.

To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies—all this is indispensably necessary.’

One of Howard’s doublethink’s with Abbott was to chant anything his government did created ‘more jobs, higher pay’. Anything Labor did created fewer jobs lower pay…irrespective of the issues.

FUD tactics will be to the fore. Whip up Fear/Uncertainty/Doubt against unions.

But the Liberals’ fear ads did not work in 2007. Voters ignored TV images of so-called union heavies and strikes.

Political campaigning on IR issues remains a priority thanks to the corporates and Abbott. Unions will have to defend unionism.

Workers’ rights in Australia are falling far short of what was promised.

This struggle has as one task for unionists that with the Fair Work minimalist reforms to mobilise to have rights at work extended from Rudd/Gillard’s minimalist FWA changes and to secure some protection from the corporations.

Workers’ cynicism with Rudd/Gillard on IR is a criticism of right wing Labor refusing to go further against the power of the corporates.

Indeed, if Rudd/Gillard is to commit to ‘working families’ then many more rights for workers have to become labour law ‘for the future’, some minimum protections against the instability of capitalism.

Greens on the merits have good IR policies. Many union rank and file activists argue for support for a majority of the Greens in a new Senate.

Abbott is mobilizing his right-wing base and unifying corporate extremist PR. Still a believer in the US Republican tactics, Abbott with mass press and corporate backing, has organising resources.

Worker counter mobilisation, independent of the ALP, has to be built at work and in the community organising against the corporate power.

Deeper is the debate about capitalism in crisis.

I was interviewed on Abbott and Industrial relations policies on 3CR Radio on Sunday. This is to be replayed this week on community radio.

The Stick Together show Melbourne 3CR Sundays at 10 – 10.30AM.

Repeated Thursdays 6 – 6.30AM.

Australia’s only national radio show focusing on union and workplace justice issues.

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