Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

ACTU show no lead

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The ACTU (Australian Council of Trade Unions), not content with holding back the working class on the industrial front is now also seeking to do so on the political front. Greg Combet in a recent article in the Australian Financial Review (AFR) has revealed that the ACTU would not be as opposed to some of the changes in Howard?s IR legislation as the ALP appears to be. This has positioned the ACTU to the right of the ALP on this issue.
Editorial from the May edition of ‘The Socialist’The ACTU needs to stop offering its services to the bosses as a controlling agent for the working class and start defending the rights of workers including full trade union rights. The fact that Combet has outlined these policies in the AFR is a clear indication he wanted to send a message to bosses about where the ACTU stood on such matters.

Howard?s new Industrial Relations laws are a follow on from his 1996 legislation. He has now been able to push through counter reforms he was previously unable to get passed. With his numbers in the Senate now giving him unencumbered control, he has now been able to implement policy aimed at crippling the unions and weakening the working class. The 1996 laws basically represented an extension of the ALP legislation of the Hawke and Keating years, with increased use of individual contracts and further restrictions on industrial action.

The ALP and ACTU after a long time just stating their opposition to the new IR laws have just recently come out with some policy on their alternative to the Coalition laws. Beazley has outlined six points he believes should be part of ALP policy.

1) Strong safety net of minimum awards and conditions
2) Independent umpire to ensure fair wages and conditions and to settle disputes
3) Right for employees to bargain collectively
4) Rights for workers to reject individual contracts
5) Right to join and be represented by a union and
6) Proper rights for workers who are unfairly dismissed.

All of these points are very general and contain no detail. Beazly has however outlined some proposals for dealing with unfair dismissals. He is looking at lawyer free tribunal to rule on sackings. This would be on the basis that such a process was friendly to both workers and employers and had mechanisms to stop speculative or vexatious claims. He wants to make things “fair” for both bosses and workers.

Unlike the Coalition which is quite openly anti-worker in deed if not in word the ALP and also more openly now the ACTU strive to strike a ?balance” between both workers and bosses. Combet has listed five basic rights he wants the ALP to consider.

1) An effective and strong safety net
2) An independent umpire to establish minimum wages and a safety net
3) Right to collectively bargain
4) Right to union representation
5) Protection against unfair treatment

Noticeably Combet?s points do not refer to anything specific on the rejection of individual contracts and of course missing from both lists is any reference to a union?s ability to be able to take industrial action. There is no reference to the fundamental right to take effective action to defend workers wages and conditions.

Combet has stated on several occasions that alternative IR policy would have to take account of “the open trading nature of the economy”. Combet has also stated that he might be prepared to accept a unified national system of industrial relations. What he means is that if the Coalition government is successful in using the corporation?s power of the constitution to over ride the state industrial relations systems then he would be prepared to accept that.

Under capitalism that is saying that the needs of the economy override the needs of workers. Again Combet is trying to “balance” the rights of workers and bosses and under the current neo-liberal climate this balance is always going to go the boss?s way.

What workers need is policies that will put the interests of working class people first. They do not need policies of “balance”. Bosses under the capitalist system are big enough and ugly enough to take care of themselves they already have the balance well and truly in their favour.

The ALP (as SP has previously explained) is beyond reform, that is why we advocate the setting up of a new workers party to fight for workers interests. Such a new workers party would include the best and most militant trade unionists and community activists. It would fight not only on the political front but would also fight with the trade union movement and the community for pro worker and socialist policies.


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