Time for industrial action!
It’s back to the drawing board for the ACTU with their strategy to defeat Work Choices. First, the rallies in late November – especially the attempt to fill the MCG in Melbourne – had fewer workers than expected. Then the ACTU’s favourite ALP leader, Kim Beazley, lost the leadership to Queensland right-winger Kevin Rudd who has much less ties to organised labour.
The lessons of the ‘Fill the G’
Amongst workers active in the unions there is a sullen mood of cynicism towards the blatant, slick ALP electioneering of the ACTU. Many other workers are beginning to vote with their feet and are not attending the mass rallies.
Many workers will continue to ask “Why attend a mass rally, lose a day’s pay and possibly your job, to attend a stage production you’ve seen before?” The below-expected turnout on November 30 coupled with Rudd winning the ALP leadership is a slap in the face for the ACTU strategy of industrial quiescence and pro-ALP electoralism. Many ACTU bureaucrats are now very demoralised and some are wrongly putting the blame on the rank and file.
However, most workers hate Howard and Work Choices but are not convinced that the ALP can win the next federal election or, if they do, will act strongly in workers’ interests. From the point of view of many workers they see an anti-union Howard government that has nevertheless seemingly delivered low interest rates and an economic upturn versus an ALP opposition that opposes Work Choices but, workers worry, may not be as successful on the economic front as the Coalition.
The implications of Kevin Rudd for workers
After the ACTU reinvented Kim ‘bomber’ Beazley as a champion of the working class, they have now been duded by Kevin Rudd who took over the leadership on December 4. His victory is a major blow to the ACTU who will now have to go out and re-campaign in the Federal Labor Party for their IR policy. This leadership change is about style and will make no fundamental difference, if anything it is a shift to the Right. The media is already calling on Rudd to reverse Beazley’s hard won promises to unions to scrap individual contracts.
Rudd, who is a devout Christian, is far from being socially progressive and has even less links with the union movement than Beazley. He alienated Queensland workers in the early 1990s when, as the head of the Queensland government’s Department of Premier and Cabinet, he cut public service jobs.
The only good thing about the relatively low numbers on the November rallies is that it will open up more debate inside the workers’ movement. Union activists would go along in the main with the ACTU strategy if it delivered ever growing numbers on the streets and falling poll figures for the Coalition. However neither is occurring. There is more confidence now to take on the dominant strategy of staged-managed rallies and incessant calls to ‘Vote ALP’.
The Socialist Party alternative strategy to that of the ACTU is one of many that will be put out there in the class more aggressively in the next few months. We call for serious industrial action to defend workers under attack from the new laws, including as a first step a 24-hour national general strike as a way of uniting all workers in action against Work Choices. Instead of blindly calling for an uncritical ALP vote we raise the idea of a new workers’ party with a socialist programme that can deal with all the issues facing working people.
By Socialist Party reporters