Magazine of the Socialist Party, Australian section of the CWI

Gillard thumbs her nose at unions

Time for a political alternative to Labor

When addressing the ACTU congress this week, Deputy PM and Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard made it clear where her government’s allegiances lie.

Gillard was resolute that, despite the name change in 2010, Labor would not be scrapping the coercive powers of Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). In effect she has sided with big business who see the ABCC as a useful tool to wind back wages, conditions and safety standards in the construction industry.

Despite the union movement playing a key role in putting Labor in office, Gillard was firm that there would be no more changes to industrial legislation and no favours for workers under her leadership.

ACTU congress delegates heckled Gillard throughout her speech and she was constantly interrupted by screams of “shame” and “one law for all”. Despite this Gillard provoked the delegates by comparing allegations of violence at the recent West Gate Bridge dispute to the tactics of Chris Corrigan and the Howard Government during the famous waterfront dispute of 1998.

Gillard spoke of “balaclava-wearing people”, “criminal damage to vehicles” and “threats of physical violence and intimidation”. During both the West Gate and the waterfront disputes any violence that occurred was dished out by the employers and by the police.

Socialist Party members who attended the West Gate pickets report that the only people wearing balaclavas were the scabs and the hired thugs acting as security. These people had been employed to do the work of union members who were fighting against an employer who was trying to undermine industry standards.

While there has been several people charged from incidents related to the West Gate dispute, not one has yet faced trial let alone been convicted of any crime. Gillard’s comments were not only inappropriate and ill informed but could compromise the ability of these people to get a fair trial.

Gillard defiantly told the ACTU congress that they would be better off “pounding the pavements” in support of the Fair Work Act rather than lobbying her government for further changes to the laws.

While there is not much in the Fair Work Act to celebrate, “pounding the pavement” is not the worst idea that Gillard has ever come up with. Pleading and begging Labor MPs to implement better laws will go nowhere. What we need is mass mobilisations coupled with a campaign of industrial action that is aimed at abolishing Labor’s draconian legislation.

It is plain for all to see that Labor is much more interested in representing big business rather than ordinary people. The question that needs to be asked is why then do the unions continue to hand over millions of dollars to Labor in affiliation fees? What the union movement needs is a political alterative that is not linked to big business but instead unashamedly represents the interests of working people.

If the unions broke with Labor and joined with progressive community groups to set up a new workers party, this would become a pole of attraction for all of those who are fed up with the major parties and are looking for a way to ensure that workers are not forced to pay for the economic crisis.

By Anthony Main