Union leaders offer no way forward
The recent deal forced down the throats of Holden employees in South Australia should send a shiver down the spine of every worker in the country.
Threatened with the dole queue if they didn’t agree, and harangued by their own union (the vehicle division of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union – AMWU), workers voted to accept a 3% reduction in pay rises for the next 3 years. This equates to a pay cut in real terms as pay increases will no longer keep up with inflation.
Penalty rates will also be cut and workers will be forced to take holidays at the whim of management. Workers can be forced to start an unscheduled shift after a minimum break of 8 hours and rest breaks have also been cut. These changes will save Holden $15 million a year.
Despite receiving $2 billion in handouts from the federal government over the past 12 years, Holden management is not satisfied. After the recently announced closure by Ford, Holden figured they could successfully bully their workers into accepting cuts. Holden threatened closure by 2016 if the deal was not accepted, but gave no guarantees of continuation if it was accepted.
The car industry is in crisis throughout Australia and the world. The international economy is still anaemic after the global financial crisis that started in 2007. Capitalists and their politicians are divided between either handing over billions of taxpayers’ dollars to prop up the car industry or alternatively letting it collapse. In Australia the Coalition represents the latter view while the ALP and the AMWU represent the former.
The car bosses obviously want bailouts and threaten closures if they don’t get what they want. They use the same pressure to force the AMWU leaders into helping them sell cuts to their members.
The AMWU leaders see no alternative to the profit-driven capitalist system. They see no other option than to become industrial advisors and pimps for Holden management, using their influence within the Labor Party to hustle for more and more subsidies.
So what should be done? The political question is whether unions should make the decisions of the bosses less bad for workers or whether they should challenge the bosses in a more fundamental way.
The former view is dominant now. Therefore the attitude of most union leaders to proposed job cuts is to wrangle for a better redundancy package or worse, to sell cuts on behalf of the bosses as was done at Holden.
A socialist trade union policy starts with demanding that bosses seeking job cuts open their books to union and worker inspection. We should not take on face value their economic arguments. How much is made in profits by the shareholders? What are the salaries of senior management?
We oppose all job cuts as a matter of principle. If there is no market for Holden cars, then the plant should be converted to produce products that society needs such as trains and trams. This type of conversion happened during World War 2 when car plants were converted into producing tanks and other military vehicles.
If manufacturing bosses are threatening to shift plants offshore workers should respond by occupying the site. Socialists call for threatened plants to be nationalised under workers control with compensation based on proven need.
A socialist economic plan of production would see things produced on the basis of need rather than profits. For these types of policies to take hold we need fighting leaderships in the trade unions and a new political party that represents workers interests. This is what the Socialist Party is fighting for in manufacturing and thought all sectors of the economy.
By Stephen Jolly