Pilots defeat: Unions will pay the price


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With the end of the pilot’s dispute, another chapter of shame closes for the leadership of the Australian labour movement. Their role in this episode has been nothing short of scabbery.

The Pilots Federation now becomes the second trade union the Hawke government has wiped out of existence, and that’s a record neither Thatcher or Reagan can match.

The Labor party was formed following the defeats of the great strikes of the 1890s where ‘freedom of contract’ was simply a term the bosses used, meaning smashing the trade unions and dealing with workers on an international basis.

What a supreme historical irony it is that the party formed out that struggle, should as a one hundredth anniversary celebration, side with the bosses in order to smash a trade union and enforce individual contracts!

The trade union leaders now wag their fingers and say – “the pilots’ strike is conclusive proof that you can’t go outside the system” – just like they said with the BLF, just like they said with the Plumbers…

Many of these union leaders looked the other way while it was happening, but even worse, some of them actually joined in with the government and the bosses to give the pilots a kicking… just like the BLF and the Plumbers. But what has happened will come back to haunt them.

We’ve seen the use of the military by the Labor government in an industrial dispute again. We’ve seen bosses financially compensated by a Labor government for their losses during an industrial dispute. And we’ve seen a Labor government backing the use of legal action by bosses against a union.

As the Sydney Morning Herald put it, “No union is quarantined from the consequences of the dispute, no matter how some observers try to characterise it as a unique set of circumstances… The most serious consequences of the dispute however, centres on the airlines successful use of common law against the federation, which was found liable for $6.5 million damages after six days of work bans… The pilot’s damages case finally leaves no doubt that the right to strike does not exist in Australia.”

But most importantly we’ve seen the willingness of workers to struggle despite all that is being thrown against them. What the Herald described as the “amazing solidarity” of the pilots, won them much admiration and was in the best traditions of the labour movement.

It is these traditions, that the Kelty’s and the Hawke’s etc have tried so desperately to destroy, that will once again come to the fore in the 1990s.

By Militant reporters

Originally published in the April 1990 edition of Militant, predecessor of The Socialist

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