Unions need to fight for real solutions to the jobs crisis
Staring down the barrel of electoral annihilation in September, Julia Gillard is cynically attempting to play on people’s concerns about jobs by scapegoating migrants who have come to Australia on skilled 457 visas. Labor’s aim is to try and divert the blame for unemployenmnt away from them – and the bosses they represent – and on to migrants.
Understanding the anxiety that exists in relation to cost of living pressures and jobs, Gillard has attempted to portray herself as some sort a defender of ‘Aussie jobs’. She has announced a so-called ‘crackdown’ on 457 visa rorts and a tightening of the visa conditions.
Editorial comment from the April 2013 edition of ‘The Socialist’
While there is evidence that workers on 457 visas are being super-exploited, the government’s intentions are not to put a spotlight on dodgy employer practices. The government is merely trying to manufacture some sort of difference between itself and the opposition in the lead up to September’s poll.
In an indication of just how reactionary these policies are, Australia’s most famous racist, Pauline Hanson, has offered up her support to Gillard. The truth is that racism flows from the types of economic nationalist policies put forward by Hanson and Gillard alike.
Divide and rule
Gillard’s xenophobic campaign will only contribute to creating a climate of hostility towards migrants. This will inevitably divide and weaken the working class therefore making it easier for governments and employers to drive through cuts and austerity measures in the future.
The figures themselves show just how hypocritical Gillard is being. This government has actually presided over the biggest yearly increase in 457 visa approvals in the past 15 years. Immigration Department figures reveal the number of 457 visas approved in the 2011-12 financial year was 125,070, a 52.3% increase on the previous year. All of a sudden now Gillard says the regime is ‘out of control’.
The idea that Gillard is a defender of jobs is a joke. Unemployment, underemployment and casualisation have all risen under the current ALP government. At the behest of big business they have also helped facilitate a situation where migrant labour, under the 457 visa scheme, is being used to try and drive down wages and conditions.
Far from attempting to address the skills shortage, the real purpose of 457 visas is to provide employers with cheap non-union labour. Temporary migrant workers, even if paid the same rates as local workers, are always vulnerable because the employer has the ability to terminate the visa at any time for any reason. Often they don’t speak up about underpayments or poor conditions for fear of being deported.
The skills shortage itself was created by a succession of State and Federal governments who have systematically cut funding from vocational training and privatised the public assets that once trained thousands of apprentices.
Trade unions on wrong track
The trade unions for the most part have played a poor role and have both echoed and encouraged Gillard’s dog whistling campaign.
The tragedy of the situation is that more than 100,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in Australia since the onset of the global economic crisis. For the most part the manufacturing unions have done next to nothing to stem the tide. Very few strikes against job losses have been proposed let alone organised. There has also been no real political campaign for job creation.
The only thing the unions have done is lobby the ALP for more tax-payer subsidies for failing companies. These companies have proceeded to take the money and then implement job cuts anyway – with absolutely no consequences. The current union strategy to save, let alone create, jobs is totally bankrupt.
In manufacturing for example, a serious approach to the jobs crisis would be to campaign to bring failing firms into public ownership. Then the plants could be retooled to manufacture the things that society needs – like more trains, trams and busses or renewable energy infrastructure.
Similarly, we need a program of public works to build more schools, hospitals and affordable homes. This would put construction workers back to work and provide society with the services that are desperately required.
On top of this the unions should campaign for a shorter working week, without a loss in pay, to share out the work. This would cut across the problem of underemployment and go a long way towards reducing unnecessary casualisation.
Real solutions to the jobs crisis
Campaigns for job creation and an expansion of the public sector would win lots of public support and is the only real way to provide good, secure jobs on decent wages. In fact if we were creating all the things we need we would inevitably need many more workers than Australia currently has available. There would be more than enough work for locals as well as many migrants.
These are the types of policies the unions need to be focusing on rather than the nationalist call of “Aussie jobs for Aussie workers”. These types of slogans only feed the flames of racism and create divisions between workers when we should be striving for unity against the bosses and governments that are exploiting us all.
In the short term unions need to put the time and resources into organising migrant workers. They need to find ways to initiate joint struggle between migrant workers and local workers, as well as educating their members about the real causes of unemployment and job insecurity. Side by side with unionising migrant workers unions should fight for their permanent residency and for equal rights in every facet of their lives.
These issues should be the primary focus of any union campaign. While calling for the scrapping of all dodgy visas, including the 457 visa, the union movement needs to keep the class issues at the fore in order to cut across the potential for racism to develop against the backdrop of a worsening economic situation.
The truth is that the fight against migrant worker exploitation and for real jobs with skills will only be won on the basis of a political shift in the labour movement. In the meantime however we need to do all we can to counter racist and nationalist ideas with the ideas of internationalism, solidarity and joint struggle.
Fight the system that creates unemployment
Further to that socialists fight for a different type of society. We stand opposed to capitalism – a system that allows capital to move freely across borders while workers are forced to work where they can be most exploited for profit.
The lack of jobs and rising cost of living pressures in Australia today stems not from migrant workers but from the profit driven system of capitalism itself. The people we should be focusing our anger at are the bosses who indiscriminately slash jobs, the bankers who are refusing to lower interest rates, the landlords who charge exorbitant rents and the governments that are behind privatisations, cuts and austerity measures.
We need to fight for socialist solutions to the economic crisis including public ownership as an alternative to private profiteering, democratic control as an alternative to the dictatorship of the 1%, and sustainable planning as an alternative to the anarchy of the market. Only a system based on human need and not profits can eliminate unemployment and provide for a decent standard of living for all.