Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

How to stop low wage growth? Unions!

Attract new members with a fighting approach
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Wages rose by just 2% over 2017. This continues a trend of historically low wage growth over the past few years. While public sector workers saw a slightly higher wage rise of 2.4%, private sector worker’s wages rose by just 1.9%.

In contrast to these paltry wage increases for workers, CEO pay increased at almost double the rate over the last year. CEO’s were found to have an average income of over $91,000 per week, or around $4.5 million a year! It is staggering that CEO income has now reached 78 times the average worker’s wage.

The total share of wealth being produced going to workers is also near its lowest level in 50 years. Only around half of wealth produced in Australia goes back to working people, with the rest going to the top 1%.

Socialists point out that this redistribution of wealth, upwards, is linked to the decline of the union movement, and we have long fought to reverse it. Now even the International Monetary Fund has acknowledged that the decline in union membership is a key factor in the smaller share of income going to workers.

Under capitalism there is an ongoing struggle between the share of wealth going to profits and to wages. Historically unions have played a key role helping to boost the wages share.

A socialist society however would replace this chaotic system with one that is in the ownership and control of working people. Instead of competition and a vicous drive for profit, there would be cooperation for the mutual benefit of all.

If we are to turn around the trend towards low wage growth and a shrinking piece of the pie, we must revive the union movement and return to the idea of struggling over the amount of wealth we receive.

Many thousands of people have deserted the unions in recent decades and very few young people are applying to join. Membership has declined to just 15% of all workers, and it is getting lower each year. To many, the unions seem inept and the truth is that the current batch of leaders are. The facts and figures confirm this.

In order to make the unions attractive again we need to reimbue them with a fighting approach. Members must truly control their unions and set them on a path where they once again use the weapon of the strike to win more pay and better conditions. When unions are seen to be useful and are helping to reverse the trend towards wealth inequality people will join.

Dodgy unions, like the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA), who have consistently negotiated workplace agreements with the major retail and fast food chains, that are far worse than the Award, must be taken on. So-called unions like this do more harm than good to our cause, and they are a major reason why people view unions in a bad light.

The SDA for example was just recently found trying to make a woeful agreement with Domino’s that left workers worse off. In exchange for reduced conditions, the workers were to receive just a 2 cent per hour pay rise! The agreement would have allowed Domino’s to reschedule part-time workers as if they were casual staff, but without the increased rate of pay as compensation.

A new revived union movement would not just accept the exploitative capitalist system as a given. It would fight for a bigger share of the wealth under this system but would also set its sights on a different type of society – a society where workers are able to fully share in the wealth they produce and where they are afforded the basics of life without question.

Socialists will be on the front line ensuring that the current batch of union leaders are not allowed to ruin our movement. After all, it was socialists who have historically built the unions, not just in Australia but worldwide.

This is because we recognise that the profits the bosses make are created by worker’s labour, they are really the unpaid wages of the working class and therefore belong to them. Because of that there is no workplace agreement or pay rise that is ever too good for the worker.

By Dane Letcher


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