Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

IR laws: The fight is not over

Reading Time: 3 minutes

We need ongoing industrial action to beat Howard’s IR laws!

The Socialist Party is extremely concerned about the current tactics of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) in regards to fighting Howard?s industrial relations laws.

2005 saw workers twice take to the streets by the hundreds of thousands to vent their opposition to the Howard Governments industrial relations legislation; the second demonstration on November 15 was Australia’s largest ever nation wide demonstration. Despite this fantastic show of strength Howard still pushed through the IR bills largely unchanged. The question now remains, why were these mass demonstrations not enough to stop Howard? and where to from here?

There is no doubt that the ACTU propaganda campaign has played a fantastic role, in fact a report from the governments own Treasury Department has confirmed what the union movement was saying all along. That is that the new IR laws will wind back wages, conditions, and safety standards in our workplaces. This along with the fact that even some capitalist economists have also predicted that the changes will have no positive impact on productivity and unemployment. This is confirmation that Howard?s justifications for the changes, which saw a $40 million taxpayer funded campaign, were purely based on bosses wanting to increase profits and not the nations economic prosperity.

The ACTU also did well raising broad public awareness about the affects of the new laws and in rallying support behind the campaign. Many workers welcomed the ACTU changing their position on ruling out any form of mass action. However, it now seems that the ACTU leadership have given up on organising any further mass protests and their main strategy is to campaign for a Labor government at the next election. This strategy is deeply flawed; workers need only look at State Labor governments around the country to see that when the ALP is in power it fails to represent the interests of working people. They are also still yet to commit to abolishing individual contracts and have many anti workers laws in place at state level.

Instead of outlining a strategy to defeat the laws, the ACTU seem to have already thrown in the towel. Whilst many workers want to see the campaign ramped up, the ACTU seem like they are trying to wind it down. The massive demonstrations that took place gave workers enormous amounts of confidence and a sense of their own collective strength. It is vital that workers now put pressure on the ACTU to go further and implement an industrial side of the campaign alongside the good propaganda work that has already been done. The fight is by no means over and in fact has not even begun. Since the implementation of these laws will be an uneven process, workers will now have to fight these laws at a shop floor level. Solidarity between different sections of workers will be key to maintaining confidence and defeating these laws at workplace level.

The Socialist Party has long been campaigning for the ACTU to call a 24-hour national general strike as the next step in the campaign. We understand that for the Industrial Relations laws to be thrown into the dustbin of history, we need organised industrial action. For bosses to be convinced not to use the laws they need to be hit where they hurt most – in the hip pocket.

On top of a fighting leadership in the ACTU that will run a militant industrial campaign against Howard, what workers need most is to be represented politically by their own party. A party that will link Howard’s industrial relations changes to the fight against capitalism’s race to the bottom.

By Antony Alder


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