Editorial comment from the July 2015 edition of The Socialist
In recent weeks a number of dodgy deals have been exposed between employers and the Labor aligned Australian Workers Union (AWU). Labor Party leader Bill Shorten was the national secretary of the AWU before entering parliament in 2007, hence he has been embroiled in the scandal.
The deals involve a series of extraordinary payments to the union. In almost every case employers that made payments to the union were allowed to sign enterprise agreements that undermined workers wages and conditions.
The Age estimates that the combined total of the payments to the AWU exceeds $1 million and in some cases the deals led to employers increasing their profits by hundreds of millions of dollars. Similar types of deals have also been done by other Labor aligned unions such as the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA).
It is this sort of unscrupulous behaviour that has led to most people having a poor opinion of trade unions. While Bill Shorten undeniably played a rotten role while leading the AWU, the vast bulk of today’s union officialdom similarly put the narrow interests of the Labor Party ahead of the interests of the working class.
Trade unionism is supposed to be about workers wrestling a bigger share of the wealth away from the employers but the current leaders have largely ditched that basic premise in favour of using the unions as electoral appendages of the Labor Party.
With very few exceptions, the current batch of union leaders will go down in history as the most ineffectual this country has ever seen. They have overseen the lowest strike figures on record while a huge transfer of wealth from wages to profits has taken place. Correspondingly workers have deserted the unions in droves as they are seen as useless.
Trade unionism has been corrupted by the politics of the Labor Party. The modern Labor Party is an open party of big business. It has fully embraced anti-worker policies like privatisation, free trade and workplace deregulation. The party’s influence has set the cause of trade unionism back decades.
Workers need to ditch Labor and build a new political force that genuinely represents their interests. A new workers party that stood against big business domination of society, and for sharing the wealth created more equally, would have the potential to make a huge impact.
The development of a new workers party would have a positive impact on the trade union movement. A new party that stood for a better deal for ordinary people would take those ideas into the unions and imbue them with a new fighting and democratic spirit.
Far from doing dodgy deals with employers that allow them to increase profits at our expense a new workers party would campaign for the unions to fight against job losses, budget cuts and attacks on wages and conditions. It would push to reverse the trend towards wealth inequality. With this type of approach the unions would once again be seen as relevant to millions of people.
Labor has done more than enough damage. It is high time that a political alternative to the Labor Party was built. The future of the trade union movement depends on it.