A vast majority of working people, especially young workers, don’t like Work Choices. They believe bosses today have too much power in the workplace. They face bullying by bosses, not bullying by unions.
Today in most workplaces, the bosses dictate if and when workers get overtime; the bosses dictate the ‘flexibility’, while the workers get told when to work; the bosses hire and fire, not unions; the bosses are responsible for unsafe and intense working conditions, not unions.
In fact, the vast majority of workers aren’t in unions at all and those that are sometimes face ineffectual unions. Militant and effective unions like the ETU are rare today.
The media, employer and Coalition onslaught on ‘union power’ is about creating a climate of fear in the workplace.
Unfortunately the ALP Federal opposition, led by Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, have tried to play catch-up with this campaign. They have supported almost every request from bosses to water-down their IR platform. The worst example is the decision to extend the life of the Australian Building and Construction Commission that allows officials with police powers to arrest, fine, and jail workers indefinitely without access to a lawyer if they undertake industrial action to (for example) deal with an unsafe workplace.
The ALP calls for democratic rights for Iranians and North Koreans but proudly take them off construction workers. Labor openly supports the core economic policies of the Coalition and the only seeming difference on policy was over IR. Most workers believed that Labor would soften Work Choices and, in the ALP’s words, ‘restore balance’. This was enough to put them way ahead in the opinion polls.
Yet as soon as Rudd and Gillard began to retreat on IR and promise to keep the ABCC, expel Victorian ETU Secretary Dean Mighell for colourfully telling his members how the union had won wage gains, and hint at a retreat on their opposition to individual contracts they began to lose momentum in the polls.
At the moment union leaders are telling their members to keep their heads down so as not to give the Coalition any excuse to bleat about union thuggery. The danger is the demobilisation of members demoralises and atomises the union, by the time workers are called into action, after the election, they will not be strongly organised and confident. Fighting Work Choices on the ground with industrial action will undermine support for the Coalition. This was seen in the big loss in support for Howard in the polls after all the big worker mobilisations in the past two years.
A Bulletin poll showed that over 50% of Australians believe that after 11 years of John Howard and an economic upturn they are no better off. They suffer the effects of public transport privatisation. They face working lives trapped in casual employment. They have the burden of big HECs debts. They face job insecurity.
A new left wing, working class party with policies of expanding public education, health and transport, of serious and immediate action on climate change, of taking on capitalism, would get huge support. The Socialist Party is fighting for such a party to be created to offer working people a real alternative. Within such a broad church, we would argue for clear socialist polices and a campaigning approach.
The Greens try to pose themselves as this alternative, but they do not argue against the system and therefore have a utopian platform of reforms within the context of capitalism. They become, therefore, a left face for capitalism.
At the moment a new party is not on the agenda. This could change after the election no matter who wins. A Coalition win would see a demoralised ALP and real possibility to create a new party. An ALP win would see it carry on with anti-working class policies and face battles with workers and young people – again opening up the possibility for a new party.
The reason the ALP is basically standing for the same policies as the Coalition is not merely because its leaders are cowardly, sell-outs etc. All over the world, global capitalism dictates the rules to governments operating their system: tax cuts for the rich, cuts to social spending, privatisation, attacks on unions etc. This has been the common programme since the 1970s.
The Socialist Party explains that to get decent working conditions and the social services workers want we have to get rid of the system that in its desperate search for new profit opportunities to put our future at risk. Join the fight for socialism; for a new workers party; and for a REAL alternative to the Coalition.
By Socialist Party reporters