Ian Cook (Cookie) is a builder?s laborer and a shop steward in the CFMEU. He is currently working on a large construction site in Richmond (Melbourne). He has been working in the industry since 1987 and has seen many things happen in his time. He has been involved in several disputes but nothing compared to the great challenges that workers are facing now that the Howard government has introduced Work Choices, or as Cookie calls it ?No Choices?. The attacks on workers rights across the country started within hours of Howard?s workplace laws coming in to effect. The building industry was no exception. On the day the laws came in carpenters from a kitchen fit out company in Melbourne were sacked. Three full time employees were told there jobs would be made redundant but if they wanted they could be re-employed on a casual sub-contract basis. The conditions that were offered to them meant a drop in income of $18,000 per year! They were to be paid an inferior flat rate of pay with no penalty rates, sick pay, holiday pay, or long service leave.
Workers all over the country are being faced with similar attacks. It has become clear that since the start of the year many companies who have had reasonable relationships with unions have now become much more hostile in their approach towards workers.
The response to Howard?s attacks from the union leadership has been mixed. The official line from ACTU leader Greg Combet is that we should not be engaging in industrial action. Instead we should be concentrating on getting the Labor Party re-elected at the next election. This is a tactic that is doomed to failure as the Labor Party is no pot at the end of the rainbow! We are talking about a political party who mirrors most of Howard?s policies. Even if Labor did win the next election it is unlikely that they would control the Senate, therefore they would not be able to reverse Howard?s laws. There are also disturbing signs that the ALP may not even be willing to reverse all of the changes.
The general attitude and feeling in many workplaces is one of fear and anger. The fear is one of workers losing their wages and conditions. Many of these workers have large mortgages and a drop in wages would severely put their ability to make ends meet at risk. The anger is at the increasing cockiness and arrogance of the bosses and the lack of action buy union leadership. Many workers are now searching for the reasons behind Howard?s attacks.
Many workers voted for Howard at the last election and now he has moved to take their basic rights away from them. The reason for so many workers voting for Howard in the past is the lack of any real opposition coming from the Labor Party and the lack of class consciousness amongst workers. This is partly because the union leadership is not attempting to politically educate workers.
The recent victory against anti worker laws in France has shown that it is possible to fight back against Howard. Large sections of the working class are ready to fight. All we need now is a union leadership with the same fighting spirit.