02-05-16 – Workers! We need to take stock. We are faced with an ongoing economic crisis, one which is not of our making, but has been thrust upon us. The system of private production for private profit has once again come to grief, or at least in those countries where capitalism rules. Europe, the United States, Japan and Australia are all gripped in an economic crisis which appears to have no end. This crisis has many consequences, not the least of which is ever-increasing unemployment. Thousands of sackings have hit Australian workers over the last eight years. It is not only manufacturing which is closing down, other industries are also shedding jobs. Working people, both employed and unemployed, are suffering, and something must be done.
If the system cannot generate jobs for all, then the available work must be shared around, so that all those who can work, have work. And this must be done without a decrease in weekly earnings for workers. This will mean an increase in hourly pay rates, but we must be clear – this increase must come at the expense of the profits of big business and government coffers. We know that 600 of the largest corporations in Australia essentially pay no tax, and we know that the privatised banks (one of which once was publicly owned), rake in billions of dollar in profit each year. This is to say nothing of corporations such as the 7 Eleven Convenience stores, now infamous for drastically underpaying its staff. Australia is literally swimming in cash, but very little is finding its way into the pockets of those who produce this wealth – working people.
There are several reasons why there needs to be a reduction in working hours with no loss in pay. Firstly, it will begin to address the chronic problem of unemployment and underemployment which plagues Australia. The official rate of unemployment of around 6% is widely regarded as suspect. According to these figures, anyone with one hour of work per week is not counted in these figures. Underemployment added to unemployment realistically adds up to around 18% of the workforce.
Youth unemployment is a severe problem. We have the tragic situation where young people leaving school and university cannot find work, and it is extremely difficult for them to get a start in whichever careers they wish to pursue. This generation, just starting in life, is being ground down by a system in crisis. The severe downturn in manufacturing and other industries means less firms taking on new apprentices. The cutbacks to the public sector mean less young people being employed full time, or on a permanent basis. Outsourcing usually results in casual and part-time work.
Those over 50 years of age are having extreme difficulty finding work. Some figures show that those over 50 years of age on average spend at least 2 years simply looking for work, before an opportunity may arise. This is simply a waste of labour, to say nothing of the suffering and poverty it causes amongst senior Australians. Recently the federal government increased the retirement age to 67, meaning more seniors will need to find work. While we should also campaign to restore the retirement age to 65, we also need avenues for those over 50 to be gainfully employed.
The Scourge of Exploitative Unpaid Overtime
Research from the Australia Institute has found that the average Australian worker performs six hours of unpaid overtime every week. It is estimated that this amounts to a figure of over 100 billion dollars each year. This is on top of working weeks in some areas which are 38, 40 or more hours per week. If a uniform 35 hour week across all industries and across the public sector was legislated and enforced, in the vicinity of 1 million extra workers would be required based on a workforce of 10 million. It would pump more money into the economy while increasing tax revenue. If accompanied by a clampdown on massive tax evasion by monopoly capital (big business) alongside an increase in the corporate tax rate from 30% to 50%, it could result in a huge expansion of public sector expenditure including public hospitals, public education, public transport and public housing.
The Origins of May Day
As we march to mark International May Day, it is important to note its origins. In 1889 the Second International adopted a resolution “calling for the simultaneous celebration of May 1st 1890 in all countries, in memory of the courageous but tragic action of the Chicago workers on May 1st 1886.” On that occasion 6 workers were killed and 50 injured during a demonstration of over 40 000 workers demanding an eight hour day. Australian workers were in the forefront of the struggle for an 8 hour day, including strikes, from the 1850s onwards. In 1948 the Commonwealth Arbitration Court granted workers a 40 hour week acknowledging in its decision that “this working class claim has been and is the basis of industrial dispute and unrest.” (In Union Is Strength, Turner, Ian, p.102)
Workers Taking the Offensive
A uniform 7 hour day, if won through struggle, would be a significant victory for workers. The labour movement is in desperate need of such victories. Once one such victory is won, it will spur confidence amongst workers and Union members to demand more, or even to demand conditions which have been lost over the last 30 years. Workers in many workplaces are being pushed to the limit daily, and feel that they have little option but to cop being pushed around and bullied by supervisors and managers. In many workplaces, especially in construction, the safety of workers and the general public is being put at risk due to the cutting of corners and a race to build. Some workers are being pushed beyond what they are capable of doing, and are being pushed out of work if they can’t “perform”, i.e. produce quality work at breakneck speed.
ENOUGH! The labour movement must fightback against these injustices – but the best place to start is to demand a uniform 35 hour week with no loss in pay. This should be a nationwide effort across all industries. Spread the word far and wide, through your workplaces, through the community and especially through your Unions. Join the campaign!
For a 35 Hour Week Campaign
Post: PO Box 66 Nundah QLD 4012
Ph: 0421 408 692