Break Anti-Union Rules! Statement of the Workers League
20-11-2018 – The Australian labour movement has a long and proud history, which has won substantial gains for working people for over 100 years. Weekends, public holidays, four weeks annual leave, leave loading and many other basic working conditions were won through powerful and well organised Unions since the 1890s. But it is no secret that the Union movement has never been under greater attack than it is now. The capitalist financial crisis which began in 2008 has barely let up, resulting in the “captains of industry” pushing to remove hard won working conditions that many had taken for granted. The right of Union staff to enter workplaces to speak with workers is restricted and in some cases completely absent. Decent penalty rates – the right to be compensated for working weekends and public holidays – have been removed for hospitality workers, and if there is no fightback, will inevitably be removed from other industries one by one. Employers only need argue in a court which is already stacked in their favour, that there is little reason why they should pay them when other employers are not.
Change the Rules = elect the ALP
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) is currently pushing the “Change the Rules” campaign, with rallies taking place in many cities around the country throughout November. It is purported that this campaign aims to change the Industrial Relations (IR) laws, which now are heavily tilted in favour of employers, to IR laws which guarantee basic rights and entitlements for workers. But the “Change the Rules” campaign is a gigantic scam, a common ruse to elect the Australian Labor Party (ALP) to federal government. The ALP in government, however, from 2007 to 2013, barely changed the “Work Choices” legislation of the Howard Liberal government, putting in place an Orwellian named “Fair Work Australia”. The Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) – a body designed almost wholly to take down the power of the building and construction Unions – remains. It has been joined by the Registered Organisations Commission (ROC) – a government body which has the power to de-register Unions, and even decide who can be an official of a Union. Needless to say, the ALP has given no undertaking that it will make any move whatsoever against these anti-Union arms of the state.
The corporate employer class is already getting away with murder – in the case of the construction industry, sometimes literally. Unpaid overtime is widespread through several industries. Outright wage theft, where workers are being paid way below what they are legally entitled to, is rampant. In areas where there are different classifications and thus different pay levels, employers are often simply giving workers jobs which are above their classification, and expect them to be done without any extra pay. Health and Safety in many industries is regarded as a cost by employers, which can be ignored regardless of the dangers posed to workers, or even the public. Casualisation is now at unprecedented levels, with around 40% of the workforce in temporary or contract employment. Not only does this mean casual staff have no right to any paid leave, they are almost powerless to demand basic workplace rights, due to the very real threat of being removed from the workplace at the drop of a hat. Wages themselves, are the lowest they have ever been in Australian history, in terms of purchasing power.
Win by breaking unjust rules
The business and employing class clearly feel no compunction for blatantly breaking industrial laws, many of which were written for their benefit. In fact, many employers’ actions are lawless as a matter of routine, with reckless regard for the consequences. In response, the only chance workers and Unions have of winning back the rights that have been stripped, and holding the employers to account for the laws that they flagrantly breach, is to openly defy the laws which allow this to occur. This means taking strike action – whether or not the “rules” allow for this. If any worker or Union is taken into custody for taking strike action – then the strike in response must be expanded further and further. In fact, it will be necessary to strike for the right to take strike action. Almost all gains won by Unions in this country were won through the use of the strike weapon. No rules were ever changed by pleading with the rule writers to change them – and this is especially going to be the case for industrial laws.
Standing as a clear obstacle to this perspective is the conservative Union bureaucracy, chock full of careerist Union officials – many of whom are actually members of the ALP. With a few exceptions, the Union officials, from the ACTU down to local Union secretaries, have a material interest in herding workers within the bounds of what is acceptable to the profit system. Thus they consciously attempt to imbue workers with an outlook which is in stark contrast to their basic needs. If the business class says that penalty rates must go, or livable wages must go, or basic health and safety conditions must go, or the right to permanent employment must go – then workers must respond by saying that if this is the case, it is capitalism itself which must go! This basic defence of working people is anathema to the Union officials, who are handsomely paid to shepherd workers behind the parliament, and/or, the Labor Party.
The truth workers need to know is that, in fact, the IR “rules” are doing precisely what they are intended to do – to ensure the flow of obscene profits to private capital, in an era of profound international crisis for the capitalist system. The “rules” ensure that workers pay the price through the destruction of manufacturing, the privatisation of public services and the disappearance of secure employment. To turn this around, what is required are the building of rank and file networks throughout all Unions which exclude officials and paid Union staffers. Within these rank and file committees, class struggle militants and socialists need to push for a complete break with the Labor Party and all arms of the employers’ state – arbitration commissions, courts, parliaments, the lot. A class struggle leadership of the Unions would fight for a shorter working week with no loss in pay, for permanent jobs for all, and for Union control of hiring and training. This is bound up with efforts to forge a genuine workers party. Such a party would fight for a socialist order which abolishes the entire system of wage slavery via the rule of workers councils and public ownership of the major means of production. BREAK ANTI-UNION RULES!
PO Box 66 NUNDAH QLD 4012