Break Anti-Union Rules!

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

For a Uniform 35 Hour Week with No loss in pay! 7 hours work, 8 hours rest, 9 hours play!

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.[1] 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

[1] (23-04-16)