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(en) Rebel Worker Vol.24 No.4 (190) Nov.-Dec. 2005 - Australian Howard Government's New Labour Laws

Date Wed, 16 Nov 2005 19:04:38 +0200

WORK CHOICES: Your employer may choose for you VS Your Union may choose for you.
The federal government’s current advertising campaign in regard to its
proposed workplace changes and the counter-campaign of the unions,
demonstrates to my mind a fundamental flaw in the reasoning of working
people in Australia. Naturally this is not necessarily our fault; most
working people learn how to deal with their employer via the union’s
paper and other disputes covered in a fashion biased heavily towards the
employer on the television; or from isolated discussion with other
workers in the same situation (This type of self-education is in some
ways like school yard sex education: you can find out the basic facts,
but its easy for misconceptions to become common knowledge, or very
basic facts to get lost completely!).

In previous generations unions did make efforts to educate working
people in the actual methods of fighting back in the work place. Sadly
it was often put forward by Marxist-socialists frothing at the mouth
with unbalanced loyalties to Russian State Socialism, BUT it did
actually take place. There doesn’t seem to be much effort made in the
modern union for the education of young workers as they enter the
workforce. Indeed instead of doing something about making young workers
understand why they need to join a union, union leaders simply complain
about laws that stop compulsory union membership. If Australian unions
were actually a force for employers to be reckoned with in the
workplace, then unionism wouldn’t need to be compulsory; everyone but
the usual “confused” bosses stooges we all have to put with at work,
would be in the union.

Instead the unions in Australia see their role as “working with” the
government (just as they “work with” employers) to ensure legislation
protects workers. The plain fact is that the structures put in place by
previous Labor governments to “protect” workers do very little to do so
in real terms. The current Howard governments proposed changes are
simply a cosmetic change in the power an employer has over an employee
(or at least just honest - reflecting the true intentions of any
government). The “right” to arbitration and the “right” to a work place
“agreement” (and what it contains) balanced completely in the employers
favor are a scam that the union movement has been instrumental in
perpetuating for decades. It is also appalling that, in the current
attack on these changes, the union movement (indeed every other strain
of politics in Australia) has jumped on the bandwagon with the “put
family first” right-wing notion perpetuated by the liberal-national
coalition. Life is about choices; the mythical family unit in John
Howard’s mind has not been predominant in Australian society since the
1950’s. To my mind this is the best example of the union movements
tendency to “work with” rather than against the government of the day
(despite their rhetoric) when the Government seeks to help employers
step on working people. Even “labour” man Kim Beasley’s latest
publicized attack on the proposed changes was on the basis that they are
“family unfriendly”.

By limiting the debate to this level, there is a cynical hope that
working people will remain looking for change from the ballot box. We
are conned into seeing laws as the only means by which we can change
things and voting for this illusionary “better politician” or putting
“our man in the union” as a means to retrieving some power in the
relationship we are forced into with our employer. The failure of State
socialism however (Russia, Cuba, China etc.) throughout the world has
pretty clearly demonstrated that a “soft” or “better” candidate inside
the same structures (on the workers side supposedly), only results in a
bigger mess and sometimes even more perverse opportunism on the part of
the elected representatives.

The common sense facts are simple: working people are very much at the
whim of their employer who has all of the power in the employer-employee
relationship. This has always been the case and the Australian union
movement in its present form has done nothing to change this. The
current advertising campaign makes a lot about unfair dismissal laws.
These days too many working people find that when they ultimately turn
to the union for assistance if they have problems at work, they get
nothing but soft-soap. If they attempt to agitate for a change in this
impotency within the Union itself, the Union colludes with Employers to
get the worker dismissed.

We have to see beyond this, to taking over (or indeed forming our own
alternative unions on the job) with recallable delegates (to prevent the
current entrenched opportunism) and grass roots decision-making. No
government will then be able to dictate our relationship with employers
– this _can_ be our position. Only when we realize that “running for
delegate” will achieve nothing and that the unions are our organizations
(our dues and labour built them, they belong to us, we should make the
decisions within them) can we start on the road to real change. Within
this, we also have to realize the fundamental flaws in the voting
process. How many times have we union members voted only to find that
either our wishes are simply ignored, or the vote has been “tipped” by
unscrupulous, underhanded vote stacking, hollow speeches, or glossy
pamphlets at the last minute? We get the same con job off the Union
bosses as we do off the politicians, rather than the Union simply
working for us. We know what we want and we should be able to agree to
that amongst ourselves in the workplace without leaving the decision
open to the type of trickery the Union bosses are experts at.

It turns my stomach every time I hear John Howard brag about how his
government has such a great record in regard to industrial disputes – I
guess if you are prepared to use the air force to break the back of
airline disputes (for example) you would have that situation; as I
recall Adolph Hitler made similar claims.

Rebel Worker <rebel_worker@yahoo.com.au>

From Rebel Worker Vol.24 No.4 (190) Nov.-Dec. 2005
Paper of the Anarcho-Syndicalist Network, PO Box 92 Broadway 2007 NSW
Australia Web Page : www.rebelworker.org Subs: $12 pa in Australia and
$25 pa airmail overseas
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