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(en) Australia, Melbourne, MACG, “The Anvil” #2 - We need action from the unions. The rank & file have to take charge!

Date Tue, 10 Jul 2007 21:11:01 +0300


The Howard government’s Work Choices legislation has been in action for over a year now, and the news is bad. Workers in many industries, but especially retail and hospitality, are being forced onto individual contracts (AWAs) that gut their conditions. Bosses sack workers and tell them to re-apply for their own jobs – for less pay. And despite the lowest unemployment in a generation, wages are barely keeping pace with inflation and the profit share of national income is at a record high. With things like this going on, we should be making this country ungovernable. ---- With friends like these, who needs enemies? ---- The ACTU’s “Your Rights at Work” campaign has disappeared, all wrapped up neatly and presented to the ALP to help them with their election campaign. The ALP, of course, returned the favour by getting stuck into some serious union-bashing ever since its National Conference. Even the Liberals would once have paused before coming out with the statements that Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard have made.

None of this is surprising. The ALP needs the approval of big business for all its policies, so it can be expected to give way to the Business Council of Australia whenever it seriously wants something. Even the right to strike, the most basic weapon of self-defence that the working class has, won’t be restored by a “Labor” government. And if they’re union-bashing even before the election, there’s no telling what they’ll do once they’re in power and they’re not looking for our votes.

We need action from the unions

Howard’s Work Choices laws might be vicious, but they’re not stupid. They’ve been put together with the clear purpose of ensuring that the entire union movement will be destroyed. Work Choices restricts our right to strike so far as to make it almost useless. The bosses now have the ability to force workers gradually onto individual contracts, either by making a job offer conditional on an AWA, or by saying you have to sign one if you ever want a pay rise again. The idea of Work Choices is to make unions so useless that nobody would waste their money on joining one.

The strategy is brilliant, but is has one weakness. It relies on us obeying the law. If we strike illegally, production stops. The Government can threaten us with all sorts of consequences, but production doesn’t start again until we go back to work. And if we strike in large enough numbers, their threats will be shown to be empty. Despite everything, their power is built on our obedience. The ALP won’t save us, so we have to act through our unions and save ourselves.

The rank & file have to take charge

The bureaucrats running the ACTU, however, would run a mile before striking seriously enough to defeat Work Choices. They don’t want to upset the ALP, while the ALP won’t upset the Business Council, and the Business Council likes Work Choices just the way it is. It’s a recipe for disaster, at least for those of us who don’t have a safe ALP seat to be parachuted into.

The only solution is for the rank and file of the unions to take matters into their own hands. We need to organise in the workplace and rebuild the unions from the ground up. We need workplace meetings to discuss strategy and give instructions to our delegates. And we need to have networks of delegates, organised both locally and industrially, so we can act independently of the officials if they won’t come along with us. It’s the only thing that will work.

The grassroots union insurgency is the only way to defend our wages and conditions and it’s also the inspiration for a workers’ revolution against capitalism. The liberty, equality and solidarity we build in the class struggle are the foundations of a world of voluntary co-operation, from which poverty, war and oppression have been eradicated. By organising in the workplace with grassroots democracy, we will build the new society in the shell of the old.

* This article appearred in the issue No 2 – June-July 2007 – of “The Anvil”, newsletter of Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group (MACG).
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