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Issue #1800      October 25, 2017


Unity is the key

Organised labour is under attack around the world as the economic crisis bites deeper and the corporate class goes on the offensive against workers and their trade unions in pursuit of ever higher profits. In Australia, government offensives include the Heydon Royal Commission, Productivity Commission inquiry, anti-union legislation, increasing the powers of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), as well as a massive smear campaign aimed at criminalising and demonising legitimate trade union activity and militant unionists.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) have been singled out for particular attention but the offensive is not just coming from the Big End of town or government. Forces within the union movement, mostly, but not exclusively, from the Right factions of the Labor Party have jumped ship to support the destruction of the CFMEU and MUA.

Many of the attacks from within and outside the labour movement are calling for the ALP to distance itself from the trade union movement. This misrepresents the situation. It is the trade unions that are in the grip of Labor: to become an official in many unions, it is necessary to first join the Labor Party.

The constant and pervasive barrage of anti-union propaganda, the repeated description of militant unionists as thugs, criminals and corrupt is having an impact. If the union movement is to survive the current offensive then it will require maximum unity of all trade unions and strong relations with and support from the community. The independence of trade unions is an important part of this struggle – by those who are on the side of the working class.

The Communist Party of Australia proposes the following rights as the basis of new industrial relations laws that would improve the position of working people:

The Right to Belong

  • unrestricted right of workers to join unions
  • unrestricted right of unions to recruit new members (ACTU to determine areas of coverage)
  • workers to have the right to access union representatives at any time including during working hours
  • legally binding guarantees against discrimination because of union membership or affiliation
  • repeal of ABCC legislation

The Right to Organise

  • the right of unions to exist and be legally recognised as representatives of their membership
  • union representatives to have the right to unlimited access to workplaces for recruitment and organising purposes
  • paid union meetings and trade union training
  • legislated rights for union and worker involvement in all industrial and OH&S issues in the workplace
  • union-elected OH&S officers with power to stop work on a site

The Right to Protections

  • the right to an adequate living wage and good working conditions of employment, with an immediate increase in the minimum wage
  • the right for workers to industry-wide collective union-negotiated agreements and comprehensive awards that apply to union and non-union members alike
  • abolition of individual employment contracts or other forms of “agreement” that allow employers to undermine negotiated wages or conditions, including those made under common law
  • guaranteed wage indexation to, as a minimum, keep up with the cost of living plus productivity increases without trade-off of conditions
  • right to permanent full-time work
  • a 35-hour week without loss of pay
  • five weeks annual leave, 15 days sick leave and carer’s leave to cater for family and childcare issues
  • leave loadings and penalty rates to be restored and increased to the highest current levels for all workers
  • equal pay for equal work
  • twelve months paid maternity leave
  • repeal of contractors legislation so that sub-contractors are employed with the same rights and benefits of other workers.
  • no limit on conditions included in awards, EBAs, industry or pattern bargained agreements

The Right to Strike

  • no legal barriers to strike and other legal action as the basis of new legislation
  • repeal of all restrictions and penal provisions
  • secondary boycotts to be legalised.

A change of government alone will not bring about the required changes. It will be the strength of the movement in workplaces, on the streets and in the education of workers and involvement of the wider community that will be decisive in delivering workers’ and trade union rights such as those listed above.

Next article – Commemorate the Russian Revolution

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