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Issue #1737      June 29, 2016


The anti-worker state

In 1834 the six Tolpuddle martyrs were transported from Britain to Australia for the “crime” of attempting to form a trade union. However, the idea of unionism spread world-wide and now, millions of workers are members of trade unions. Workers, experiencing the savage exploitation of capital know that they have to become a collective if they are to improve their living and working conditions.

But the ruling class and the employers never gave up their hostility to the organised working class, first displayed in the penalty imposed on the Tolpuddle six.

Laws were enacted to limit and control the organisations that workers formed. When workers withdrew their labour and went on strike the ferocity of the employers knows no bounds. Workers and their leaders are jailed and sometimes shot.

The collective power of workers united is always a threat to the interests of capital. Capitalists know that their profits come from the labour of workers. The more they can reduce the wages and other provisions going to workers the higher their profits.

The ongoing accumulation of private profits and successive mergers and takeovers has resulted in the formation of ever bigger companies and the giant transnational corporations that dominate whole industries, with demands to get rid of trade unions and backed by governments willing to help them achieve their aims.

The Turnbull/Abbott government is one such creature of the corporations and Employment Minister Michaela Cash is their instrument. Strikes are essentially outlawed with courts ready to order a return to work, backed by threats of heavy fines on unions and workers alike as part of a raft of anti-union laws (see “Vote for workers’ rights”).

This is the anti-worker state in action – the laws of governments, the courts to enforce the laws, the money bribes of the employers, the police to protect the employers’ interests: Let it be recalled that the army has been used in Australia – during the Miners’ strike in 1949 and later in the airlines dispute in 1989.

Employers want to return to the days when there were no unions to challenge the power and interests of capital.

The way they have gone about doing this is to introduce individual work contracts, exclude unions and eliminate any form of collective agreement. Employers are even prepared to pay a price by offering a higher wage to some, provided the worker resigns from his/her union.

Initially it might be higher wages for those who sign up, while others lose their jobs. Individual contracts leave workers on their own with no one to defend them as wages are later reduced, hours of work extended, holidays cancelled, health and safety measures abandoned.

Above all, employers fear the collective strength of the working people and BHP is out to destroy the workers’ collective now. They, of course, still need workers, but on a one-to-one basis, without organisation and without any power to defend themselves.

The workers who are standing up for the collective are the real heroes of our time. And, as the CFMEU sticker says, “It takes GUTS AND PRINCIPLES to stay collective.” Touch one, touch all.

Next article – A message from the national president: Put the Liberals last!

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