The political & industrial situation in Australia: Is the

Marcus Strom MSTROM at nswtf.org.au
Wed Nov 15 17:51:22 MST 1995


Good to see something on this list on a very important development in
the class struggle in Australia

> Date:          Wed, 15 Nov 1995 13:20:07 +1000
> From:          g.maclennan at qut.edu.au
> Subject:       The political & industrial situation in Australia:  Is the class
>                struggle heating up?

>
> The Federal Union body has at last understood that a ruling class
> offensive in underway and has come out in support of the strikers.  From
> today a 4 day strike of the waterfront will bring all shipping to a halt.
> Mines have also closed down.  The right wing Secretary of the Federal
> Union boddy, the ACTU, has said that he has drawn a line in the sand and
> will fight.

Yes. It is interesting. The action is - at the moment there is a 48
hour strike at all of CRA's coal mines (CRA is the 4th largest
company in Australia. It owned the Bouganville mine which was
closed down by the Bouganville Revolutionary Army five years ago).

The problem is that for the past 12 years, the ACTU (Australian
Council of Trade Unions) has been involved in a class
collaborationist Accord (which was largely designed by Laurie
Carmichael who was in the communist party at the time. The CPA
supported the Accord) with the Labor Party in government. This has
meant real wage losses, a low inflation economy and *official*
unemployment rates of 8-12% over the past five years. Profits have
been huge (Westpac, one of Australia's bank just announced a
$1billion dollar profit - a 34% increase!)

On the radio today, Jennie George, President-elect of the ACTU said
that CRA had taken advantage of the good will (read collaboration) of
the union movement and have gone too far. What do they expect!?

So I agree with much of gary's post. But does it mean a general rise
in the class struggle?

> So what is going on?  For the past 13 years the Union leadership has
> embarked on what they call the construction of a "culture of
> cooperation".  This has led to reduced wages and a decline in union
> membership, now about 36% of the workforce.

It was around 50% at the beginning of the Labor Government in 1983.

>
> There has been much speculation that we were headed like the USA towards
> the virtual collapse of unionism.  We are also in the run up to a Federal
> election where the Labor government faces defeat at least according to
> the polls.
>
> The Labor Prime Minister, Keating, has recently capaigned heavily saying
> that it is the Labor Party that brings industrial peace and that a Tory
> governement would produce industrial chaos.  The conservatives have been
> forced to say that they would not attack the unions.  They do not mean
> this of course but it is an interesting reflection of their weakness
> that conservatives have to talk about their commitment to industrial harmony.
>
> All this could change if the vanguard of the rulling class, CRA, succeed in
> inflicting a defeat on the Union movement.  The decay of unionism would
> accelerate and there would then be no need for the ruling class to
> "cooperate" with the trade unions.  There would also be little need for
> the union bureaucracy.  The latter caste is firmly committed to
> colaboration with the bosses but they fear their own anihilation at the
> hands of a Thatcher style government.
>


Again we see the middle ground that the bureaucrats occupy. It is
their job to reach a compromise. They require a degree of industrial
peace, yet at the same time, this has led to the unions being less
relevant to workers (combined with changes in technology and the
composition of the class). So the unions bureaucrats must fight every
now and then.

So we see the balancing act of the labor party in the lead up to the
federal election which will be in March. In my job, I get to see the
inner workings of this juggling. My position is an Organising Works
position (similar to the Organising Institute in the US). Young
activists put into unions to try to turn the membership decline
around. Fat chance I reckon. It has to come from a militant rank and
file movement, which can only really develop with a general turn
around of the class struggle. So a chicken and egg story - marxists,
however,do not think in such categorical ways.

In this job, and I work for one of the few unions not affiliated to
the Labor Party, almost all strategy is linked to Labor governments.

I liken this period in Australian unionism to perestroika. The
bureaucracy has realised it must put in a change, that unions must
fight - for this to happen, they must have some level of democracy
and activism at the grass roots. But they can't let things get out of
control.

However, 'change does not come from above' as Gorby learnt to his
peril.
>

>
> If the unionists win then the Labor governemnt is almost certain to be
> reelected, but at least the militant section of the working class will
> have learned something of their own power.


Yes. Keating has to pretend that he is all for industrial peace, as
do the union bureaucrats, and keep the Accord together (the class
collaborationist social contract between government and unions) to
maintain the confidence of the ruling class. This program is what got
Labor elected all those years ago and kept them in power. At the same
time, the unions have to put up a show of fighting to win a class
vote for Labor. How do we make this clear to workers? How do we break
workers from reformism? This is one of the major questins for
communists.

But now we
see, as Gary has pointed out, sections of the ruling class trying to
bust this up in order to maintain a low wage regime without the
cooption of the unions. Whoever wins this one will probably tell the
outcome of the elections.

This is way the union bureaucracy has come out so strong. Why
revolutionaries should be so cynical of this action by the ACTU is;
why didn't they do this when CRA started putting its workers on
individual contracts about three years ago? The eight (non-coal)
 sites concerned
used to be all under the centralised wage arbitration system
(collective contracts arbitrated in a central industrial court -
called awards). There are now only 75 workers in one site at Weipa
 left in the award. They
are being paid less than those doing some work on individual
contracts.

The ACTU is pushing a 'fairness' argument. But they are  pushing it
pretty hard. We have the current 48 hour strike in their coal mines
(Coal only, because all their other concerns in mining have been
deunionised through the same individual contracting).

Starting Friday is a five day waterfront (longshoreman/stevedoring)
strike. This will close down the entire Australian waterfront - which
is fairly important for an island nation such as this that relies
heavily on the export of raw materials. The Maritime Union of
Australia has one hundred percent of the waterfront unionised, and
has had since the 1930s. This closure of the waterfront will affect
every company, not just CRA.

Next week is a seven day national coal mine. This will affect all
collieries, not just CRA (and includes the Peabody company which lost
the big strike in the US a coupla years ago).

This is the most widespread industrial action taken by the union
movement in Australia for some time. The  Confederation of Industry
has called it a 'return to the bad old days'.

The conservative (Liberal Party) opposition is calling for a ban on
such secondary boycotts. Exactly what the Labor Party would want them
to say, to give them something to distinguish them from the Liberals.

The task for revolutionaries is how to look at this action as a way
to move *with* the movement while breaking militant workers away from
reformism, the ALP, a reliance on arbitration. It's fucken hard
without a party, well, almost impossible - so we must use the same
opportunity to bring up the question and tasks of reforging a genuine
communsit party.

What are your thoughts Gary? (And any others - Australians or
interested observers)


Marcus


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