[Marxism] Australian TCFUA and AMWU on tariffs (was Re: Phil Ferguson and free trade)

Nick Fredman sra at scu.edu.au
Wed Feb 4 16:26:44 MST 2004


Tom O'Lincoln raised some question on the actual position on tariffs 
and protectionism of the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of 
Australia, particularly its Victorian secretary Michelle O'Neil, who 
is recognised as being a leader of the relatively recently emerged 
militant left in the Victorian unions.

I should admit that my opinion of this was based on seeing her speak 
and reading interviews with her about solidarity for third world 
workers, and noting her union branch's support for a variety of 
causes such as anti-corporate/anti-sweatshop  demonstrations, refugee 
rights, International Women's Day etc, often in collaboration with 
the radical left. I.e. I assumed her stance on tariffs was influenced 
by class struggle and internationalist politics (without seeing 
anything from her union about it explicitly), as opposed to the 
national leadership of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, 
which has a left face of supporting various causes including 
anti-corporate actions, but tends to line up with the most 
conservative forces in the movement, and has a long history of 
promoting "interventionist" protectionist economic plans with a very 
explicit even strident nationalist justification.

[BTW I'm quite interested in the position of different forces on 
tariffs etc as I'm attempting to follow the  travails of the Aus-US 
Free Trade Agreement, and thinking of doing some academic research 
around nationalism and culture in Australia].

I'll make a couple of points about and quote a bit from each union. 
The TCFUA is obviously focused on a tariff freeze as central to its 
industrial strategy, its only web presence having the URL 
http://www.tarifffreeze.com/ . At least it's not as cringingly 
nationalist as the name of the Media Alliance's site on the FTA 
http://www.alliance.org.au/free2baustralian/ . Anyway the TCFUA has a 
statement of aims that sounds quite nationalisitic and 
class-collaborationist, but interestingly it's list of demands 
combines a tariff freeze (which I've previously agreed with Bob Gould 
is *sometimes* defensible in lieu of comprehensive measures to 
preserve jobs, conditions and restructure the economy), industry 
assistance (not defensible at all), and more class struggle demands 
on retraining on full-pay and better, wages, conditions, outworkers 
etc.

"The Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia (TCFUA) is 
working with employers, local governments and community organisations 
to make sure the Federal Government is aware of all the arguments 
before it makes a decision on the industry's future ...

	 1.  	maintain the current freeze in tariffs until it can 
be demonstrated that any reduction is in the interest of Australian 
workers, and until such time that our major trading partners reduce 
their tariff and non-tariff barriers to a level equal to Australia.
	 2.  	continue to fund an industry assistance program 
similar to SIPS, but ensure that any new program ties business 
assistance to the on-going employment of Australian workers
	 3.  	fund a re-training program similar to the Labour 
Adjustment Progam (LAP) that is specific to the TCF sector and pays 
workers for the period of re-training
	 4.  	clean-up the TCF industry by ensuring that all 
workers, including home-based outworkers, are paid award wages and 
work in safe and suitable conditions and ensure that Corporations Law 
is amended (as promised prior to the previous election) to ensure 
that workers' entitlements are given priority above all other 
creditors so in the event of company collapses workers receive 100% 
of their entitlements".

I've no idea where O'Neil stands in relation to this but she's the 
Victorian contact for this "Tariff Freeze Campaign".

In my GLW article on the FTA that Tom couldn't access 
http://www.greenleft.org.au/back/2003/565/565p9.htm I said about the 
AMWU:

"Advocates of high tariffs usually do not differentiate between 
tariffs on imports from rich, developed countries and those on poor, 
underdeveloped countries. The AMWU says it is particularly concerned 
about 'rules of origin' in an AUSFTA. These would 'allow products to 
come into Australia tariff free where the majority of manufacturing 
has actually occurred in another country such as Mexico', meaning 
'Australian workers having to compete with businesses in countries 
where the government does not protect even the most basic labour 
standards'.

"Even though the AMWU dresses up its tariffs-against-the-Third-World 
policy as concern for the conditions of Third World workers, denying 
trade to these countries does nothing but perpetuate their poverty, 
and such rhetoric can even feed reactionary nationalist/racist myths 
about 'foreigners taking our jobs'".

The quote is from an AMWU pamphlet on the FTA, available 
http://www.amwu.asn.au/images/fretrade.pdf Also available on the 
union's "fair trade" page 
http://www.amwu.asn.au/default.asp?Action=Category&id=17 is a Power 
Point file http://www.amwu.asn.au/images/amwu_proposals.pps which as 
far I can see is the most summary form of the union's position on 
trade, tariffs and economic policy generally. It has some class 
struggle demands but also calls for tariff increases, not just a 
freeze, including the dubious "social tariff", and compulsory "buy 
Australian" measures.

Without time for a detailed comparison I'd suggest that the AMWU is 
coming from a somewhat more explicitly nationalist framework, though 
it's "fair trade" info suggests that it puts more effort into 
educating its members about trade and global poverty etc, albeit from 
a liberal perspective. However in practice I'd suggest that the 
Victorian TCFUA shows a more class struggle and internationalist 
approach than the national AMWU.
-- 
***********************************

Nick Fredman
Student Rights Advocate
Southern Cross University (Lismore)
Student Representative Council

Shop 9 Plaza, SCU Lismore

Ph: 6620 3044
Email: sra at src.scu.edu.au
web: http://www.lismoresrc.org.au/

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