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Issue #1718      February 10, 2016


System’s underbelly left untouched

In conjunction with the Heydon Royal Commission, the push to “simplify” the industrial relations system is a drive to increase the exploitation of labour. Steve Knott, from the Australian Minerals and Metals Association, defeats his own argument by citing the 1904 Conciliation and Arbitration Act because it had only 21 pages, whereas the equivalent today has more than 750 pages.

This is a reflection of the increasingly complex nature of the exploitation of labour that is central to the system, and the intensity of the ongoing class struggle.

The Royal Commission was a means to denigrate individuals and cast a stain over the trade union movement so as to undermine the legitimacy of trade unionism – that is its ideological thrust.

This inquiry into trade union “governance and corruption”, has been careful not to delve too far into the economic, social and political system itself. The royal commission that did that, more than three decades ago, the Costigan Royal Commission, revealed the seething crime and corruption of the system’s underbelly.

Established in 1980 to investigate the activities of the Painters’ and Dockers’ Union, under the direction of Frank Costigan, the Royal Commission developed the most serious inquiry into organised crime in Australian history. By 1985 it had resulted in over 100 prosecutions and included investigations into high profile politicians and business moguls, including Kerry Packer.

It produced evidence which revealed that organised crime had become a major feature in Australian life. The extent of its findings implicated leading public figures in drug dealing and murder. Costigan pointed out that it was the wealthy and politically well connected criminal figures who never get caught and that it was these figures who challenged the workings of his Commission and attempted to stop its investigations.

Media baron Packer was the most notable name to be raised during the Costigan inquiry. It was Packer’s attempts to stop the Commission’s investigation of his affairs that led to him being publicly named as under suspicion by the Commission for involvement in drug dealing and criminal financial dealings.

If we take the Heydon Royal Commission as a guide, it would appear that society has reformed itself to such an extent that organised labour is the apparently the last vestige of corruption. Of course, Dyson Heydon was appointed to do a job on the trade unions. No such revelations about crime and corruption in high places will be forthcoming: they are safe and secure under Heydon’s watch.

Now the push is on to resurrect the reactionary Australian Building and Construction Commission for policing the Construction Division of the CFMEU and undermining the rights of construction workers. There is also the ongoing offensive taking place against the Maritime Union of Australia (see “Turnbull’s brave new world”).

Exploitation and crises are inherent in the laws of operation of capitalism. It is the economic and political system which is responsible for the present crisis for which the government is now trying to make the working people pay.

As in Australia, so in all capitalist countries, no one particular government, irrespective of political complexion, has the means or political will to end the present, deepening crisis.

What we are witnessing now is a sharpening of the constant offensive attempts of employers to reduce the share of profits going to the workers in the form of wages.

The current Royal Commission report – a convoluted piece of theatre to arrive at a pre-determined outcome – is meant to provide the legal framework for an unprecedented attack on the rights of trade unions and their members and working people as a whole.

Next article – Double aid funding for Syria

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