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Issue #1932      September 14, 2020

The importance of the industry

Statement by the CPA Maritime Branch

Wharfies are employed in enterprises. Working in locked gates that are industrially symbolic of an enterprise cage. The optics match the political reality. Previous industry forms of employment have been smashed by the ruling class. The broader unity and solidarity of workers being in the same industry boat was replaced by putting workers in a different boat, in enterprises, but we all remain on the same waters and the industry vision of workers should never be put aside but continually fought for.

I’m a wharfie and the logo on my shirt only identifies the exploiter who appropriates the surplus of my labour. We do the same job on the same ships yet EBAs (Enterprise Bargaining Agreement) have found a way to ensure we don’t all get the same pay and conditions for the same work. Clearly a longer line of struggle must dictate that EBAs have got to go. While EBAs do exist as an objective reality we should now be finding ways to struggle for the industry, which after all was the basis of our success.

Industry claims can be made in an EBA and they should be. As much as we can standardise in EBAs the better but changing this form of employment becomes a political matter and while we can make industry claims at a local level and do everything we can to promote industry-wide outcomes a political battle must ensue to fight for the widest representation of workers across industries and not enterprise cages designed to weaken and erode the position of workers, which has occurred under enterprise employment.

The ALP and Liberal Party are big supporters of enterprise employment. The ALP invented it legislatively in Australia. The Liberals sought to take it a step further and reduce the relationship between workers and bosses to an individual one through individual contracts.

The pattern from both ruling class parties is to move away from broader industry arrangements for workers in order to increase exploitation and profits for employers. That is the basis of the decision made by these ruling parties. They both actively and openly supported employers against workers by reducing our standard of living and preventing the ongoing capacity to fight in the most effective way – across our industries.

Is there a way back to the industry?

Yes but only through an intense and broad social and working class campaign. The ACTU “Change the Rules” campaign recognised the negative ongoing state of enterprise employment. In claiming enterprise bargaining is broken the ACTU says:

“The rules around enterprise bargaining are too restrictive and bosses have found ways to exploit them. They use tactics such as outsourcing, offshoring, labour hire, terminating agreements, no stake agreements, and more, to avoid paying fair wages and conditions. Bosses have an unfair advantage over workers.”

All of this is true but since “Change the Rules” there has been no ongoing ACTU agitation around these industrial matters. That industry forms of employment should replace local enterprise arrangements is a must but unions must be agitating on these big issues constantly.

Getting rid of EBAs is not just relevant when there is a national campaign on industry matters. It’s a matter for non-stop constant campaign work and shouldn’t be aside cast aside despite the current very important and COVID-19 related matters that the ACTU has a focus on.

Industry employment and a move away from enterprise agreements must be a whole of union and whole of class fight. It is a massively important reform that opens up the capacity of the working class to fight back on a broader scale and resist neoliberal attempts at workplace reform.

What can we do in the meantime?

In the meantime we need to make industry claims and erode enterprise employment as much as we can. There are some important areas we need to focus on. Recruitment and industry labour pools are some of the most important claims in this regard. The madness of having labour made redundant on one side of the harbour while another employer recruits must be ended. No sane industry arrangement can operate like this. It is expensive and inefficient and treats workers lives as worthless and under the complete entirely flexible control of the boss. If a worker is redundant on one side of the harbour why shouldn’t they be picked up at the other enterprise that often has just secured the work that is responsible for the worker in the other company being made redundant. It’s a mad industry that tolerates this cost because they see a union worker transferring as a threat and are prepared to train new industry entrants in the hope they won’t bring a union culture.

Anti-unionism is shaping the economic and industrial landscape. We need to fight for labour pools and transfers under enterprise employment as a means of consistently eroding the restrictive nature of EBAs. We need to fight for the right to recruit as has been won in some parts of the industry in Sydney through struggle. This undermines the boss’s tactics around promoting psycho-social testing to employ those who are least likely to be union members.

Industry attacks through automation and outsourcing are much more serious when we are in our enterprise cages. The struggles of wharfies to work against automation, prevent it where possible and extract considerable concessions when implemented is much harder under enterprise employment. This is one of the main reasons that industry employment must be resurrected.

Struggle under EBAs will continue but it is always important to ensure that when we are fighting our EBAs we have an eye to the industry and are equally willing to fight to return to industry employment that would remove the insecurity of EBAs and undo a process put in place by both Labor and Liberal and one supported wholeheartedly by all industry bosses.

Next article – Marxism and the NDIS

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