The Guardian March 20, 2002


Class war coming in transport

Chris Corrigan's rising domination of air, land, road and sea transport 
is bad news for workers. Backed by the Howard Government, his Patrick Corp 
is allied with the country's biggest road transport company, Toll Holdings. 
Patrick has now bought half of Virgin Blue airlines for $260 million. Make 
no mistake, Corrigan and the Government have an anti-union agenda that aims 
to cut a swathe through organised labour in Australia's transport 
industry.

Best remembered for his attack on the Maritime Union of Australia in 1997-
98, Corrigan has been promised unstinting support from the Government in 
his quest for the corporate Holy Grail  unhindered exploitation of labour 
and endless profits. He is, after all, their man.

Into this nest of vipers comes none other than businessman, Dick Smith, the 
twice-former chairman of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). 
Smith's stints at CASA were to corporatise and cut costs under his 
notorious "affordable safety" plan. Not surprisingly this dangerous scheme 
ran into stiff opposition and was stymied by safety experts and the 
aviation unions.

Smith has been appointed to the Government's airspace reform review. 
Kicking things off last week, he attacked unions and their work practices 
(wages and conditions) in aviation as "causing unbelievable inefficiencies 
and higher costs".

Obviously full of bitterness and hatred for the workers who defied him, 
this electrical retailer who's now expanded into condiments, said he wants 
to do in aviation what was done on the waterfront. "Everybody rubbished 
Chris Corrigan, but now he's a hero and look what he's achieved."

Corrigan has received a helping hand from the Howard Government on his way 
to becoming a transport supremo. The Government was his co-conspirator in 
the attack on the Maritime Union. It privatised National Rail and 
FreightCorp which Patrick/Toll took last month for $1.1 billion. Now he's 
been promised a red carpet to take to the skies with both passenger and 
freight.

And because only airlines can have access to airport facilities, the Virgin 
Blue deal will open the doors of Ansett's terminals to Patrick around the 
country.

On the opposite end of the class spectrum, the ACTU is determined to engage 
the new aviation entity, calling the Patrick/Virgin deal a "significant 
boost" for the sale of Ansett assets, on which the payment of Ansett staff 
entitlements depends.

The peak trade union body is actually counting on the merger buying 
Ansett's airport terminal leases. As for class contradictions, the ACTU 
says that Patrick Stevedoring is a fully unionised operation where both the 
unions and the company have worked hard to rebuild relationships.

"The waterfront dispute of 1998 will not play any part in the approach of 
the ACTU or the unions in dealing with this issue", said ACTU Secretary, 
Greg Combet. "Our responsibility is to the staff of Ansett and also to the 
staff of Virgin."

Though the waterfront dispute was a "very bitter struggle", he noted that 
it was nearly four years ago and suggested it was time to "put that behind 
us".

Easier said than done. How do you get around the Government conspiring with 
Patrick, scabs trained secretly in Dubai, private security guards in 
balaclavas with guns and dogs, the use of the police and the law courts 
against the union and its members? And workers on the waterfront are 
reminded daily their lower wages and loss of conditions. Expect a rematch, 
and then some.

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