Union/ALP partnership — so long partner
by Marcus Browning The current "review" of the Australian Labor Party by Bob Hawke and Neville Wran is an attempt by the party's right wing to rid the machine of its historic connections with the organised working class, from whence it came. The purpose of the proposed changes as stated by the ALP leadership is to gain the ultimate prize — government. As leader Simon Crean put it, "When people ask `what's in these reforms for me?' I say government." Toward this end it is necessary to make the ALP "relevant to the aspirations of the Australian people". Wran and Hawke claim the plan is to strengthen unions in the ALP. This would happen by "establishing workplace branches to broaden unionists' involvement in the Party" and by "securing union representation at National and State Conferences with a structured role at National Conference for the first time." Also by "encouraging union members to take up ALP membership as a way of participating more fully in the Party." But they first want to scrap the 60-40 ALP voting rule at conferences that favours the unions! The proposed reforms are window dressing meant to perpetuate and strengthen the grip of the right wing in the ALP. Whereas in the past the likes of Crean and Hawke sought to maintain control through dominance of the peak union body, the ACTU, and the Party, they now want to purge the Party of its union connections altogether. The real source of the problems in the ALP is an ideological one which finds expression in the policies of the Right, which are pro-big business and anti-worker. These include privatisation, deregulation and a broad goal to render the union movement impotent. In 1988, when Crean was ACTU President and Hawke Prime Minister and the Accord between the Government and the ACTU was firmly in place, Crean addressed employers at a conference titled "Overcoming Conflict in Industrial Relations". Crean praised the exploitative two-tier wage system, the introduction of which was overseen by the ACTU in tandem with the Government. "We have a wages policy [the two tier system] that also encourages productivity and efficiency, encourages skill formation, encourages the structural adjustment and training requirements this economy must face up to if it is really ever to solve its long malaise." He said the unions should be focusing on the "creation of wealth [profits]" instead of "the distribution of wealth" and declared that "the comparative wage justice concept was smashed". Crean's call to concentrate on wealth creation was an echo of employer and government arguments for wage restraint and for wages and working conditions to be determined at the enterprise level, opening the way for the diminution and eventual destruction of the award system. That has been the trend and goal to the present day and is in line with the Hawke/Wran review proposal that "the union/ALP partnership continue through a shared commitment to Australian jobs based on fair and safe workplaces with decent minimum standards, an independent umpire and organising rights for unions." Fine-sounding words, but their practical outcome can be found in the ACTU approach to the car industry. The car companies want to double dip for profits by having government subsidies for the local industry because it is exposed to the chaos of the markets as tariffs are cut, (a process put in motion by the former Hawke/Keating Labor Government). Meanwhile at their headquarters in Japan and the US, Mitsubishi, Toyota, General Motors and Ford are demanding total freedom with all government protection stripped away. This comes with threats of jobs cuts and imminent closure and demands for tax breaks and other forms of government intervention. Wage cuts and the winding back of conditions are up the top of the list. At a Federation of Automotive Products Manufacturers' dinner in Melbourne last week ACTU Secretary Greg Combet used the union bashing of the Howard Government as a springboard to promote the union/ALP partnership angle. Referring to the Government's push to introduce new anti-union legislation — the Secret Ballots Bill, Remedies for Unprotected Action Bill and Genuine Bargaining Bill — Combet outlined a course of class collaboration for the car industry. "[Workplace Relations Minister] Tony Abbott's out-dated, class war hysteria is a threat to investment and jobs, and is damaging our export potential", he told the diners. "Despite record improvements in productivity and industrial dispute levels at historic lows, Mr Abbott is using the vehicle industry as a political plaything. "Employers and employees can rise above the Government's confrontational agenda to find common ground in resolving the challenges confronting the industry." Proposing the use of the Government's Workplace Relations Act which allows for the setting up of Industry Consultative Councils, the ACTU Secretary called for the establishment of a Vehicle Industry Council. "The Consultative Council would provide a forum for constructive dialogue and leadership to deal with industry problems such as safeguarding employee entitlements and improving skills and training." The warnings of those opposed to the collaborationist path with its undermining of the independence of the unions during the life of the Labor Governments of the 1980s and `90s — that workers faced increased hours, weekend and shift work, increased part-time and casual employment — have become the reality. Right-wing Labor will never "reform" itself as the Hawke/Wran plan confirms. It intends the ALP to become an ultra-conservative political machine vying for corporate economic backing and endorsement beside the traditional parties of big business, the Liberal and National Parties.