The Guardian August 14, 2002


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.

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