New Labor drives a wedge between militants and moderates.

In the midst of current debate over militant and parliamentary strategies for the workers movement, Julia Gillard made headlines when she attacked union militants and said that she would not endorse automatic ‘right of entry‘ for union organisers into workplaces.

A less publicised part of Gillard’s speech was her criticism of the Keating government’s IR policy:

“Under Keating’s system, an employer was required to notify an eligible union that it had commenced negotiations with its employees for a non-union agreement and required to provide each such union a reasonable opportunity to take part in the negotiations for the so-called non-union agreement.” [Melbourne Press Club — Julia Gillard’s speech 25 June 2007]

“What is wrong with that?” a worker asked.

Gillard made her point:

“In line with respecting that choice (of a non-union agreement), an employer and its employees will be free to collectively bargain together where they choose to do so and this will give rise to a genuine non-union collective agreement that has no union input at all…None of these requirements are in place under Forward with Fairness [New Labor’s IR policy].

Gillard then said: “A non-union agreement will be just that – a non-union agreement. Indeed, a union would not even know it was being made.”

“Hey, now New Labor is really sucking up to business” said one unionist.

It gets worse. At the same Press club lunch, Julia Gillard went on to say “bizarrely the last few weeks have seen them (Howard and Keating) mirroring each other, trying to create the same myth: that [New] Labor’s policy on industrial relations will take us backwards, that it’s downing tools on reform, that it will be a return to the bad old days”. Gillard did not elaborate what she meant by ‘the bad old days’ cliche.

Gillard criticised the Howard government for having too much regulation and not being sympathetic to the effect red tape had on small business.

The Hawke-Keating government curbed central wage arbitration and conciliation by introducing Enterprise Bargaining which reduced the collective power of workers down to the enterprise or workplace level.

Keating legislated for big business and big amalgamated unions where small groups of workers lost their voice. Now Howard has reduced collective bargaining using AWAs and centralised minimum wage fixing, ironically named Fair Pay Commission.

New Labor’s approach is to reduce union militancy and grass roots organisation.

At the Press Club lunch Gillard stated: “Enterprise collective bargaining is an important driver of productivity and a key feature of our policy. True non-union collective bargaining is a feature of Forward with Fairness [new labor’s IR policy]. Under our system [New Labor], a union does not have an automatic right to be involved in collective bargaining.” [my emphasis]

“What do we want?” said a militant unionist. “Workers Control of Production” was the answer.

How does Gillard propose to deal with worker control? This is what she had to say at the Melbourne Press Club under the heading: “Tough rules against industrial action”.

“Finally, Forward with Fairness dedicates Labor to the toughest rules against industrial action in its history.

Industrial action will only be protected in one circumstance – when bargaining for a collective agreement – and only then if it has been authorised by a secret ballot.

Labor has never before required mandatory secret ballots. A Rudd Labor Government will do so.”

“All power to the workers! ” a lone voice rang out.

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