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.

3 thoughts on “New Labor drives a wedge between militants and moderates.

  1. ** Editor’s Note **
    It is hard to know if Dean Mighell reads BushTelgraph or not but his open Letter to Kevin Rudd is both relevant and important to the points made in the article above.
    If only Julia Gillard would express sentiments like those outlined by Dean Mighell below!

    Open Letter to Kevin Rudd
    DEAR Kevin,
    Watching your overreaction to comments made by NSW Labor Council secretary John Robertson at a private meeting, I’m left wondering whether you really understand the harsh reality of industrial relations. Surely the test of a robust democracy is the quality of the dissent. What is so odd about a union leader promising a push to win changes to an industrial relations policy under a Rudd Labor government? Yet instead of greeting Robertson’s colourful comments with a smile, you resort to pious bullying while accusing union leaders of being bullies.
    It has been four weeks since I reluctantly agreed to resign from the ALP, after also making colourful comments at a private meeting. I was in shock at the swiftness and savagery of my forced removal from the party.
    My resignation followed the publication of comments made in November last year at a private mass meeting of Electrical Trades Union members.
    At that meeting I recounted the union’s recent history of bargaining outcomes and I skited about outmanoeuvring employers in negotiations way back in 1993. During the meeting I made some disparaging comments about officers of John Howard’s Australian Building and Construction Commission taskforce. I concede my description of them was in poor taste.
    I was not aware my address to union members was being taped by a media company. Nor was I aware the tape had been sold to the ABCC. I only know that it found its way to Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph, which duly published its contents. On the day these comments were published you sought my immediate resignation, giving me a mere five minutes to make my decision. Reluctantly, I resigned from the ALP because I did not wish to see the media and the federal Government engage in a beat-up that detracted from the community’s focus on the Work Choices legislation. At the time, I made it clear that in coercing my resignation, you were making a damaging mistake.
    First, you meekly submitted to a government-engineered scare campaign, allowing the policy focus on Work Choices to be derailed. Second, you established a standard of behaviour that very few people, whether in boardrooms, union meetings or political life, can meet: swearing and boasting to colleagues about outmanoeuvring another in a negotiation is now a hanging offence.
    This stance is difficult to reconcile with your attitude to comments made by Sydney broadcaster Alan Jones in the wake of the Cronulla riots. On December 7, 2005, Jones expressed his approval of the following email, sent by a listener: “My suggestion is to invite the biker gangs to be present at Cronulla railway station when these Lebanese thugs arrive, the biker gangs have been much maligned but they do a lot of good things … and wouldn’t it be brilliant if the whole event was captured on TV cameras and featured on the evening news so that we, their parents, family and friends can see who these bastards are … Australians old and new should not have to put up with this scum.”
    When Jones’s comments were found to have breached broadcasting laws by inciting racial hatred and violence, your only response was to state that nothing Jones had done would cause you not to continue to appear on his radio show.
    The decision you took four weeks ago is now coming home to roost in the form of a government-sponsored anti-union scare campaign. The scare campaign focuses on outmoded images of “union bosses”. The only thing missing is a few pictures of communists hiding under beds. If only the ALP was holding the Government accountable and offering the electorate the choice of Howard’s worn-out ideas or real Labor values. Instead of falling for Howard’s trick and allowing him to deflect attention from Work Choices, you should be reminding Australians of the good things trade unions and their members do every day.
    Trade unions represent nearly two million people who make an enormous contribution to this country.
    In the hands of a talented and committed Opposition, Work Choices is political gold. This is legislation that destroys job security, enshrines non-negotiable Australian Workplace Agreements that have cut remuneration for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable employees, and overwhelms employers, unions and employees in a suffocating mass of red tape.
    When you spoke passionately about how Work Choices was devastating family life and redistributing power from the weak to the strong, the polls went with you. But in recent weeks you and your colleagues seem to have had second thoughts about promoting a fairer alternative. If it weren’t for the narrowing in policy difference between the parties, the ALP’s lead in the polls would be even greater.
    There is no shortage of material for you and your colleagues to work with. You surely haven’t forgotten how unpopular Work Choices is? A recent ABC Four Corners report exposed 18,000 employees working on identical AWAs in a workplace culture that has systematically and methodically stripped them of their humanity. Even their toilet breaks are monitored. The report suggested that such a culture contributed to the suicides of two well-regarded employees.
    What is the ALP’s position on this issue? Neither I nor the Australian people, have a clue. The silence is deafening.
    Once again, as an election looms, I fear we are looking at an Opposition that chokes and lapses into defeatist, navel-gazing at the first sign of controversy. Instead of falling for Howard’s tired and discredited wedge politics, Labor should trust the people. Look at how the Australian people have scorned Howard’s invasion of indigenous communities as an election stunt. Look at how they’ve rejected Work Choices in one opinion poll after another. It’s time for you to grasp the nettle, Kevin. Australians want a real Opposition leader, not a pale imitation of Howard.
    Dean Mighell is the southern states branch secretary of the Electrical Trades Union.

  2. Union leader attacked by ALP for doing the right thing.—18/6/08 Letter to the Age (Unpublished)

    Union leader Dean Mighell is once again coming under fire for doing the right thing, “Union boss blasted for bankrolling non-ALP ‘mate‘” (The Age 18/6).

    The ETU [Electrical Trades Union] is supporting Les Twentyman’s campaign for election in the safe ALP seat of Kororoit.

    The ALP has long abandoned working families and the job of protecting and defending the most disadvantaged in our society. Our dilemma is what is effectively a one party system where Tweedledum and Dee try to maintain the appearance of ideological distinctions so to disguise their real agenda of ensuring the spoils of office do not fall out of their grasping hands.

    The ETU stands up for its members’ interests as a good union should and provides the means for assisting those who are disadvantaged, and for those who work to overcome the causes of disadvantage. ETU members are also part of our community and deserve to be well represented politically too.

    Les’s record will speak for itself. He is someone who not only speaks for those who struggle to have their voices heard but most importantly turns into actions his targeted criticisms against the selfish and the wealthy.

    I am sure Les will find many allies to assist his important work in the community he is so clearly so fond of. Well done to the ETU for taking a stand on important values and principles rather than knuckle under to the bullying self-interest of the ALP’s power brokers.

    Peter Curtis
    Heidelberg West

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