AS Australia totters on the brink of recession AND with the continuing decline in union struggle workers will assemble in union ranks on May Day 2008 facing a tough future.
It has been 10 years since the MUA dispute of 1998. On the eve of the dispute, at Wynnum in Brisbane, John Coombs, the then secretary of the MUA, said to MUA members:
“This is the big one.” The MUA secretary then warned of the weaknesses that could destroy the union. He talked of scabs and informers. Coombs announced that they would not win the dispute in the courts, and he added that ‘win or lose’ he would be back to cop the flak. Then and there, all of the officials and members pledged support. For the first time, the union leadership was fully briefed. Despite Coombs’s espoused mistrust of the courts, it was in the courts the union took its first steps to defend themselves. No industrial action was called.” — Excerpts from After the Waterfront – the workers are quiet.
On May Day 1998 in Brisbane, the MUA declared victory in the courts and in the dispute. The long decline in unionism was to be halted.
Yet the decline in union participation and struggle has declined even further. Recent Australian Bureau of Statistics ABS figures reveal that the decline in union numbers has continued even at the height of the Your Rights at Work Campaign which brought Labor to power federally.
Now that the Howard government is defeated, the Labor government has told the unions that they are on their own. Does Labor even want union support any more?
The industrial landscape offers little change; the employers are still on top. Added to this, inflation is out of control, high interest rates and the financial crisis that has already begun to hit housing affordability and superannuation for retirement.
How can workers and their unions deal with these setbacks? After the Waterfront – the workers are quiet advocates the formation (actually a reformation) of Workers Political Organisations [WPOs] to change unions from bureaucratic organisations to fighting rank & file industrial unions.
Who is the most famous member of the WPO?
It was Jackie Howe who in the 1890s set records for shearing sheep and was a member of the Shearer’s Union whose struggle led to the formation of the Australian Labor Party. In 1909, Jackie Howe was President of the Worker’s Political Organisation in Blackall.
AFTER THE WATERFRONT– the workers are quiet
This book is 10 years in the making. It was written collectively by LeftPress members with input from other unionists.
The book aims to discuss ways to arrest the decline in workers struggle.
After the Waterfront – the workers are quiet will be for sale at the stall this May Day 2008 in the Exhibition grounds under the LeftPress and “Workers of All Countries Unite” Banners.
You can buy this 144-page book by sending $13 (includes $3 postage) and your return address to:
PO Box 5093,
West End, Q.4101.
You can read the book online at After the Waterfront website and make comment and participate in discussion arising from it.
You may download a PDF of the book by clicking on the cover above.