For the last couple of days I have been reading a lot about what a great bloke Bob Hawke was. I’ve seen Queensland and ACTU union officials sing solidarity forever to pay homage to Bob Hawke as a great Labor leader. ABC journo Barry Cassidy says that Hawke had the common touch. Does Hawke’s record as ACTU leader and as Prime Minister in government support these claims?
Consensus vs Class Politics
The Australian Labor Party was formed by the unions to gain parliamentary political power. From its formation a debate constantly raged as to the extent of compromise acceptable to achieve this goal. In the 1980s and 1990s this internal battle chose between adherence to the working class or opportunistic pluralism to attain parliamentary power. It was finally resolved during the Hawke-Keating Labor governments. The importance of parliamentary power became paramount. This meant that the intellectual base of the party was embroiled in the conventional debates of the ‘pluralistic’ society, whose parameters were dominated by the ruling elites. ALP politicians and trade union officials followed, avoiding a socialist critique of society, in an attempt to increase credibility across classes. Consensus politics superseded class politics.
In 1969, Hawke ran for the position of ACTU President, despite the fact that he had never held elected office in a trade union.
‘On the retirement of Albert Monk, president of the ACTU in 1969–70, a keen contest developed for the presidency between Harold Souter and Bob Hawke. Souter was secretary of the ACTU. Hawke had been an industrial advocate for some years. Souter was openly right-wing politically and industrially. Hawke seemed to be on the left of unionism and politics. Hawke became president with the support of the left of the movement. l remember a meeting of concerned unionists at Brisbane’s old Trades Hall where he urged us, meaning the left, to support him for the presidency. Though the quality of Hawke’s later performance is open to debate he did at least put new vigour into the union movement. “– Phil O’Brien in Towards Peace – a workers Journey.
Workers made minimal gains in some disputes, but Hawke’s Mr Fix–It image worried many of those who supported him. More and more trade unionists watched with disquiet the performances of Mr Fix–It as he progressed from Labor candidate to Labor member and prime minister.
– Phil O’Brien in Towards Peace – a workers Journey.
Sacking of the Labor government
In 1975 Gough Whitlam urged workers ‘to maintain the rage’ when Governor General, John Kerr, sacked the government. Hawke told the workers to cool it and go back to work. Whitlam lost the election in a landslide to Fraser.
Know your friends, know your enemies
During the 1977 the Latrobe River power dispute in Victoria many workers learnt to know their friends and to know their enemies … leaders like John Halfpenny and Bob Hawke who sold out the Latrobe Valley workers and brokered a deal with the state that left power workers with nothing. Hawke was no friend of the rank and file worker in that strike.
The sins of the centre
In 1983 Bob Hawke said it was “a sensible outcome that allowed existing (uranium) mines to keep operating” … the three uranium mines operating at Ranger, Narbalek and Roxby Downs yet Australian uranium helped fuel the meltdown in Fukushima.
Hawke and Keating went on to introduce the prices and incomes accord that froze real wages while prices went up and thereby reduced union membership from about 60% down to about 15%.
Hawke and Keating floated the Australian dollar and abolished exchange controls.
They deregulating the financial and banking sectors; they dismantled the tariff system promoting ‘free trade’ and widespread industry deregulation.
Hawke sold the people’s [Commonwealth] bank for only $10 billion now worth over $100 billion. There would be no budget deficit if the CBA was kept in public hands. When Hawke and Keating sold the Commonwealth bank, Hawke’s mentor, John Curtin, would have turned in his grave.
Hawke and Keating sold QANTAS, airports and roads; he used the airforce to break the pilots strike and de-registered the militant Builders Labourers Federation that had introduced Green Bans in Sydney.
Telecom, Services, Super
Hawke and Keating corporatised Telecom leading up to its full privatisation by the Howard government in 1996.
The Hawke government contracted out of services in the public sector.
His government marketised superannuation.
Hawke and Keatinge adopted competition policy frameworks that prevented the states from getting more revenue (i.e. Queensland Rail could not impose high enough charges for carting coal to the seaboard as it had done under Bjelke-Petersen) ; the austerity of the Accord and, over time, the introduction of a ‘deregulated’ labour market in the form of enterprise bargaining.
SEQEB dispute – friends and enemies
In 1985 Hawke and Bill Kelty deserted the 1001 SEQEB workers sacked by Joh Bjelke-Petersen in Queensland. The reason: they did not wish to have a general strike threaten the Accord.
Hawke joined the coalition of the willing led by George Bush senior and supported the first gulf war in 1991 sending Australian warships to the Gulf.
Solidarity banned under Trade Practices
Hawke in government did not remove s45D & E of the trade practices act that outlawed secondary boycotts and therefore made solidarity between unions difficult. This destroyed the meatworkers union that was fined $$$millions. The prosecution of the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union (AMIEU) under section 45D of the Trade Practices Act (Secondary boycott provisions) was the first successful use of legal sanction since the jailing of Tramways union leader Clarrie O’Shea in 1969.
In 1995 CRA took on the unions in Weipa introducing contract labour. The ACTU brought Bob Hawke out of retirement to do the business in the arbitration commission. Labor was still in power with Keating as PM having rolled Hawke a few years previous – together they had privatised nearly everything in site – the Commonwealth Bank, QANTAS, the airports and so on.
Treaty and Land Rights
“From time to time the word treaty raises itself from its government dungeon and discussions occur on what should be required to bring us up to the same level of the Maori and other first nations peoples in obtaining self-determination. The first serious proposal was by Nugget Coombs, the second was the Barunga statement given to Bob Hawke, who had it pinned to a parliament house wall.” – Ray Jackson
Hawke was the first leader of the ACTU who did not come from the shop floor, he started a trend where workers were led by people from another class, a university educated political class. Hawke first ran for parliament in Corio in Victoria in 1962.
During 1982 Susan Ryan came to Brisbane for the Commonwealth Games protests, she promised land rights on behalf of the opposition, but Hawke in government never delivered claiming he could not get it through the Senate.
The wiles of Labor politicians – the futility of fearful and reactionary Labor leaders have been revealed in this record, and the lessons I and others so bitterly learned should preclude any further waste of time and enthusiasm in vainly endeavouring to make figs blossom and fruit on barren trees. –
Ernie Lane in Dawn to Dusk
18 May 2019