53% oppose Howard's anti-union agenda


Sue Bolton

A Newspoll survey of 1200 people conducted for the Health Services Union of Australia has found that 53.2% of those surveyed opposed the federal Coalition government's plans to restrict unions' right of entry to workplaces. The poll was conducted on February 4-6.

According to the poll, 56.6% of full-time workers and 55.6% of part-time workers were opposed to the restrictions on unions.

Only 11.8% of people were strongly in favour of the laws, compared to 30.6% who were strongly opposed to them.

Another survey of 1000 Australian workers carried out by Monash University's Australian Centre for Research in Employment and Work (ACREW) found that 46.4% of workers have never been asked to join a union. Currently only 23% of workers are union members.

The study found that 14.7% of workers in partially unionised workplaces would be "fairly likely" or "very likely" to join the union if they were asked. Young workers were particularly interested in union membership, despite many union officials' perceptions that young people aren't interested in unions.

At least 60% of non-union workers surveyed reported that they weren't opposed to unions but were "free-riding" because they got the benefits negotiated by unions regardless of whether they joined a union or not.

Unsurprisingly, the survey found that workers from unionised workplaces were twice as likely as workers from non-union workplaces to see the value of unions.

Australian Council of Trade Unions president Sharan Burrow has correctly observed that the Howard government's industrial relations "reform" agenda "is about de-unionisation", but the ACTU executive has not announced any concrete plans to organise workers' resistance to this agenda.

The ACTU's defeatist, do-nothing approach was made abundantly clear by ACTU secretary Greg Combet when he told ABC TV's 7.30 Report on February 17: "I never proclaim war. I'm not in the business of doing that or talking about industrial action or all of these sorts of things."

From this comment, the story's reporter, Heather Ewart, drew the obvious conclusion: "The militant days of the '90s, it seems, are not going to be rerun as the union movement grapples with the realities of declining membership, less bargaining power than it once had and a government that can do what it wants to toughen industrial relations laws from July 1."

Reinforcing this conclusion, Combet told Ewart: "You've got to deal with the system the way that it is and John Howard's laws ultimately will go through, because he does control both houses of parliament from July 1 this year. We will have to live within that system. It will be a very tough system for working people, unfortunately, but we will have to work within it. They're the cards that are dealt."


From Green Left Weekly, February 23, 2005.
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