Carpenters versus billionaires

Issue 
Class war, anyone?

Is there anything more wretched and dishonest than the suggestion by pro-capitalist media commentators that any attempt by working people to claw back a fraction of the wealth they create every day represents the "politics of envy"?

It is even more poisonous when coupled with an effort to breed resentment towards fellow workers who have managed to fight for and win better wages and conditions that others. An example is the crass attempt to whip up outrage about Victorian construction workers winning a 15% wage rise over three years.

Millionaire voice of the battler, Alan Jones, threw Malcolm Turnbull this Dorothy Dixer on 2GB: “How do you think workers in marginal seats battling for any pay increase at all feel when they learn the average income of a carpenter on a unionised project is $163,000? These are on state government projects, so the end result is the taxpayer picks up the tab, who is going to stop these excesses?”

Turnbull obliged with unsubstantiated references to coercion by the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union and promised to make it harder for construction workers to get above inflation pay rises. But, as always, he had nothing to say about stopping the cost of housing or anything else from rising quicker than inflation, and nothing to say about the recent minimum wage case decision.

A record 54 members of this year's BRW rich-list made their fortune in property but, according to Turnbull, it is not the developers and banks who are fleecing us, it is the carpenters!

Most blue-collar workers, and a fair number of white-collar workers too, can only earn incomes above $100,000 by doing long hours, night shifts, weekend shifts, dangerous work or a combination of all four. If you do that you deserve every cent you get.

A lifetime of shift work is estimated to take about 10 years off your life. Diesel particulate pollution is a known carcinogen, yet thousands of us breathe it in at work every day. You are a long time dead and Turnbull and Jones won't be at your funeral, you can count on that.

The attempt to concoct outrage about "overpaid" construction workers is all the more dishonest when you remember that Turnbull and his mob still hanker to take penalty rates away from Australia's lowest paid workers — those who need them most.

They have eased off a bit because of the looming election, but remember how a cheaper coffee on Sundays became a greater problem for the nation than the housing affordability crisis or global warming?

In the 1980s, Australia's centralised wage fixing system was dismantled by the Hawke Labor government and replaced with the decentralised system of enterprise bargaining. This stopped wage increases won by workers in more highly unionised and strategic industries from flowing through to workers with less bargaining power.

The change achieved exactly what Australian capitalists wanted. Between 1975 and 2015, in Australia $3.617 trillion (in 2012 dollar terms) has been transferred from wages to profits.

The Libs want to finish the job by knocking off those sectors where workers still have significant bargaining power and squeeze the lowest paid even more. They'll reap their whirlwind soon enough, but that begins with us fighting back everywhere we can.

Green Left Weekly has exposed this class war by the rich every step of the way, but we need some of your hard-earned cash to keep it up. Make a donation, and get active with the activists.

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