May Day statement: United action is the answer

May Day march in Sydney, May 1, 2010. Photo: Peter Boyle

The ALP took government on the back of the “Your Rights At Work” campaign. But Labor has failed to “rip up” the Howard government’s Work Choices laws.

Australian Industry Group boss Heather Ridout told the 2011 HR Nichols Society conference: “There were many positive elements of the previous [Coalition] government’s workplace relations laws that have been retained by the Labor government.”

In a 2010 speech to the NSW Nurses Association in Sydney, Julia Gillard warned that Tony Abbott would reintroduce individual workplace contracts and would abolish penalty rates. Yet the ALP government has been hard at work undermining the right to organise.

Labor’s record includes:

• In four years, Labor has failed to get rid of the Australian Building and Construction Commission;

• Flexibility clauses in awards and collective agreements that undermine awards and introduce individual contracts by stealth;

• Wages and conditions stripped back through Labor's “award modernisation” process;

• A minimum wage freeze in 2009 was not compensated for fully in the 2010 wage adjustment;

• Entrenched restrictions on the right to strike — strongly criticised by the International Labour Organisation (ILO);

• Limiting right of access for union officials to meet with workers on the job;

• Prohibiting industry-wide pattern bargaining, yet employers can collaborate across industries to undermine union action;

• No right to unfair dismissal for workers in small companies for the first 12 months of employment.

In her first term as industrial relations and education minister, Gillard threatened to bring in scabs to administer national tests to undermine the campaign by teachers’ unions against school league tables.

The Gillard government has not committed to funding pay equity for social and community sector workers.

The federal budget will cut welfare and other social services.

And if all that isn’t bad enough, the ALP is determined to adopt a national standard of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws that will undermine OHS rights for workers in NSW and will shift the onus of proof in favour of employers.

In Victoria, job cuts in the car industry are a signal that we need a plan for a just transition due to climate change.

In April, Ford announced 240 voluntary redundancies in Victoria, and Toyota has cut its production, forcing 3300 workers to work half the hours and receive three-quarters of their weekly pay. The companies say this is due to a drop in demand for large cars, which are high in carbon emissions.

Instead of publicly investing in retooling and retraining car workers for the production of zero emission cars or alternative transport solutions and other green jobs, the federal government is sitting on its hands and insisting a price on carbon will fix the problem by creating a market for private investment in clean technology.

Carbon taxes in Europe have been found to be ineffective in developing new jobs in renewable industries. Leaving new job creation to "the market" is a recipe for more inaction.

Decades of neoliberal attacks have punished the ALP in state elections — first WA, then Victoria and now in NSW.

NSW Labor’s program of privatisation, attacks on teachers and the public sector and its pro-developer agenda sealed its fate. But an O’Farrell Liberal-National government is no friend to workers.

O’Farrell’s “discovery” of a $4.5 billion “black hole” in the state budget will mean public sector job cuts and cuts to essential services and more sell-offs.

In Queensland, the ALP government under Anna Bligh has privatised QR freight rail. Union leaderships opposed to the privatisation agenda have been threatened with expulsion from the ALP, and in one case, Peter Simpson, Qld Secretary of the Electrical Trades Union, is fighting his expulsion.

In December 2010, 300 union and community activists from around Australia met in Melbourne at the Union Community Summer School — an initiative of the Socialist Alliance and others on the left — to discuss practical collaboration in the progressive wing of the union movement.

The success of the event was that it showed there is still a significant network of active left wing, militant unionists willing to work together.

The Socialist Alliance is committed to uniting with other left and progressive activists within and outside the ALP and to supporting the development of militant union and community action against the pro-big-business agenda of the two big parties.

We also stand in solidarity with those who struggle across the globe for a society that puts people before profits — socialism.

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