No blank cheque for Labor in government

November 16, 2007

With the ALP likely to form the next federal government, it's important to scutinise its promises and policies. After 11 years of conservative neoliberal rule, Labor wants our vote even though it promises more of the same.

Kevin Rudd's unofficial election slogan — "me too" — is about consciously lowering working peoples' expectations that the ALP will abolish the worst of Howard's policies. Rudd, a self-described "fiscal conservative", has been at pains to stress that if Labor forms government the hard times will not disappear.

Rudd's pitch to distance the ALP from the union movement is designed to reassure big business that it can rely on the alternative party of capital to rule in its interests. As the shadow industrial relations spokesperson Julia Gillard said in a debate with the Coalition's Joe Hockey on the ABC's 7.30 Report on September 4, Labor's IR policy was "straight down the middle" — fair to unions and fair to the bosses.

Labor's IR policy, Forward with Fairness, is another attempt to reassure big business of the ALP's loyalty. The original policy, released in April, is a watered-down version of Work Choices: it doesn't come close to honouring the ALP's commitment to "tear up" Howard's IR laws.

Some of the most alarming aspects are: no right to strike — a fundamental democratic right; continued restrictions on unions' right of entry to work sites; incomplete reinstatement of unfair dismissal laws (workers are only protected after 12 months for work sites of less than 15 people and after six months for work sites employing more than 15); and the limiting of legal industrial action to the bargaining period for a collective agreement (meaning that there can be no legal industrial action over occupational health and safety issues, or the sacking of a union delegate, at a work site).

Even attending rallies, such as the Your Rights at Work mobilisations, would be illegal. Industrial action in support of an industry-wide (pattern) bargain would be banned. Forward with Fairness and the Implementation Plan, Labor's policy clarification, stress that Labor is committed to enterprise bargaining. Confining bargaining to the enterprise level weakens union solidarity.

Labor has embraced the Coalition's secret ballots before industrial action. Individual contracts (AWAs) will not be phased out until the end of 2012, and the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) secret police will remain until 2010 after which it will be "reformed" under a new name. Labor will also keep sections 45D and E of the Trade Practices Act, which make solidarity actions with other unions (secondary boycotts) illegal.

Labor will allow workers earning over $100,000 a year to negotiate their own pay and conditions without reference to awards, opening the door for awards to be stripped down even further.

Labor's promised "education revolution" includes maintaining public funding to private schools even though private schools are over funded and public schools are suffering. The 2007 Productivity Commission Report on Government Services found that in the 2004/2005 financial year $4515 of federal funding was granted for every NSW private school student, while only $1051 in federal funding went to each public school student. That means that private school students receive $3464 more than public school students per year — 4.3 times as much!

There is bipartisan support for a national curriculum, but Rudd has refused to consider allowing teacher representatives to help develop it.

Neither can Labor be trusted to "fix" our hospitals as the crisis in state hospitals shows. The promised $2 billion won't stretch far among 750 public hospitals nationally.

Labor's "decisive action" on climate change amounts to ratifying the outdated Kyoto treaty and refusing to sign onto a new greenhouse gas emissions regime unless the developing countries do so. It supports the questionable "clean coal" technology and renewables, but has set a weak CO2 emissions target — 60% of 1990 levels by 2050 — which is woefully inadequate given the scale of the problem.

Rudd says he supports a phased withdrawal of Australian combat troops from Iraq, but he is only proposing to withdraw the one battle group in the south of Iraq. Troops in Baghdad and the rest of the region would stay, underscoring Labor's commitment to the US-Australian military alliance. Labor will also send more troops to take part in the murderous occupation of Afghanistan.

Labor's support for the occupation of Northern Territory Indigenous communities, the barbaric mandatory detention of refugees and the ban on same-sex marriage is more evidence that the ALP is little more than Another Liberal Party.

Nevertheless, the ALP is more responsive to mass pressure as the mass rallies against Work Choices in 2005-6 showed. Howard must go: another Coalition government will bring in a new raft of anti-worker IR laws. But the choice between the major parties could have been more in this election year if the campaign for our work placerights had continued in the streets. The job ahead is to refuse Labor a blank cheque, reinvigorate the union and community campaign for our rights at work and force a future ALP government to abolish Work Choices Lite.

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