Racism helps the boss

December 2, 2006

Almost a year ago, in the same week the Howard government's industrial relations "reforms" were passed by the Senate, most of the media's attention was focused a series of "anti-terror" raids that targeted a group Muslim men in Melbourne. Despite all the media surrounding the arrests, the men were not charged with conspiring to commit any specific terrorist act. The media hysteria helped fuel the racist Cronulla lynch mob attacks in December 2005.

Meanwhile, "Work Choices" has resulted in thousands of people being pushed onto individual contracts (AWAs) that cut pay and basic entitlements. It is clear that the real threat to the lives of working people in Australia is the Howard government and its attacks on their rights.

The happy coincidence for Howard of the raids — and the ensuing xenophobic anti-Muslim hysteria whipped up by politicians and the corporate media — happening at the same time as the introduction of extremely unpopular legislation that will impact on the lives of millions of working class Australians is a snapshot of how racism is cynically used by capitalist politicians to distract attention from the real enemies of working people.

As the impact of the IR laws is felt by more people across Australia, the Howard government needs to continue to undermine opposition to its anti-worker agenda. The racism that has accompanied the so-called "war on terror" is being used by the government and its friends in the media to divide the working class.

It is the same businesses that are benefiting from Howard's Work Choices laws that benefit from such racism. A divided work force is less likely to organise effectively to counter bosses' attacks on pay and conditions, and racism obscures the exploitation of workers by business, instead putting the blame for poor pay on migrants "driving down wages". At the same time, the Howard government is attempting to institutionalise racist discrimination in the work force through its "guest worker" system, that allows bosses to bring in overseas workers without giving them the same rights as other employees.

Recently, four guest workers at western Sydney-based manufacturer Southern Cross Rigging & Constructions were sacked and faced deportation for refusing to sign individual contracts that cut their pay.

According to an October 26 report by the NSW Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), the workers from Singapore were employed in Australia on Section 457 visas after they were forced to pay $10,000 to the company to get the job.

According to the CFMEU, the four workers we told by the boss that they were required by the immigration department to sign AWAs or face sacking and eviction from their accommodation.

On September 11, the CFMEU reported that Jin Woog Kim, a Korean worker employed by Rexma, a plastic recycling company in Revesby, had all of the fingers on his left hand ripped off earlier this year by an unguarded machine. The employer tried to have Kim deported to avoid paying workers' compensation. The boss also refused to call an ambulance when the incident occurred.

Kim had been paid $10 per hour and often worked unpaid overtime. He worked for up to 18s hour a day and never received annual leave, sick pay or superannuation.

Work Choices has made it easier for companies like Rexma to get away with this super-exploitation by dramatically limiting union access to workplaces.

In response to the government's guest-worker system, some unions are campaigning to ensure their members don't fall into the trap of blaming fellow workers rather than the laws and the bosses that exploit them. The WA branch of the Maritime Union of Australia, whose secretary is a member of the Socialist Alliance, to which Resistance is affiliated, is campaigning to make sure that guest workers have the same rights as other employees, including the right to join a union.

Resistance believes that part of campaigning for workers' rights is challenging the racism promoted by the Howard government. Alongside campaigning against anti-worker legislation like Work Choices and youth wages, we participate in movements to defend the rights of migrants, refugees and Indigenous people.

We oppose the government's participation in Bush's fraudulent "war on terror" — the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan should be brought home. The federal and state governments' so-called "anti-terror" laws strip us of our democratic rights and have nothing to do with keeping people safe from terrorism.

In June, Resistance organised a student strike against Work Choices, and we have organised youth and students' contingents to the union-organised protests for workers' rights. We also organise young people to come and participate in community picket lines to support workers taking action against their boss. Young people are often told we shouldn't have an opinion on politics, but these government attacks are set to destroy our future by dividing and alienating people, and taking workers in this country a step closer to slavery. Young people have the most to lose under these laws — and the most to win by fighting back.

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