Unemployed conference discusses strategy

Issue 

By Melanie Sjoberg

MELBOURNE — Genuine job creation was the main theme of an April 14 unemployment summit attended by around 40 people here. Organised by groups including the Unemployed Workers Union and the Campaign Against Poverty and Unemployment, it aimed to develop understanding of the depth of the current crisis and strategies for action.

Victoria has the highest rate of unemployment and is expecting the loss of thousands more jobs in the Defence Department if Point Cook-Laverton air base is closed and other facilities are relocated.

State treasurer Tom Roper may have held on in recent preselection battles, but he doesn't have the economy under control. Latest indications are that Victoria is staring at a $1 billion deficit and new revelations of mismanagement and massive blowouts in public sector spending.

Economic deregulation had been one of the major factors leading to speculation rather than investment, John Wiseman of the Victorian Council of Social Services told the seminar. A lecturer at Phillip Institute of Technology, Wiseman added that the Liberals offered no alternative because they would simply provide "more of the same but faster".

The priority issues in his view were full employment, which would then open up opportunities to "challenge notions of the work ethic".

He argued for active government intervention supported by increased taxes. Such intervention would include adequate social welfare benefits and training linked to real jobs.

Public sector union delegate Marcus Banks and UWU activist Gavin Murray discussed the federal government's Active Employment Strategy. Murray said the scheme was ludicrous, that it simply trained people for jobs that don't exist.

Its main purpose was to provide cover for harassment of the long-term unemployed. After 12 months on the new Jobsearch allowance (the renamed dole), unemployed people will be required to report for joint CES-DSS interviews. It is believed the aim is to cut dole recipients by a quarter.

Banks said the Department of Employment, Education and Training had been campaigning internally on the Newstart program for almost a year. Psychologists have developed strategies for "cultural readjustment" because most CES workers still believe their role is to help people. They are now being told they have to manage people.

Unionists in the CES are planning meetings to launch a campaign in conjunction with metalworkers involved with the Skillshare program.

DSS unionist Ray Fulcher said the department often refuses to supply staff to regional offices, which are the client servicing is a burgeoning of staff numbers in the control, review and recovery sections.

"In the western region of Melbourne, numbers in the mobile review teams have shot up from 10 to about 40 in the last six months", he said. These teams investigate possible breaches of guidelines by making home visits and questioning neighbours.

Discussing job creation, Trades Hall Council industrial officer Trish Caswell listed many of the broken promises made under the aegis of the ALP-ACTU Prices-Incomes Accord.

"There was no commitment from the private sector to job creation ... there has been a lack of genuine investment", she said. Few unions had tried to force the issue onto the agenda. "It is hard to get a serious debate on human values."

Her solution was greater economic independence for Australia and more government intervention. Nick Strauss of the UWU said Caswell's rhetoric was empty given the Trades Hall Council's failure to take up active campaigns in defence of jobs.

Veteran activist Ted Bull condemned the Accord: "No-one has been able to beat capital at managing its own game", he said.