The Electrical Trades Union (ETU) Western Australia branch has tightened the screws on the Australian Labor Party over its betrayal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP-11) agreement.
The agreement is a free trade deal involving 11 Pacific Rim countries including Australia. It has been widely criticised as a huge, undemocratic corporate power grab.
The TPP-11 bill passed the House of Representatives with Labor's support on September 19 and is now before the Senate.
The ETU WA state council unanimously endorsed a resolution on September 25 withdrawing financial support for the re-election of “any ALP sitting politician or candidate who supports the anti-worker TPP proposal”.
The resolution added that financial or logistical support to Labor campaigns will only be reinstated if federal Labor publicly reverses its decision to support the TPP-11.
It also demanded genuine consultation with unions over any changes to the TPP-11 and future trade agreements, to ensure things such as labour market testing, removal of Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions and measures for skills assessment of overseas workers.
The ETU WA has urged all unions to take a similar stance “against this betrayal and attack on Australian workers – workers who struggle enough under the current neoliberal economic policies practiced by all political parties”.
The Victorian Allied Health Professionals Association condemned Labor for supporting TPP-11 on September 27: “If the federal ALP care at all about workers and what the union movement is fighting for through the Change The Rules campaign, they would reverse their position and oppose this rotten neoliberal deal that is bad for workers and bad for this country.
“We congratulate the unions and union leaders who have already taken a principled stand against the TPP and against the ALP's support of it, and encourage all other unions to take the same stand.”
This escalation follows public statements condemning Labor’s support for TPP-11 by unions such as the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Unions (AMWU) and the National Union of Workers (NUW).
Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus expressed disappointment with Labor's decision, but welcomed its commitment to “serious and much-needed reforms of our trade system to make sure that future deals benefit working people and are subject to real public and parliamentary accountability”.
AMWU national secretary Paul Bastian took a far more critical position in an interview with The Australian on September 13: “It beggars belief that the Labor caucus would sign off on ratifying the TPP given it’s against the party’s own policy.”
The NUW echoed this sentiment in a September 19 statement: “In the interests of every Australian the ALP must reconsider their support of TPP, rejecting it when it reaches the Senate – the promise of extra protections when in power does not negate the damage this bill will cause to whole communities in Australia.”
The AMWU NSW Branch has responded by putting NSW Labor on notice that the union cannot justify spending members' money “at this time” on fundraising. It added that it will be “rigorously reviewing” any ongoing financial and in kind support for Labor.
Labor’s decision to support the TPP-11 was characterised as “a profound attack on our members and all working people” in the letter signed by AMWU state secretary Steven Murphy, which has been circulating widely on social media.
The letter continues: “Workers have endured thirty years of going backwards under policies from both sides of politics that have delivered offshoring and privatisation, destruction of jobs and job security and ongoing attacks on working conditions.
“Our members and industries have been hardest hit by this endless pursuit of profit and exploitation.
“Our union movement is now building a campaign to change the rules to give power back to working people and bring an end to record levels of inequality. We will no longer accept this lie of trickle down economics and laws that give favour to big business.
“The TPP is the centrepiece for the next round of attacks on the rights of working people in Australia. It gives an unprecedented level of power to corporations and will have ongoing effects on the cost of living for all of us.
“Labor needs to vehemently oppose it.”
On September 25, Labor’s Victorian Industrial Left faction submitted an urgency motion to the ALP’s state administrative committee calling on the federal parliamentary party to “desist in its efforts to ratify the TPP as [it] contravenes the ALP Platform which was adopted by National Conference”.
It also called on the Labor’s National Executive “to bring on a vote of all Rank and File ALP members and union members nationally to seek democratic endorsement”.
The MUA is polling its members and asking them to pressure local MPs and Senators to oppose the deal.
Socialist Alliance industrial relations spokesperson Tim Gooden told Green Left Weekly that unionists should continue to oppose the TPP. A Construction Forestry Maritime Mining Energy Union delegate and former Geelong Trades Hall Council secretary, Gooden is also standing for the Victorian Socialists in the state elections.
Gooden said: “The Socialist Alliance has been saying for some time that the TPP will further strengthen the power of big corporations and the interests of bigger economies at the expense of smaller countries in our region.
“It’s all about enriching the capitalist class and the multinational corporations.”
Gooden welcomes the strong response from unions to Labor’s betrayal: “Bosses already use the vulnerability of overseas and migrant workers to increase profits and drive down wages and conditions. The TPP will put this process on steroids.
“It is the next front in the bosses’ attack on the hard-won conditions of organised workers.
“In the spirit of working-class internationalism, our aim should be to lift all workers up to the same level, regardless of where they come from.
“The TPP will be used as a weapon by the bosses against this kind of solidarity, to entrench the power of global capital against us.
“It has to be resisted.”
The bill is now before the Senate, which will sit again on October 18.
For Gooden, the fight is not over: “There is still time to block it. The Socialist Alliance is calling on all Labor and crossbench MPs in the Senate to join with the Greens to vote down the TPP.”