Victorian unions face jobs fight


By Chris Spindler

More than 200 members of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union at Dorf Industries are on strike and staffing a 24-hour picket line. They are opposing the company's attempt to relocate to Sydney and their treatment.

The workers have been on strike for more than two weeks. Supporters can attend the Clayton picket at any time; each evening there is a barbecue. The AMWU is collecting donations for its campaign at the picket and the union office.

GWA, which bought Dorf from Email, is refusing to talk to the union. The AMWU has proposals for continuing manufacturing at the factory, which it hopes would continue employment for about half the current work force.

The union is also campaigning to get a decent redundancy payout for workers who will not have a job. The company proposes to pay employees four weeks' pay for their first five years of work there, but only two weeks' for every year thereafter. Workers have been at the factory for up to 36 years.

Two hundred workers and supporters attended a lunchtime rally at the gates on June 25. Craig Johnston, secretary of the metal division of the AMWU Victorian branch, told the crowd that 18,000 manufacturing jobs had been lost in the state over the last year, yet the government had only recently acknowledged that job losses were a real concern.

Another company recently acquired by GWA, Beauty Ware, will close in December, moving production overseas.

GWA has also recently purchased other companies overseas. Company claims that financial troubles require relocation are unreasonable. The purchases are attempts to dominate an industry.

The Dorf fight highlights problems faced by unions in Victoria, as elsewhere. As the economic situation worsens, factory closures are bound to continue.

Unions have started to discuss solutions beyond government subsidies to business, which are paid for by taxes raised from workers. A shorter working week as a way to increase employment is now a concrete measure being considered and pursued, particularly in the construction industry, in campaigns for new agreements and in the preparation of pattern bargaining campaigns, covering whole industries.

In agreements for the Docklands and Federation Square construction projects, unions have won a 36-hour week by another name. Workers will receive an extra day off a month, with no loss in pay.

This solution makes the company pay for the shorter working week. Jobs and workers' living standards are put ahead of profits.