Analysis

Among the proposals included in the Australian Council of Trade Unions’ industrial relations legislation policy, adopted at its October conference, were provisions for unions to be able to hold elections to win recognition in workplaces where the boss refuses to bargain with them. These ballots are aimed at addressing the lack of a mechanism whereby unions can make an employer negotiate a collective agreement for workers. Such ballots have been a feature of the US industrial relations system for over 70 years.

Debate continues over how guest workers and those on 457 visas should be treated. The WA branch of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) passed a resolution at its July state conference that recommends avoiding falling into the federal government and bosses’ divide-and-rule trap.

Australian unionists have a wealth of experiences to draw on in the fight against the Howard government’s Work Choices legislation. Lessons can be drawn not just from the historic victories and defeats of the union movement in this country, but also from the experiences of working-class struggles in other countries.

With the speed of global warming and the seriousness of climate chaos now firmly established in the minds of our politicians, it is urgent that they display leadership on actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The leadership so far — in that it has promoted the dirty lie of “clean coal” and the farcical view of nuclear energy as clean and green — has been ethically vacuous. The frames that the Howard government has used to drive public debate on our energy future are dangerous dead ends that will deliver huge problems to future generations.

Glenn Albrecht correctly identifies coal as the biggest contributor to greenhouse gases. But his support for a type of carbon credit scheme, whereby the rest of the world pays Australia not to mine its coal, implies confidence that the market will correct itself. However, the decisions made over the last 100 years of capitalism are precisely what has led to today’s climate crisis.

Even John Howard has got the point at last: human-made climate change can’t be denied. But the minor reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions available from existing “solutions” - from the Kyoto Protocol to Howard’s technofixes - won’t stave off further destruction. We need a radically different approach - a massive, immediate turn to renewable energy sources.

In a document released on November 25, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) calls on the Australian government to ratify the Kyoto treaty, as part of a strategy to combat climate change.

More than 600 delegates representing 2 million union members met for the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) congress on October 25-26.

As the November 7 emergency water summit of federal and state parliamentarians was told that the current drought is the worst in 1000 years, the opposition parties criticised the governments for fiddling while the drought worsens. Greens Senator Rachel Siewert claimed the summit “shied away from making the tough decisions at a time when urgent action was sorely needed”.

John Howard’s new industrial laws contain a raft of penalties for workers and unions taking “unlawful” industrial action. Workers can face individual fines of $6600 ($22,000 for those in the building industry), and unions face $33,000 or more. One result has been a decline in industrial disputes since Work Choices was enacted in March.

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