Friday, March 23, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Pub test: the right to strike
Workers fought for it, but maybe it’s “use it or lose it”

Source: Paddy Manning

The government says the way to boost wages is to give big business a tax cut. Big business has “pledged” to invest some more, which, they say, will lead to more employment, “and therefore stronger wage growth” at some point. “Straight out lie” and “BS” and “least convincing document ever produced” are among the 214 overwhelmingly negative responses to the Business Council tweet. ACTU secretary Sally McManus yesterday described the business pledge as “a con”, and the ACTU says the only way workers are going to get a pay rise out of business is if they demand it. Which boils down to having the right to strike.

Unions say the right to strike is “very nearly dead” when Fair Work Commission senior deputy president Jonathan Hamberger – a Howard-era appointee and former workplace adviser to Peter Reith – can decide that train drivers, after lengthy negotiations by the book, are unable to take protected 24-hour industrial action. The reason given was that it could “cause significant damage to the Australian economy or an important part of it”.

For this week’s pub test, I wind up at the old Liverpool RSL, now called the John Edmondson VC Memorial Club. Edmondson was an original Rat of Tobruk and was the first Australian to win a Victoria Cross in World War Two. Now the RSL is a pokies barn, and in his name ordinary Australians are getting their hearts ripped out, financially speaking. The Rats of Tobruk are commemorated in a forlorn display of military history – medals, weapons, photos – in an empty mezzanine corridor jammed between room after room of pokies, Keno, TAB, the lot. The past jars with the present: as Donald Trump might say, SAD! The blokes I find who are talking to each other, and not transfixed by a screen, aren’t keen on an interview about Sally McManus or the right to strike. “You want right-wing views? I’ll give you right-wing views,” one guy teases, but wanders off despite my definite “yes”.

The club is too depressing, but outside in the Macquarie mall there are lots of happy cafe tables full of chess-playing retirees and lunch-goers. The workers I approach – bowling up to anyone in high-vis, basically – all agree Australians have a right to strike.

The first, a 42-year-old painter, is a member of the CFMEU who has never been on strike but says the union has definitely helped him in the past. Have Australians forgotten about the right to strike? “I think they have,” he says. “I think everyone just looks after their own backyard. We’ve lost working as a team.” He agrees with McManus that the only way workers are going to get a pay rise is if they demand it. “Things have to change. People have got a right … workers rights, that’s the way it is, and they’re sort of eroding that, the governments are doin’ that.” Yep, he’s a Labor voter.

A plumber, 23, with a group of tradies off to pray at the nearest mosque, is not a union member, and nor are his mates, but said he might join: “It depends if it has benefits.” He has never been on strike, but definitely believes in the right to do so, however, “if you’re getting underpaid, mistreated, working dangerous conditions”. But he doesn’t agree that striking is a way to get a pay rise: “I reckon that’s rubbish. You earn it [a pay rise], for starters, as you progress in your apprenticeship. And as you take on bigger roles, you earn it, and there’s a thing called the award wage so whether they like it or not they have to pay us more, and if they don’t, we leave, because there’s other companies that do pay.”

A big Islander, aged 20, is employed as a factory worker on minimum wage. He’s just moved down from Queensland. He is not a union member, but definitely believes in the right to strike. “Of course,” he says. Up in Brisbane, they went on strike for two days. “The pay rate wasn’t right, and we got a pay rise. Right now, I’m on $24 an hour, working as a storeman, and I don’t think it’s right. It’s not enough. These days, everyone’s struggling for money.” He only gets 20 hours a week, so has to work three jobs to survive. He was studying a business diploma, but had to put it on hold.

Perhaps the right to strike isn’t dead, it’s just sleeping.

since this morning

The AFR reports [$] that the stakes of a potential “trade war” have been raised. Beijing has warned it will slap tariffs on 128 US products in retaliation against President Donald Trump’s approval of $US60 billion in tariffs on Chinese products. Trump’s senior trade policy adviser has said [$] Australia will face quotas on its steel and aluminium exports to the US to ensure that no third country tries to gain a backdoor entry to American markets.

Crikey has compiled this short history of Pauline Hanson selling out her base.

Heavy security for Barack Obama has brought Sydney to a standstill, reports The Daily Telegraph, after the former US president touched down ahead of an event at the Art Gallery of NSW hosted by the New Zealand United States Council.

in case you missed it

According to The Australian [$], Daniel Andrews’ caucus enemies are plotting to destabilise his leadership over the rorts-for-votes scandal, declaring it “implausible” that the Victorian premier was unaware of the wrongdoing.

The Age economics editor Peter Martin writes that the best case for the company tax cut just isn’t that good.

by Lauren Carroll Harris
‘Human Flow’: visual metaphors cut through apathy
Ai Weiwei’s new documentary finds new ways of seeing an accepted global trauma

by David Neustein
Twelve of a kind
Why is Australia planning so many new casinos?

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is a contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly. He is a writer and journalist who has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including Boganaire: The rise and fall of Nathan Tinkler.

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