Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Change the fools
The ACTU has its sights set on the Coalition, and on Labor too

Whether they were an industrial action or a protest, the union rallies around the country today are a taste of what we can expect in the lead-up to the next federal election – which Labor is odds on [$] to win – and into the first term of a Shorten government. In Sydney, ACTU president Michele O’Neil made it clear that the union movement will not be happy simply to help knock off the Coalition in a repeat of the 2007 election: it then wants concrete reform to support working people. “Our campaign is clear in its objectives,” said O’Neil. “It’s not just about changing the government. It’s not about electing a Labor government. It’s about winning a change in rights. It’s about winning a change for fairness. It’s about winning a change to the rules so we have dignity and respect and fair pay and conditions and secure jobs for ordinary working people … First we take the government, and then we take the win.”

In Melbourne, the turnout of roughly 160,000 exceeded expectations, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews led the march and ACTU secretary Sally McManus voiced a message to Scott Morrison and the “other muppets”: the union movement would not be intimidated. The Sydney rally was much smaller – only 10,000 were expected, police guessed there were about 6000 – and no Labor politician spoke. But the atmosphere was fiery enough. On the march, fists were raised and the shout went up: “When I say union, you say power … Union? Power!” and “When union rights are under attack … what do we do? Stand up, fight back!” And the rally was revved up by workers from picket lines in two protected disputes led by the CFMMEU’s construction division, against WGC Cranes and Boom Logistics. Up on stage, one of the workers’ delegates had a simple message for both companies: “Get fucked!” Union organisers were carrying buckets for donations to support the hundred-odd families on strike.

The Coalition will relish this fight: attacking unions is one of the last things on which its warring conservative and moderate factions can agree. Yesterday, the industrial relations minister, Kelly O’Dwyer, warned of “industrial anarchy” and said “the ACTU wants a return to the dark days of mass union militancy, it wants workplace division and disruption, it wants the ability to flagrantly break any industrial laws it doesn’t like.” If a Labor government tears up workplace laws in deference to the ACTU, she said, Australia would have a “bleak future”.

But the union movement has compelling counterarguments that working Australians deserve a pay rise, the pendulum has swung too far against workers rights, including the right to strike, and that privatisation, casualisation, and the gig economy have eroded too much in the way of pay and conditions. Most companies give pay rises to employees as a result of industrial action, not out of the kindness of their heart. This is not surprising when, in many cases nowadays, the worker is a million miles away or the boss is an algorithm.

There were plenty of unions there today: the CFMMEU, United Voice, unions for plumbers, electricians, teachers, public servants, transport workers, health services, even the MEAA. A flavor of the rhetoric came from Chris Seet of the NSW Plumbers Union: “We’re sick of the cuts to penalty rates (shame!), the overuse of labour hire and casualisation in our industries (shame!), deregulation of licensed trades (shame!), cuts to TAFE and hospitals (shame!), restrictions on collective bargaining (shame!), nurse to patient ratios (shame!), and last but not least, the parasite which the building trades have to deal with, the ABCC (shame!). This government’s time is up. They’ve stepped on too many toes.”

Or this from the ETU’s Dave McKinley: “More and more workers in this country are seeing that the system is broken. They’re seeing that they don’t have the right to strike. They’re waking up in the morning and seeing their bosses profits rise, while their wages are stagnant. They know the system is broken. They’re waking up in the morning and finding out the bosses are paying no tax, while places like Youth off the Street are getting hit with a $600,000 bill! They know the system is broken. They’re seeing day in, day out the bargaining system fall down around our ears. They know the system is broken and more and more workers are getting behind the change the rules campaign.”

In an AFR op-ed [$] today, former Howard-era communications minister Richard Alston writes that Labor is running a class-warfare agenda and Bill Shorten will “govern like a unionist”. On that point, if nothing else, he may well be right.

since this morning

On The Guardian’s politics live blog, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said he won’t “horse-trade” over a possible deal with Labor to move up to 150 asylum seekers on Nauru to New Zealand.

The AFR reports [$] that former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has defended his decision to stay silent throughout the campaign for his old seat of Wentworth, saying, “I’m out of partisan politics … I’m retired.”

in case you missed it

All refugee children waiting for high-level medical treatment have been transferred off Nauru, after 11 were flown to Australia on Monday night, bureaucrats have revealed in Senate Estimates. Gold Walkley winner Joanne McCarthy writes that the situation on the island was the elephant in the room at yesterday’s national apology for institutional abuse.

Analysis in The Australian of Newspolls since the recent leadership spill shows [$] a collapse in support for the Coalition in every mainland state and across every demographic group. Columnist Dennis Shanahan writes [$] that the Coalition faces a 20-seat defeat and “generational wipeout”.

Also in The Oz, Environment Minister Melissa Price is revealed [$] “as parliament’s fly-in, fly-out MP, racking up more than $450,000 in travel costs to visit her rural electorate while living in a $1.59 million luxury home in Perth”.

The Sydney Morning Herald’s political editor, Peter Hartcher, rebuts a claim in the latest Rudd memoir that his 2010 story that triggered Julia Gillard’s leadership coup was wrong.

Australians will be promised new laws to slash up to $832 from their annual electricity bills in another federal government move to toughen rules for big energy companies.

by Kim Mahood
The Nation Reviewed
The artistic revival at Papunya Tjupi Arts
Women painters are bringing the focus back to the birthplace of the Western Desert movement

by Will Self
Australia and I
A British author’s complicated relationship with the island continent

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?

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