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Our rights at work
indonesia / philippines / australia | workplace struggles | opinion / analysis Thursday October 04, 2007 07:29 by MACG macg1984 at yahoo dot com dot au
The road ahead
Our rights at work will be defended by grassroots workers’ struggle, or they won’t be defended at all. And in that struggle, we will build the democracy and the solidarity that embody the values of a different kind of society.
In deep electoral trouble on a number of fronts, the Howard government has made a few cosmetic changes to Work Choices. It hopes the new “Fairness Test” will calm people down enough to remove industrial relations as an election issue. It’s also stopped calling its legislation Work Choices and changed the name of a couple of organisations. The truth is, however, that this is virtually meaningless and it would remain so even if full legal protection was restored to all the working conditions employers have been stripping away under the legislation. The core of Work Choices is the attempt to remove the right of workers to organise. It is about crushing the unions and establishing individual contracts as the norm in the workplace. This hasn’t changed and it is this which must be resisted.
ALP Promises “Work Choices Light”
Anxious to be judged “acceptable” by big business, the ALP has adopted a policy which only tinkers around the edges of Work Choices. AWAs will go, but common law individual contract will remain. The courts will still interfere with democratic union procedure and the right to strike will be confined to wages and conditions in one enterprise only after an agreement expires. That means (amongst other things) an end to industry-wide campaigns, no political protest action and an inability to respond to employer provocations. The anti-Work Choices rallies of 2005 and 2006 would be illegal under the ALP’s proposed regime – unless, of course, the boss agrees to give you the day off.
Resistance is not yet Dead
Although the ACTU has turned its “Your Rights At Work” campaign into an exclusive “Vote Labor” one, not everybody has put all their eggs into the one holey basket. Victorian building industry unions are having a mass rally on 26 September, the Victorian CEPU have launched a “Right to Strike Coalition” and, most importantly, Union Solidarity is providing essential picket line support to the handful of grassroots struggles that exist. All of these are positive initiatives that should be taken up and built to the maximum extent possible. Nevertheless, the balance sheet is not looking good.
The rank & file have to take charge
The union bureaucracies aren’t going to water just because they’re stupid. It’s because they are opposed to struggles which aren’t initiated by them and they feel powerless against the Labor leadership, the media and big business. They capitulate to laws which undermine their own position because they have no faith in their own members.
To repair this terrible situation, rank and file unionists have to take the initiative. We can’t afford to wait for the officials to propose effective action, because they’re not going to. Call workplace meetings, where the members can discuss matters and instruct their delegates. Build rank and file networks which can act independently of the officials. And if the officials try to block what the rank & file want, build the support to ride over them.
Our rights at work will be defended by grassroots workers’ struggle, or they won’t be defended at all. And in that struggle, we will build the democracy and the solidarity that embody the values of a different kind of society. It will be a society of liberty, equality and solidarity, where one contributes according to one’s ability and receives according to one’s need. We will be building the new world within the shell of the old.
* Article taken from “the Anvil” – No3, September-October 2007, newsletter of Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group (MACG)
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