SA Unions Organising Conference
On Wednesday 22 November SA Unions held its annual Organizing Conference. It was attended by about 100 Organizers from affiliated unions and provided them with an opportunity to step out of the quagmire of members' workplace issues that capitalism gives rise to, in order to reflect on what organizing strategies were working for building collective power and what needs to be done in the coming year.
While there was an awareness of the need for Organizers to educate and mobilize members and the community around a set of key demands for the coming state election in March 2018, the main focus of the day was on building a mass movement to force changes to the "Unfair Work Act" and to address the growing inequality in income and wealth in Australia.
SA Unions and the ACTU leadership under Sally McManus have framed a campaign for such change as Change The Rules because "the (IR) system" in particular is broken.
While the scope of the campaign is not an overt campaign for socialist revolution, the Change The Rules campaign is important because like the Your Rights At Work: Worth Fighting For, it has the potential for broad appeal.
Why is this? As Organizers heard at the Conference, 72% of workers in Australia are "trapped" within the repressive Unfair Work Act and so there is the potential for mobilization of broad sections of the working class as was the case against Howard's Work Choices.
The Conference workshops demonstrated to participants the potential breadth of such a campaign. For example, a workshop on chicken processing and tomato growing industries where large numbers of temporary migrant workers are employed showed that not only are these workers affected by the Unfair Work Act, but that there is enormous interest among these workers to be active in their unions. Organizers at the conference were made aware that the 1.4 million temporary visa migrant workers in Australia, which includes all forms of temporary visas, is greater than the total number of private sector union members in Australia. They have a vital role to play in the union movement's revival and the stories told at the Conference show that they want to be part of such a progressive union movement.
The short term goal of the Change The Rules campaign is to build towards a national day of action on or about May Day 2018.
The aim of the campaign, embraced by the Organizers at the Conference was buoyed by the workers victory against Streets owned by multinational Unilever who attempted unsuccessfully to slash workers’ wages and conditions by over 40%!
The aim is to mobilize workers around four key demands:
1. Job Security - especially regulation of labor hire and casualisation
2. Workers' Rights - including right to strike, right to have access of an Organizer, recognition and protection of workplace elected union reps
3. Right to Arbitration
4. Broader parameters at law for collective bargaining - including the right of workers to require employers to collectively bargain for industry or sector wide Agreements
While some may seem this campaign as "back to the future" and yearning for the days when Australia had closed shops and high tariffs, participants at the SA Unions Conference were under no illusions that changing the Unfair Work Act is only a small part of an even bigger picture campaign about inequality, power and control in society and that central to that is the issue of class.
This came out in discussions over the March 2018 election and when the Premier Jay Weatherill addressed the Conference, he was under no illusions that union members through their representatives at various levels were developing an independent working class agenda that no aspiring state government could afford to ignore