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Economic crisis belts the working class: Will the ACTU fight or fizzle?

Written by: Bill F. on


In the wake of the coronavirus crisis, the Morrison government is taking desperate measures to restore the security and profits of the capitalist class and their foreign monopoly mates.

After years of regular abuse and anti-union laws, the federal government has reluctantly accepted that they need the union movement involved in any far-reaching plans to resurrect the capitalist economy. They have asked the ACTU (Australian Council of Trade Unions) to participate in a ‘roundtable’ review of industrial relations, along with employer organisations and social and community representatives.

This in itself is an admission that the capitalist class needs the working class to survive, to continue making profits and to accept capitalist domination of society. While the ACTU covers a much smaller union membership than in days past, it still covers key trades and industries including the public service, and has some capacity to reach into the wider community as well.
Five working groups
The government has proposed working groups to develop policy recommendations in five areas. These are … 
Award simplification, Enterprise Agreements, Casual and Fixed-Term workers, Compliance/Enforcement, Greenfields Agreements.
Recommendations coming from this process, if accepted by government, would be dealt with through legislation, government regulation or through the federal budget now postponed until October.
It is obvious, in the short time provided, the government doesn’t really expect agreement on substantial issues, and in any case, is not bound to accept the recommendations. What they are seeking is to compromise and disarm the union movement by collaboration, perhaps making some small concessions. If this is the cost of industrial peace while capitalism recovers, well and good – if not, a further reason to bring in more union-bashing ‘reforms’!
What the ACTU wants
After years of wage freezes, price hikes, casualisation and social service cut-backs, the working class was well and truly hammered before the coronavirus hit, so the ACTU had no difficulty in producing a half-decent list of working class demands to bring to the roundtable discussions. While there is no mention of even social democratic demands such as nationalising key industries, most of the items they listed focus on the immediate needs of working people and would benefit workers in the short term.
They have listed eight key areas for ‘economic recovery’ with some detailed explanations on each. (See  
1. Two million new permanent jobs, halving the number of insecure jobs
2. Lift wages, living standards
3. Investing in public and community services
4. Nation-building projects
5. Education and Training
6. Dealing with Climate Change
7. Dealing with Social Disadvantage
8. Supporting Australian industry
What the bosses want
The AIG (Australian Industry Group) is making the front-running here, representing the remnant Australian capitalists while the foreign monopoly-dominated BCA (Business Council of Australia) lurks in the background, confident in more direct links to its government stooges.
The AIG wish-list is a stinker, hardly the “fresh approach” promised, but rather a re-hash of anti-worker obsessions.
In the first place they want to scrap the “better off overall test” in Enterprise Agreements – and what’s the point of an agreement for workers if they are not better off?
For the AIG and the capitalist class, simplification of awards means stripping out issues such as annual leave, personal and carer’s leave, redundancy pay and termination notices from awards and agreements and leaving them to the tender mercies of existing and yet to be defined legislation.
Furthermore, they reject any attempt to introduce criminal penalties for wage underpayment by bosses, which has been rampant for young students and casualised workers and those thrown into the so-called ‘gig economy’.
You can bet they will oppose almost every point of the ACTU position, but you can also bet they will also make a few concessions to appear “reasonable” and “realistic” in this crisis.
A big test coming
By the stated conclusion of this process at the end of September, the ACTU will be under pressure and not only from union members. In September the coronavirus crisis stimulation in the form of Jobkeeper and Jobseeker packages will be downgraded, perhaps in full. Many hundreds of thousands of working people will already be in debt and desperate need, many others will be barely able to survive on charity hand-outs and meagre social services. They will be looking to the union movement as their only hope.
If the ACTU is unable to get its eight point position accepted by government, what happens then? Will they draw a line or just slag off at the government and then sit back and foster illusions for the Labor Party to win office, as happened last election. (Labor, for its part, is currently doing its own sitting back and waiting – no leadership coming there, so don’t waste your breath.)
Will the ACTU be prepared to fight for its position? Will it be prepared to educate and mobilise the working class to press its demands through strike action? Or will it spend endless time and resources trawling through the courts and losing again and again? That will be the test – words are not good enough, action speaks louder!
History shows, “If you don’t fight, you lose”.


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