For the past four months workers have been asking ‘what’s the next step in the campaign against Howard’s IR laws?’. After much debate finally the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) have called another mass nation wide rally on June 28.
This decision was made by the ACTU under some duress. The ACTU were pressured by some of the more left wing unions in particular the AMWU, CFMEU and CEPU. The ACTU leaders have made it quite clear that they would much rather aim at getting the Labor Party re-elected federally by focusing on marginal seat campaigns and not organising mass rallies.
Mass rallies are a problem for the Labor Party as they do not want to come to power on the back of a mass movement. This would make them accountable to that movement and they definitely do not want that. Labor know that if they get into office they will not be able to get rid of the IR legislation anyway.
Not only do they agree with the neo-liberal policy of ‘workplace deregulation’ but even if they wanted to scrap the laws it is probable that the next election will be fought against the backdrop of the beginnings of an economic downturn. Labor being wedded to capitalism will be in no position to hand over increases in wages and conditions to workers.
The Labor Party would much rather just use the unions as their own personal ATM tapping them for money when they please and using rank and file unionists to hand our leaflets on election day. Labor’s current performance begs the question as to whether they could actually win the next election anyway.
With no fundamental policy differences, and Labor attacking workers across the country at a state level, the chance of Labor being re-elected federally with a Senate majority to overturn the laws are slim. The irony of the situation is that when workers were on the streets Labor was ahead in the polls, since the campaign has slowed down Labor have dropped in the polls significantly. The ACTU leaders understand this and their calling of the June 28 is also partially to do with boosting Labor’s popularity.
The mass protests of last year were a fantastic show of workers strength but as far as John Howard is concerned workers can protest until the cows come home. He showed his contempt towards working people three years ago when the biggest protests in Australian history were organised against the Iraq war. He didn’t listen then and he will not listen now unless we take the campaign to the next level and that means linking the protests to industrial action.
Hitting Howard and his big business mates in the hip pocket is the only way to make them listen. Workers in Korea showed how to defeat anti worker laws last month when they prevented the final approval of three bills by staging a series of 24 hour general strikes. Workers and students in France have also recently staged mass protests, strikes and occupations against anti worker laws there.
If the ACTU continue with the plan of relying on Labor and not organising ongoing demonstrations and industrial action the campaign will be doomed to failure. It is clear that the ACTU leaders are out of touch with the mood of the rank and file. The vast majority of workers strongly oppose these laws and are more than willing to fight them. Once the laws are fully rolled out, and the brunt of the attacks are felt, this opposition will grow.
Rank and file activists and shop stewards need to have more input into the direction of the campaign that is why we need to establish rank and file campaign committees around every Trades and Labour Council in the country. These committees could help put the campaign back on track towards defeating these laws and Howard himself.