Labor Party leader Kim Beazley has warned the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) that an ALP government would not do everything the unions wanted on industrial relations. Speaking at the triennial ACTU congress in Melbourne on October 24 he said that although he was committed to ripping up Howard’s industrial relations changes, he would not make the mistake of skewing the system in favour of working people.
Beazley said that Howard had fixed the rules to favour employers. “Some would want us to tilt all the rules the other way. But I won’t make that mistake,’’ he said. Although making it clear that unions would not get everything they wanted he called on them to work blindly and push for an ALP win at the next election.
Beazley did outline his plans for new collective bargaining rules that would operate if Labor flukes a win at next year’s election. The plans would force employers to accept a ‘central umpiring’ role for the Australian Industrial Relations Commission in wage negotiations. He also committed Labor to a policy on ‘good faith’ bargaining that would require bosses to negotiate with employees if a majority of the workers wanted it.
Whilst these changes should be supported they are far from radical and go no where near far enough. Whilst some bosses have made some mild criticisms of Beazley they know that in reality having an ALP government in power will not threaten their profit margins in the slightest.
The ACTU also presented its IR policy to the congress, setting out a framework for collective bargaining in place of Australian Workplace Agreements (individual contracts). It also proposes minimum standards of awards and wages for Australian workers and enshrines the right to freedom of association and union representation.
The congress was attended about 400 delegates from 53 unions. But congress delegates reported that the event was much more sombre than congresses of the past. There was no dissent at all and no discussion about the plans of the union movement if Howard in fact wins the next election. Even some right wing newspapers said that it was very difficult to describe the event as an old-style “workers’ parliament”.
ACTU Secretary Greg Combet pared back this year’s congress from four days to two and there were only 400 delegates in attendance which is half the number of previous events. Even the agenda was stripped back to stifle discussion. Only one item was on the agenda being the industrial relations legislation policy.
This carefully staged conference was not aimed at discussing genuine political representation for working people or thrashing out the merits of an industrial campaign to defeat the IR laws instead it was aimed at getting the unions focused on getting Labor elected.
This strategy is doomed to failure. If working people can’t rely on the ALP to unashamedly represent them why should they vote for them? And why would you vote for the ALP if you were a boss when you can have the Liberals. Working people desperately need their own party, a party that does not try to sit on the fence but proudly represents labour over capital every time.