A mass shop stewards meeting was held in the historic Regent theatre in Melbourne yesterday. It was organised by the Building Industry Group (BIG) unions from the Victorian Trades Hall. The main purpose of the meeting was to discuss the proposal of a mass rally to be held on September 26 in the lead up to the federal election.
Victorian Trades Hall Council Secretary Brian Boyd was the first speaker and urged all stewards to support the call for a mass rally. Other speakers included Martin Kingham (CFMEU), Steve Dargavel (AMWU) and Dean Mighell (ETU).
Brian Boyd linked the need for a rally to the need to vote for Labor at the election. He said that “John Howard hates working people and we need to get rid of him”. Other speakers spoke on the same theme and called on the stewards to work hard to build for a big turn out.
To reduce the debate to one of whether Howard loves or hates working people is extremely dangerous as it doesn’t explain the role of the two major parties in the capitalist system. Whether or not Howard hates workers is actually incidental, the reality is that Howard is an extremely loyal and effective representative of his class, the ruling class.
The differences between the Liberal and Labor parties are not fundamental. They both support privatisation, free trade, cuts and user pays health and education systems. Even on IR the differences are negligible. They both also take massive donations (i.e. bribes) from big business.
It was clear from the contributions from stewards at the meeting that there is still a lot of confusion and illusions in what a Rudd ALP government would look like. This is to be expected considering not one union leader has put forward any alternative to the strategy of voting for Labor and crossing our fingers and hoping our lives will be a little bit easier. Unfortunately even some ‘left’ shop stewards called for a vote for Labor as a way forward.
Whilst trade unionists in the Socialist Party want to see the back of the Howard government we refuse to sow illusions in a Rudd ALP government. The last federal Hawke Labor government was no friend of working people. For example Hawke introduced the Accord which pegged wages below inflation. Hawke was much more successful than Howard at taking money from workers pay packets and putting it into the profit margins of the bosses.
Labor governments are also in power in every state and even in Victoria at the moment nurses, teachers and even the police are having trouble getting decent pay rises. Life will not be any easier under a Rudd Labor government it will just mean that the attacks will be in a different form. What Howard has done with an iron fist, Rudd will do with a velvet glove.
It has also not been Howard that has sent any trade unionists to jail. The only person to be jailed in recent years was Craig Johnston who was jailed under state laws and was pursued by the DPP of a state Labor government. The previous Hawke Labor government on the other hand jailed many trade unionists including many members of the Builders Labourers Federation (BLF).
The Hawke government successfully smashed the BLF and the Pilots union who they saw as obstacles to implementing their counter reforms. Luckily for the bosses and for Howard they have not had to put up with any resistance like they did in the 1980s with the BLF and pilots. It is the case now that the union leaders do not want to engage in a serious fight so there is no need for the bosses to resort to such extremes.
The laws that Howard has put in place are a mere continuation of the counter reforms that Hawke and Keating laid the basis for. A Rudd government will only continue along this path and Rudd himself has not said otherwise. In fact he has moved to reassure the ruling class of his credentials to run the capitalist system by expelling people like Dean Mighell from the ALP and continually reassuring the mining bosses that he will not eat into their massive profits.
It is clear now that some sections of the ruling class are starting to see Howard as the obstacle to implementing further counter reforms. The more Howard becomes unpopular the more many bosses start to look seriously at the ALP to be the alternative government. As we look down the barrel at an economic downturn the bosses know it will be a federal Labor government that will better positioned to keep workers in check.
One union official recently told a Socialist Party member that ‘if we don’t get Labor elected this year we are finished, we will have tried everything” The fact that comments like this come from alleged leaders of the workers movement is unbelievable. We have not tried everything; we have in fact not tried anything!
Workers own almost nothing in a capitalist society except our ability to sell our labour. Therefore the main weapon that workers have is to withdraw that labour. If the union movement had of engaged in a serious campaign of industrial action we would have rendered every piece of Howard’s anti worker legislation useless years ago.
The meeting agreed unanimously to support the call for another mass rally. Despite our differences with the leaders of the union movement the Socialist Party will be working hard to mobilise people to hit the streets on September 26. But we will also be using the opportunity to tell workers the truth about the situation that they face. Whether it is Rudd or Howard in power come the end of the year workers will have no other choice than to fight.