More of Tony Abbott’s real plan for Australia has been revealed—and it’s ugly.
The Coalition have come out swinging against the unions, trying to lay the groundwork for an attack on unions’ right to organise and workers’ wages and conditions.
A media-fuelled frenzy over supposed “corruption” in the construction union, the CFMEU, provided fodder for the Coalition to launch their Royal Commission into the unions.
They have also urged the Fair Work Commission to attack penalty rates in a submission to a major review of awards. Penalty rates are both a lifeline for low paid hospitality and retail workers (who make an average of $17 an hour) and compensation for working unsociable hours. Over 1.5 million workers rely on them.
With Toyota following Holden and announcing their intention to throw 2500 workers on the scrap heap, and jobs threatened at SPC, Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey displayed their usual arrogance. The workers facing the loss of their jobs were to blame, along with their unions, they said, for gaining “overgenerous” wage increases and conditions. Even the local Liberal MP where SPC’s factory is based, Sharman Stone, said they were lying. Toyota said it had “never blamed the union” for its closure.
But now the government is egging on Qantas boss Alan Joyce, who says he will “accelerate” his job cuts and war on the unions.
As 1500 more jobs go at Forge, another 800 at Sensis, 800 at Alcoa and 500 at the ATO, the unemployment rate has shot up to 6 per cent.
Sacrifices by workers at Holden didn’t save jobs, nor at Qantas. The only way to save jobs is if workers and the unions fight for them. Holden (General Motors), Toyota and SPC (Coca-Cola) are all part of global multinational companies that could be forced to change their plans if workers campaigned and if necessary occupied their plants.
The Coalition is continuing to talk up a supposed budget crisis. In January Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews launched an ideological attack on “unsustainable” Newstart and Disability payments, to complement the Coalition’s continuing complaints that there is too much spending on health.
All of this is designed to justify cuts in the budget in May—including whatever Abbott’s corporate razor gang, the Commission of Audit, ends up putting forward. Joe Hockey told the Financial Review in early February the government planned to adopt “the great majority” of its measures.
But Abbott is not coming from a strong position. There is no public support for his agenda. The hatred for his government has grown at (literally) record-breaking speed.
The Liberals are going little by little—attacking the most vulnerable like Aboriginal Legal Aid and pay for child care and aged care workers. They are trying to build a case for attacks on unions, wages and government spending, because they know if they go too fast, they could provoke more opposition than they can handle.
Any of their attacks they get away with will give them confidence to go harder—risking a sense of inevitability and demoralisation about Abbott setting in. That is why resisting now is so important.
A campaign against the Liberal-dominated Blacktown City Council has given a glimpse of how Abbott can be beaten. The campaign has already forced the Council to reverse plans to close child care centres.
Sydney’s Save Medicare rally on February 15 drew over 1000 people. Initiated by left activists, the February rally won the support of Unions NSW as well as the backing of Labor and The Greens. Speakers addressed the array of Abbott’s attacks and cuts, arguing for a united fight to link up the struggles.
Fight to stop Abbott
The ACTU is touring the country to talk to workers about the Commission of Audit and build opposition to Abbott’s agenda. This is a good start.
But when Abbott launches his attacks in the budget, we will need action at a workplace level, like that seen at the beginning of the Your Rights At Work campaign, where combined unions delegates’ meetings were held to draw together activists across the whole union movement.
But union officials are already talking about a “long campaign”, designed to get Labor re-elected in three years. The belief that the only way to stop the Liberals’ attacks was to vote them out at the next election meant the unions wound down the campaign of demonstrations and strikes against WorkChoices. The result was that we had to settle for legislation from Labor that kept most of WorkChoices in place.
We can’t afford to make the same mistake again. A concerted campaign of strikes and demonstrations can force Abbott to back down well before the election. By then far too much damage will have already been done.