Gillard ‘hasn’t done anything near enough to help workers’ rights’

Chris Breen spoke to Electrical Trades Union Victorian secretary Dean Mighell about what to expect from Julia Gillard
There has been speculation that Gillard’s rise represents a reassertion of union power within the ALP. Do you support the move?
I don’t think union officials played any role [in toppling Rudd]. I watched the AWU claim that they’ve swapped sides away from Kevin Rudd. In reality they never supported Rudd in the first place. Do I think it’s a good thing? Absolutely. I think it gives a chance, a slim opportunity, for federal Labor to behave like a Labor party. The opportunity is there to get out of the shadow of Rudd and articulate the things that she truly believes in.
In the past Julia Gillard has been a strong pro-worker advocate. When she was in opposition she was a passionate, vocal defender of workers’ rights against the Howard government.
What disappoints me is when she became the deputy leader, and the Minister for Industrial Relations as well, she was articulating some of the worst elements of WorkChoices that were completely contrary to the things she’d championed in opposition.
In a position of power she hasn’t done anything near enough to help workers’ rights. The Fair Work Act is basically just retaining WorkChoices with a coat of paint. But to be honest I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s no change. She seems to have been particularly vocal about supporting the ABCC. The question is—was this at Rudd’s request? Or is it something she decided was her new policy?

How should union activists approach the federal election?
Labor takes the union movement for granted. It is their view that unions will back the Labor party because the Liberals are worse.
It’s one thing to campaign against Tony Abbott and worse IR laws. But we have a government in power now that have extremely bad IR laws that breach basic human rights and yet we are not campaigning against them.
In my view, the ACTU needs to campaign against any political party that has bad IR laws, including the current government.

What about the Greens?
We are out there supporting Adam [Bandt, Greens candidate in the seat of Melbourne]. He’s a person who’s got great values. I’ve spoken probably to every Greens Senator. When I talk to them about workers’ rights, the Greens at a federal level all get it. To the point where The Greens moved a motion in the federal Senate to abolish the ABCC. Labor voted it down with the Libs.
Richard Di Natale is the senate candidate again [in Victoria]. He’s addressed our delegates conferences and state councils and he’s been fantastic about the sort of changes workers are going to need. We’ll be campaigning for the Greens in the Senate. We hope they take out Family First, win a couple of Senate seats in other states and hold the balance of power. I think that’s the only hope that workers have in the upcoming federal election.
At a state level they’re a bit of a mystery. We haven’t had a great relationship with them.
We’ve got a ballot currently underway about whether we should remain affiliated [to the Labor Party] or not. Then you’ve got other unions that are completely welded to the ALP. We should work hard to be truly independent.
In the end one of two things will happen. Labor will either begin to realise that if you turn on your own, you will pay a price. They’ll wake up and say we need to re-engage—we need to take a stand against bosses and go back to our traditional political views.
Or workers will increasingly get frustrated with Labor and union officials will unite around a genuine political alternative.


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