Editorial: Morrison locks in low wages and climate crisis

The world economy is facing a renewed crisis, as the prospect of an escalating trade war between the US and China sends stockmarkets sliding.

The Morrison government is feeding the global turmoil, agreeing to consider joining the US’s naval operation against Iran in the Strait of Hormuz and backing the US’s “step-up” in the Pacific to confront China.

Australia’s economy is also facing trouble, with stagnant wages, a retail recession and slowing growth. The Reserve Bank has cut interest rates to 1 per cent, and suggested it could not only go lower but begin “extreme unconventional” measures like quantitative easing, a form of printing money.

The Reserve Bank’s Philip Lowe told the government that action is needed to boost wages, even suggesting they dump the public sector pay caps that limit wage rises federally and in most states to 2 or 2.5 per cent.

He argued that, “the wage caps in the public sector are cementing low wage norms across the country”, affecting the level of wages rises in other industries as, “a third of the workforce work directly or indirectly for the public sector”.

But the Coalition government immediately ruled this out.

Scott Morrison also made it clear he won’t increase Newstart payments, despite business groups, the community sector and even some of his own MPs like Barnaby Joyce calling for it. “‘Are we increasing Newstart?’ Well the answer is ‘No, we are not’”, he bluntly told Seven news.

Instead the Liberals are continuing their anti-union crusade, further restricting the right to strike and making it even harder for unions to fight for pay rises. They would rather give free rein to the corporate bosses who are responsible for holding down wages.

Their Ensuring Integrity Bill would allow unions to be deregistered and officials banned from office if they defy the laws that make most forms of strike action illegal.

This is a serious threat to some of the most industrially militant and effective unions like the CFMMEU. The Liberals try to justify it with claims of union “thuggery”, pointing to John Setka, who pleaded guilty to harassment of his wife. But the laws are aimed at attacking legitimate trade unionism.

The Senate will vote on the Ensuring Integrity bill in November. The union movement can’t afford to repeat the Change the Rules campaign’s mistake of failing to fight the government’s attacks, in the hope of voting them out at the next election.

Sadly it seems the ACTU has not learnt any lessons. Its review of Change the Rules concluded it had been “ambitious and necessary” and had, “made incredible progress in the last two years”! The same electoral approach looks set to continue.

Meanwhile Labor is still reeling from its election loss, with new leader Anthony Albanese moving away from many of the policies Labor took to the election and showing no sign of working out what the party should stand for.

Labor will oppose the Ensuring Integrity Bill. But there needs to be a serious campaign of protests and industrial action against it to make the Liberals think twice about using it.

If the bill comes into law without a fight, the Liberals and the bosses will simply grow in confidence to step up their attacks.

Business is already demanding more, with the Business Council of Australia’s Jennifer Westacott calling for the scrapping of the “better off overall” test for agreements. She labelled it a “productivity killer” that “prevents trade-offs”. In other words, its stops business squeezing people harder to boost their profits.

Strike for Climate

The Morrison government is also continuing to expand the use of fossil fuels, even as extreme weather events and warnings about the urgent need for climate action grow.

It celebrated the disastrous announcement that NSW’s Liddell coal power station will remain running for an extra year, with a closure date of April 2023. And Energy Minister Angus Taylor has announced a taskforce to look at whether it could be kept running even longer, or replaced, using taxpayers’ money.

High school students have called for everyone, and particularly unions, to join the global Climate Strike on Friday 20 September. Scott Morrison claims he represents the “quiet Australians”. A massive protest can prove him wrong.

In mining areas, the Coalition won some working class votes over the issue of mining jobs. So it is vital the unions and working class people are part of the mobilisations for climate action—and that the movement takes up demands for jobs and workers’ living standards.

It is an important step forward that the Student Strike for Climate group has amended its demands to take workers’ demands on board.  And a number of unions are now also supporting the Climate Strike, pledging to attend.

We need a huge turnout on 20 September to take the fight to the coal-loving Morrison. But climate change is built into capitalism.  To stop climate change we have to end the system that causes it. That means doing everything we can to turn the student strike into workers’ strike action and build a movement with real power to fight for the social change we need.


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