Making sure we don’t pay as economy fails

So far the world economic crisis has not had the same impact in Australia as in the US or Europe. A few months ago some pundits were confidently predicting Australia could weather the storm. But now the discussion is about how bad the economic problems will get.

Late last month Reserve Bank Governor Glenn Stevens openly speculated that Australia was likely to follow the US into outright recession, predicting that “a more significant slowing” of the economy is now likely given the rapid deterioration of the other major economies.

Australia’s annualised economic growth in September dropped to 1.1 per cent from 3.5 per cent the month before—the largest slump in one month since the mid-1980s.

And while predictions vary on the number of job losses likely, no one disputes that hundreds of thousands will be thrown out of work by the end of next year. The OECD’s prediction, one of the more optimistic, suggests 200,000 jobs will disappear over the next year.

Hundreds of job cuts have already been announced—some of the worst include 800 at Ford, 440 at Perila in Broken Hill and 2000 at Westpac-St George.

In the university sector 250 job cuts have been announced at Victoria University, and Sydney University has demanded budget cuts of up to 9 per cent as well as saying it cannot afford a pay rise to keep up with inflation.

Many other employers are using the economic crisis to demand that we make sacrifices in forgoing wage rises or giving up hard-won conditions at work.

Even before the economic turmoil began, we were being hit by rises in the cost of living—with the prices of essentials like housing, petrol and food on the rise.

Rudd’s attempt to prop up retail spending with his $10.4 billion in handouts may provide a temporary cushion for the economy over Christmas, but it is not going to stop job losses.

The government has so far been unwilling to provide money to save the jobs of workers when companies collapse—like at ABC Learning.

We need to demand they take action to take over such companies and guarantee jobs.

Governments should also be boosting funding to public services like public transport, health and education to provide jobs.

The cuts and privatisations brought down by the NSW government in its recent minibudget—including a revived version of the power privatisation pushed by former Premier Morris Iemma—go in the completely wrong direction. A renewed campaign by the unions and Labor party members who stopped the last power privatisation plan in NSW is sorely needed.

Scrapping the ABCC and WorkChoices

But if ordinary people are going to avoid bearing the costs of the economic crisis, we also need to organise resistance through our unions.

Effective resistance will mean challenging the WorkChoices anti-strike laws that Kevin Rudd is leaving in place.

Without the ability to take effective industrial action, workers are powerless in the face of attempts to impose sackings and wage cuts.

The nationwide demonstrations against the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC)—one of the most vicious of the WorkChoices-era laws—need to be the springboard for further mass strikes and protests to force the government to scrap the ABCC, and with it the rest of WorkChoices.

Relying on lobbying Labor MPs, as the ACTU and many senior union officials did to try to get a better deal on Rudd’s IR laws, was not enough to force substantial changes. The result is that most of WorkChoices remains in place.

The example of Noel Washington’s defiance of the ABCC shows how to fight.

His decision to take a public stand against the commission, and the declaration by unions of support for him by calling mass protests worked.

It is no coincidence the charges were dropped just days before the planned union mass rallies. The threat of ongoing industrial action and demonstrations resulted in charges against him being dropped. The government was clearly petrified of the consequences if he had been jailed.

This will give confidence to other unionists to defy the ABCC, and if it is routinely defied it will no longer be able to operate. Now is the time for the union movement to step up the campaign of mass action against the ABCC and WorkChoices to get them entirely scrapped.


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