Labor Has Mixed Approach to Unions


The Labor party has, historically, been the party of the working class and the Union movement. This year, however, following their “surprise” election loss, they’ve opted for a more distanced approach from one of their greatest backers. Both on a State and a Federal level, there has been cause for praise and alarm, regarding policies that Labor has supported, from the Unions.

It is extremely unlikely that Labor will turn their back on Unions. It would not be viable for them to do so, and there is absolutely nothing to suggest such a transition. What is evident is a shift in how much credence the Labor Party is giving to the Union movement over certain issues. Concerns have been raised by various Union officials that Labor is, in small ways, betraying them and the Australian public.

It is reassuring that the greatest threat to Unions, the Ensuring Integrity Bill – one of the most propagandistic names for a Bill I’ve heard from our government – is being opposed in its entirety by the Labor Party. While debates and amendments fly around, and Tony Burke calls for these amendments to be made public, Labor has clearly stated they will not assist the government in its latest attempt to destroy Unions.

The Ensuring Integrity Bill would give the government the power to deregister Unions for various activities, from minor industrial actions to late paperwork. It is a dangerous move that will drastically weaken the power workers currently have, and when compared to the innumerable charges against the banking industry that receive little more than a stern but forgiving gaze, it is unprecedented. Perhaps not unprecedented – we’ve always known where the loyalties of the Coalition lie.

It is down to the crossbench Senators to try to and hold this draconian Bill back, which is never too encouraging. One Nation will undoubtedly join the Coalition, and although Lambie has expressed similar concerns as Burke – making the amendments public – she has a habit of accepting terms that are agreeable to her, even if it’s to the detriment of the country overall. It is the sort of Bill that will get rushed through Parliament without much oversight as we near the end of the year.

Labor has taken a commendable and resolute stance against the Ensuring Integrity Bill, but they are lacking in other areas. I have written before that Labor is not above criticism where it is due, just as they are worthy of praise when they do achieve worthwhile policy goals. One such failing is Queensland Labor’s crackdown on protests, which, ironically like the Ensuring Integrity Bill, could potentially punish Unions for industrial action and protesting. Concerns were raised in incredibly rushed hearings that Unions may be unintentionally attacked under the new laws, and the only MP that opposed the measures was the Greens Michael Berkman.

The main fear is the that it is highly like the LNP will topple Labor in the 2020 State election. The LNP have indicated that they believe the new laws do not go far enough, signalling further erosion of Queenslanders’ civil liberties and adding extra anxiety to the Union movement. Berkman, rightly, proclaimed that if the LNP were to escalate this erosion that we can only look to the Labor Party as the ones who initiated it. Yes, it would be another case of the LNP abusing laws introduced by Labor, but in this specific case it is inexcusable.

On the Federal level, Labor has decided to back the government’s Free Trade Agreements with Peru, Hong Kong, and Indonesia. ACTU President, Michelle O’Neil, expressed concerns over an increase in foreign worker visas, explicitly calling Labor’s support for the Agreements a “betrayal of hardworking men and women, their safety, job security and our national sovereignty.”  Such strong language from one of Labor’s most valuable allies puts their relationship on seemingly shaky ground, with a number of people turning to the Greens as the opposition to these massive corporate-written laws.

Greens Senator Jordan Steele-John voiced a number of issues he had with the proposed deals, not least the fact that they are so embroiled in secrecy and hardly spoken about with the public’s scrutiny. Trade, he says, can be a wonderful thing, but the way in which these international deals go about it, it only serves to swindle the Australian population in favour of corporate greed. One of the more alarming parts of such Agreements, which was a point of contention over the TPP a while back, is how they could allow corporations to sue the Australian government and other bodies for legislation or the like that impedes their ability to make profits. The example the Senator used was tobacco companies that could sue regarding plain packaging laws.

As an aside, Jordan also made an apt observation when he suggested any deals with Hong Kong be set aside until the tensions with China had been handled. Our priority should be to support Hong Kong’s right to self-determination against the Chinese Communist Party, and signing Free Trade Agreements with them while their future remains uncertain seems inappropriate.

There is no impending doom awaiting the Union movement, and Labor certainly has not abandoned them in their losing battle against the Coalition and corporate power. But the fact that Labor has shifted itself in favour of corporate interests more than a few times now – it has also been disclosed that Labor members of the Brisbane City Council actually received more in donations from Star Entertainment than the LNP did – is unnerving. That also explains, if it weren’t already obvious, why the Queen’s Wharf Casino project has settled in.

I have said before that the Union movement should take a more serious look at aligning themselves a little more closely with the Greens, although admittedly that would discourage some of the more stalwart Labor voters out there who, for whatever reason, detest the minor party. Labor can’t have it both ways. If they want to keep Unions alive and fighting strong by opposing the Ensuring Integrity Bill, they cannot so carelessly dismiss them when it comes to legislation that damages workers or even the Unions themselves.

I’ve started reading Rethinking Camelot, a Noam Chomsky book from 1993 about JFK and the Vietnam War, but there was a short passage that is relevant to the current attack on popular movements:

“… it is necessary to control their thought, to isolate them, to undermine popular organizations (unions, etc.) that might provide ways for people with limited resources to enter in a meaningful way into the political arena… Its [the de facto world government’s (i.e. corporate institutions’)] decision-making apparatus is largely immune from public interference, even awareness.”

What is happening today is by no means a new or a unique phenomenon. It is exactly what global capitalist and neoliberal “masters of humanity”, as Chomsky calls them, have been trying to do for decades, even centuries. The more people that are aware of this war being waged against them on class lines, the more they will realise the Union movement is necessary, and the fight against unfair and unjust legislation and FTA’s will be bolstered.

Liked this? Read Capitalism Hasn’t Changed

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