What is the essence of the Australian Government-initiated changes to industrial relations?
I believe that News Weekly captured this in one sentence in its “Manifesto for Australia” issue (January 13, 2001):
“Labour market deregulation is a euphemism for breaking the power of the unions so as to shift workers onto workplace contracts, cut wages and conditions and shift increasing numbers of workers onto casual and part-time work.”
In exposing this essential plank in the economic rationalist program to dramatically change Australia, Bob Santamaria earlier spoke of Prime Minister Howard’s belief in “deregulation of the labour market, that is weakening the unions by weakening their legislative base”.
Santamaria saw with great clarity that “creating and maintaining a pool of unemployed is not an accident, but a policy”. He said, “its aim is to exert consistent downward pressure on wage rates.” (News Weekly Special Edition: “How To Get Australia Working”, 1997).
Clearly, in industrial relations (as in the industrial capitalism model generally), we are following United States, where the corporate priority is enriching the directors and owners in the name of shareholder value, whilst holding down the wages and salaries of ordinary workers.
Europe provides an alternative model for industrial capitalism, in which a higher priority is given to maintaining wages, salaries and conditions for workers.
In general terms, the countries of Western Europe are attempting to prevent the incomes and conditions of their workers eroding towards the levels of Third World countries. They stand opposed to “the race to the bottom”.
There is little doubt that most Australians would prefer the European approach. The only exceptions would be economic rationalist ideologues and big business, including transnational corporations.
Yet the political reality is that the Liberal, National and Labor parties and most of the media are in the firm grip of an ideology that embraces American-style capitalism.
It seems to me that what has been stated above is the central and most important aspect of the current industrial relations debate.
To its great credit, News Weekly has consistently stated this position for many years. The proposed industrial relations changes are of course a key part of the Howard Government’s broader program of “economic reform” – that is, transforming Australia into a country in which:
- industry development and the creation of permanent, full-time jobs, are imprudently “left to the market”, with government having no role;
- corporate capitalism increasingly dominates economic life;
- millions are economically and socially marginalised;
- escalating foreign debt threatens the nation’s economic future.
Your recent editorial, “New industrial law needs amendment” (News Weekly, June 16), missed an opportunity to highlight this key aspect of the industrial relations debate.
Rather than being merely in need of “amendment”, the new industrial law should be exposed as an attack on what is reasonable and fair to Australian workers.
When these changes in industrial relations are put alongside the Government’s other “economic reforms”, I’m forced to the conclusion that nothing is more important to the future of this nation than:
1) exposing the economic rationalists’ agenda (on industrial relations, deregulation, privatisation, manufacturing, agriculture, banking, infrastructure, trade and foreign takeovers);
2) the development of alternative policies; and
3) the communication of these policies to the Australian people.
If this huge task is not seized upon and carried through by the NCC, then I suspect it will not be done at all. Unless we step up our commitment and drive to tackle this challenge, it will be too late, and we will surely regret our inaction.