Changing the rules going global: unions and climate change

Last week 3 significant reports from distant parts of the world highlighted the crucial role that workers and their unions can play in fighting climate change.

Each one showed how union members can shape the character of the move away from fossil-fueled energy production and, negotiate a rapid “just transition” that provides secure jobs in renewable energy production and associated environment renewal industries.

In Latin America

In early October representatives from 15 countries throughout the Americas met in San José, Costa Rica, for the Third Regional Conference on Energy, Environment and Work. The meeting was reported by the ever growing Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, and convened by the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA-CSA). 24 trade union centres attended along with 7 continental social movements, 4 civil society organizations and 5 universities.

“For three days, the group discussed how to respond to the predatory and repressive actions of mining and drilling companies across the continent.”

The participants developed an agreed affirmative agenda, including:

  • ending energy poverty,
  • de-privatisation,
  • recover people’s sovereignty over common resources and goods
  • reject technological determinism that gives precedence to one technology over another and,
  • de-fossilisation of the energy matrix.

Thus, representing hundreds of thousands of workers, these unions connect poverty and inequality to the impact of climate change driven by transnational corporations’ control over work and social life.

In Spain

We learned that in Spain a group of coal mining unions have negotiated a “Just Transition” agreement. The Agreement  speeds up the closure of declining coal mines and replaces these with a programme of clean energy production and environment renewal.

There seem to be 2 important factors behind this breakthrough. First, the workers and their communities, through their unions, established momentum for their demands through social and industrial action. Also, they were dealing with a government that wanted to develop a “just transition agreement”.

The Just Transition deal “… replaces subsidies to the coal industry with a sustainable development plan. Financially viable mines can remain open, but ten pits and open cast mines are expected to close by the end of the year, with the loss of 1,677 jobs. The deal covers eight companies with 12 production units in four regions of Spain. The biggest employer is state owned mining company HUNOSA, with 1,056 employees.

“The highly detailed agreement has been praised by unions as a model, and provides a package of benefits to miners and their communities.

“About 60 per cent of miners – those age 48 and older, or with 25 years’ service – will be able to take early retirement. Younger miners will receive a redundancy payment of €10,000, as well as 35 days’ pay for every year of service. Miners with asbestosis will receive an additional payment of €26,000. …

“An action plan will be created for each mining community, including plans for developing renewable energy and improving energy efficiency, and investing in and developing new industries.

Obviously, there is still much to learn about any flow-on effects to the “financially viable” mines and the damage they will continue to cause.

In Australia

The Mining and Energy Division of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU) released a report on “Just Transition” as it might apply to Australia’s mining industry and the workers threatened by its decline.

Of course “a report” is not the same as a negotiated “just transition agreement”, its still a big deal, for several reasons.

First, it is not straightforward for a union and its members – under pressure from a declining industry base and workforce – to develop a strategy on climate change. Members and their families can now draw on new, rich material to work out their campaigns for the immediate future.

The report says:

“Coal-fired power industry workers and their communities have provided Australia with energy for many decades. For this, they have also suffered from working and living in polluted or dangerous environments. In the absence of sufficient policy-making forethought and attention, they will now also carry the heaviest costs of the new national climate change priorities.

“Those costs would show up as unwelcome early retirements, unemployment, underemployment, insecure employment and work that is lower paid, less safe and less skilled. Overall, these produce reduced incomes and personal assets, both before and after retirement.”

Put in another way, leaving transition to the elusive charms of the “free market” will be a disastrous dead end for workers who have worked their guts out to provide what is taken for granted by the rest of the population.

Not just bread, we’ll take the bakery too?

The common thinking in most of the Australian union movement says that investment (and disinvestment) decisions are a matter for the employer, even when we don’t like it, as we often do.

With some exceptions, climate change has not been union business in the practical sense that it should or can be negotiated. Making sure that unions can represent workers in decisions about disinvestment (“defossilisation”), new job-creating investment based on renewables, and private or public ownership, is quite rare.

The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union has been an exception. In 2008, the Union released a ground breaking report that formed the basis of its ongoing negotiations with the then Labor government, especially in reference to its industry development policy.

Of course, the broken rules of Australia’s Fair Work Act 2009 prohibit investment decisions from being the subject matter of negotiations for the purposes of making an agreement. This prohibition must be removed and replaced with workers’ rights, including through their unions, to make claims and negotiate arrangements that protect and advance their interests during transition away from fossil fuel dependency.

As the CFMMEU report says:

Currently, law, policy and practice allow owners of coal-fired power stations to make all decisions regarding closures: when and how it suits them. The clear inference is that those decisions should be left only to the owners’ commercial considerations. This was evident in the South Australian cases but also, in 2017, for the Hazelwood plant in Victoria. Further, those owners have no social responsibilities to workers or host communities beyond the scarce regulatory requirements.

The “Concrete Proposals” in the report (page 15) are, potentially, a big step forward to ensure a strong role for unions and their workers in setting the pace of transition and, also, to ensure that workers and their communities will not be victims of it. The emphasis on tripartite processes is quite European and is understandable. Tripartite industry processes were not a gross failure, despite inadequacies, during the 1980’s.

Changing the workplace and industrial laws to strengthen workers’ rights – including the right to strike – will change the rules about “just transition” to reverse climate change, not just reversing inequality on the wages front.

“New rules” campaigns come together for the elections

Rapid action on climate and “changing the rules” in Australia’s grossly unfair workplace and industrial laws will be 2 of the major threshold issues for the next national election. (See this, for example.) The National Conference of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) coming up in December will also also have to deal with them.

The “Changing the Rules” theme is catching on. There are so many sets of broken rules, as I have commented on before. And most of them do interact with each other in various ways.

And we have this 15 year old’s insight all the way from Helsinki, Finland

…  Greta Thunberg urged marchers to fight for the major systemic changes that experts have said are necessary to limit greenhouse gas emissions and avert a looming climate catastrophe.

“Today we use 100 million barrels of oil every day. There are no politics to change that. There are no rules to keep that oil in the ground, so we can’t save the world by playing by the rules because the rules have to change. Everything needs to change and it has to start today,” declared the Swedish teenager, who traveled to the capital city of her nation’s Nordic neighbor for Saturday’s massive march.

Nails it.

Changing the Rules: new powers for workers, or for institutions?

In this podcast I discuss some clues about behind the scenes discussions between leaders of the ACTU and the ALP. Right now, behind the scenes meetings are discussing the new industrial and workplace relations rules that might be introduced by a new ALP government. This activity will continue right up to ALP National Conference in December, and afterwards.

Our focus is on a recent speech by ACTU Secretary Sally McManus, and a recent interview with ALP spokesperson for Workplace Relations, Brendan O’Connor. These provide some clues about whats happening now.

We also discuss: is this something that activists in the Change Rules campaign should discuss and speak up about?

Understanding its reality is the first activist step towards preparing for the next economic crisis

Global economy is facing a ‘perfect storm’

BIS fears that increasing protectionism could reverse decades of progress.
http://www.smh.com.au/business/the-economy/global-economy-is-facing-a-perfect-storm-warns-bis-chief-20180827-p4zzzq.html?btis

You don’t have to agree with or understand all of the stuff in this summary of what one of the major architects of “our” twenty first century capitalism is saying, except that another economic crisis is just around the corner. It will dovetail with the destruction of more climate change.

Among the experts I understand the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) is the international bank of banks.

The crisis they expect will have very serious consequences for any Australian government, the Change the Rules campaign, and all Australians. It will reach into every nook and cranny of all communities of the world.

Every single democratic and social justice campaign will also be affected. All will have to work out on whose side they will stand.

Will corporations and governments be permitted so much control over the handling of the crisis that the recovery that might follow is for them only?

Will campaigns like “Change the Rules” concede major demands that give more control to workers to win the even tougher struggles that the crisis will bring? Or, will it allow new control in the hands of institutions like the Fair Work Commission to resolve conflict through “consensus” and “even handedness” and “fairness”?

This is union activist business and part of their business is to make sure, even when union and political leaders are sluggish about it, that the problem is discussed among members and potential members.

Of course this should include discussions with a prospective Labor government and the Greens – including at the local level – that drive towards a government that enables much more power in the hands of workers to deal with the destructive effects of the crisis on their lives.

Understanding the reality of another crisis enables the possibilities of a different resolution to last time, a resolution that enabled continued destruction of the environment and more inequality … and an even more destructive next crisis.

The challenge for all genuinely democratic forces is how to transfer power into the hands of the majority and to therefore break the cycle.

This means the development and popular spread of an alternative programme of change for the majority – economic, political and environmental. Much of the content of this programme already exists in the mainly separated demands of the thousands of organisations that are struggling in so many different, and mainly separate ways, against the pressures on their lives, including our precious environment.

Australians could well look towards the largely coherent programme of the Corbyn forces in the British Labour Party for an example of what is meant. And examples exist in our own history. Both the ALP and the Greens have some good material in parts of their programmes. But both end up wanting to maintain the system that causes the big problems for the majority.

Change the Rules and the Right to Strike at the ACTU Congress

soundcloud.com/radio-skid-row/don-sutherland-discusses-actu-congress-2018-6-july-2018

Last Friday Caroline Pryor and I, on “Workers Radio”, discussed the forthcoming ACTU Congress. We focussed on the “Change the Rules” Campaign and, in particular, the “right to strike”. In doing so we reviewed the success of a recent enterprise bargaining strike by Downers workers in the Hunter Valley that quadrupled union membership.

Some thoughts on “the right to strike” and the Change the Rules Campaign – Part 2

The “right to strike” versus employer opposition and Laborist naivete

The “right to strike” is one of two (see below) demands that would change the “balance of power” towards working people in a “fair dinkum” way.

The FWA09 restricts workers’ right to strike so severely it is almost meaningless against an array of powers provided to employers to control grievances, disputes of all kinds, industrial award changes, and enterprise bargaining. In effect, the FWA09 denies the “right to strike”.

The right to strike is the countervailing power to the employers’ unrestricted right to withdraw their capital or to transform its use from productive activity to non-productive forms of profiteering, or to re-locate it in another country.

In struggling for a genuine “right to strike” the labour movement is seeking to change a law that a Labor government established in 2009, and that its union leaders consented to. At that time, most activists in that great struggle went to sleep, believing that what Labor was delivering was adequate. Those who did try to explain the serious shortfalls of FWA09 were criticised (not “team players”) and marginalized. That minority have now been proven to be correct.

There is a lot of other detail, also quite important, that will be contested terrain in the months ahead but also perhaps more amenable to agreement. For example, in enterprise bargaining FWA09 empowers employers to use just a few workers (who may not even work under the proposed agreement) to create an enterprise agreement that will cover many other workers who do work under the Agreement. Such enterprise agreements reduce wages, conditions and rights against previously established standards. Also, agreement might be reached to restrict or prevent employers from taking on workers as “self-employed”, individualized workers to drive down wages and conditions.

Laborist discomfort with the “right to strike”: tensions to emerge

Again today, not everyone is comfortable about changing the rules to enable an unrestricted “right to strike”. Some, especially in the parliamentary wing of the ALP  will argue that this change will harm the ALP’s election prospects. They also have some supporters in the leadership of the union movement, at both peak and mid-levels.

Generally speaking, they are comfortable with a minimalist programme of change to the FWA09, one that does not upset the employers or the voting public too much. They believe that the antagonisms between workers and their unions on the one hand, and employers on the other, are not fundamental or severe and can be managed with minimal conflict.

Instead, the minimalists prioritize more power to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to arbitrate disputes, some modest rights for unions to access workplaces and create disputes for arbitration, and tougher limits on employers using their “lock out” and “termination of agreement” powers in enterprise bargaining.

It should be noted and discussed that the recent and important ACTU pamphlet, “The system is broken- Big Business has too much power”, does not mention the “right to strike” issue in “changing the rules”.[1] Restoring stronger arbitration power to the Fair Work Commission does not give more power to workers.

Usually, the advocates of minimalist and technocratic change, will invoke “pragmatism” as the logic for this approach.

But really, their “pragmatism” is the height of “naïve idealism” because it leaves fundamental employer power intact and assumes that employers will not take advantage of that, and that workers’ power is not necessary for the FWC to treat workers fairly. The minimalist approach assumes that workers themselves cannot exercise their power democratically and effectively, and therefore cannot give their unions more power.

In the real world, a more fundamental reform programme is necessary. Fundamental reform enables a more decisive shift in the balance of power towards workers and their unions at both workplace and industry levels.

The unfettered right to strike is the most important element of reform, including in Award based bargaining (see below).

Direct strike power to workers enables workers, including through their unions, to do what unions were originally formed to do: limit and prevent the employers’ use of the competition threat to freeze and drive down wages, conditions and rights. It gives effect to the democratic idea that workers themselves, in their unions or in other types of combination, should be enabled to exercise their potential power against the powers of the employers. Thus, workers themselves are more in charge of their present and future.

Also, it brings Australia into real alignment with agreed ILO minimum standards on workers’ rights to organise and bargaining collectively.[2]

Bargaining rights: enterprise bargaining, “supply chain bargaining” and Award bargaining

In some union discussions “supply chain bargaining” appears to be the multi -employer bargaining that is quite popular. As one form of “multi-employer” bargaining it is not objectionable, provided its serious limits are not ignored or glossed over.

In a “supply chain” the focus is on a group of employers who are in “cooperation” with each other to deliver a product or a service to its ultimate customer. However, first there is usually one employer who is the main controller of everything else in the chain. Also, each employer link in the chain is likely to be in competition with an employer who is not in the chain. The competitor not in the supply chain might like to be and can offer lower wage costs as the competitive edge to get into it.  Or, the competitor might be in a competitive supply chain able to deliver the same or a similar product to a similar or the same type of customer at a lower wages standard.

Therefore, there are real limits on how “supply chain bargaining” deals with the problem of the downward pressure on wages etc that is created by uncontrolled competition between employers in the same industry or type of business, nor how it deals with the 21st century reality of global supply chains.

On the other hand, the enabling of a new form of Award based bargaining (that includes a “right to strike”) is a big step toward limiting, maybe preventing in some circumstances, the employers’ competition power.  How changes to Awards are processed these days is a big part of the broken rules of the FWA09.

Every effort should be made to bring together experienced and new worker activists to discuss how to advance the fundamental and comprehensive approach. Those in the parliamentary Labor Party and unions who seek, as they have before, to dilute proposals to establish a legal “right to strike”, can be challenged and pushed back.

Other significant factors that shape this struggle for genuine and fundamental strengthening of workers’ powers

There are other factors that do influence how this struggle might evolve in the months and years ahead. One of them is the rapid change in the composition of the workforce. There is also union density currently running at about 12-14% overall. This has to be taken into account in developing programme, priorities, strategy and tactics, and shape how the “the right to strike” can be achieved. Just calling for the “right to strike” in the most militant manner possible will simply not be adequate for the situation we face. And, there is the timing of the national election.

Sally McManus (ACTU Secretary), and other union leaders who have stressed the continuation of the campaign after the next election, are correct to do so. If the Labor Party wins, including with Greens support, a continued campaign will require a clear and determined strategy very different to the collapse of the Your Rights at Work campaign over 2007-9. It will not be adequate to declare, as in 2009, that there is “unfinished business” and then do nothing about it.

The labour movement’s strategy must aim to bring 21st century workers into the experience of struggle, with a new foundation in which they discover directly in their own workplaces and across their industries and regions, the great untapped and democratic potential of their power in combination. The workers themselves, including through their union membership, reveal the power of any appeal to “join their union”.

[1] The “right to strike” issue is put forward in the more comprehensive ACTU Campaign Kit at pp 34-35: here: https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/actuonline/pages/814/attachments/original/1521588484/ctr_campaignkit2018_digital.pdf?1521588484

[2] Andrew Stewart provides a summary of the issues at stake re the ILO standards here: http://communitywebs.org/labourhistory/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Right-to-strike.pdf

Some thoughts on “the right to strike” and the Change the Rules Campaign – Part 1

What is real power for workers? It’s time for a sharper focus on ”the right to strike”

The Australian union movement’s Change the Rules Campaign (CtR) aims to reform the Fair Work Act 09 (FWA09) in favour of workers and their unions. Launched just one year ago, CtR jumped to a new level over several recent May Days with public actions in cities and towns all over Australia. For me, 2 great highlights were the magnificent and inspiring march and rally in Melbourne on May 9th, and the action taken on May 1st itself by the ACT Trades and Labour Council. The ACT Unions were the only Australian labour council to take action on May 1st itself.

The campaign is growing. It features mainstream media publicity, workplace and local community organization, similar to the Rights at Work campaign that started in 2005, and the discussions at the Change the Rules Activists and other Facebook pages, as it moves to a new stage.

This new stage also moves towards the national election. In that context, the ALP, the Greens and, of course, the union movement itself will intensify the discussion about how the campaign can help defeat the Liberal-National Party government. And, the employer organizations, specific powerful employers in their own right, the mainstream media, and the Liberal-National Party (LNP) government will sharpen and escalate their opposition to new rights for workers and their unions. They believe that a popular majority can be frightened into rejecting a genuine shift in power based on a “right to strike”.

The “right to strike” and multi-employer bargaining, including Award based bargaining rights, will be 2 important indicators of tensions within the labour movement. Such tensions are inevitable, normal and healthy, and have a long history.

The forthcoming ACTU Congress and ALP Federal Conference in Adelaide a couple of weeks later will probably show more of how this tension unfolds.

How the newly emerging activists and leaders at the mid-level of the union movement will handle the issues at stake is unknown. But how they do handle the situation will shape the campaign and the years ahead. Many emerging activist leaders at the middle level will enter this struggle with no personal experience of being in a strike.

The Meaning and Impact of the Right to Strike on union repression and Union Growth

The FWA09 restricts workers’ right to strike so severely it is almost meaningless against an array of powers provided to employers to control grievances, disputes of all kinds, industrial award changes, and enterprise bargaining. In effect, the FWA09 denies the “right to strike”.

Therefore, against this, all Workers must have the right and capacity to strike  they are members of unions, or not.

The right and capacity to strike is the countervailing power of workers to the employers’ unrestricted right to withdraw their capital, or to move it from productive activity to non-productive forms of profiteering, or to re-locate it in another country.

A new government must repeal the extra laws that have been imposed to repress, penalize and restrict the democratic rights of construction and allied workers, including shutting down the Building and Construction Industry Commission.

The ideas that follow assume that Australia’s legal system continues under the Corporations power of the Constitution and not the Conciliation and Arbitration power. [1]

The “right to strike” for workers and their unions should apply to a range of real situations, like as follows:

  1. Their boss underpays them or breaches an award, statute, or enterprise agreement, or imposes redundancies, or assaults their dignity by bullying, harassing, and forcing unsafe work practices. This is the most important application of the “right to strike” for union re-growth. In such disputes, when workers have a strike power, workers themselves re-discover the logic of “being union” and re-growing union membership. The parties to a dispute can determine whether the dispute goes to the FWC in the given circumstances.
  2. Negotiating an agreement / enterprise agreement, including multi-employer agreements (e.g. in a supply chain), or a dispute that is active across a group of employers.
  3. Negotiating an award improvement or with a group of employers;
  4. Giving solidarity support to other workers; current penal powers – fines, common law damages, the threat of jail, and so on must be withdrawn, especially the “secondary boycott” prohibition (so-called, actually a solidarity action):
  5. Governments do something that damages workers’ job security or standard of living or democratic participation in the society
  6. In all contexts workers must have the right to strike for demands and negotiations that enable them more effective say in the role and purpose of their work. This extends democracy into the workplace, against dictatorial corporate / executive and Board of Directors control.

[1] The Howard government’s changes in 2005 shifted the head of power to the Corporations Power (S. 51.xx) in the Constitution instead of the Conciliation and Arbitration Power (s.51.xxxv). Under the latter, although there was no legal right to strike through most of the 20th century, there was a sort of “right” to create a dispute (available to workers and bosses) that was either real (ie industrial action or the threat of it) or “paper”. This “right” activated a mindset among workers about being able to use industrial action to get the dispute to the Commission for conciliation and  or arbitration, and thus put pressure on both the employer(s) and the Commission for a positive resolution. What does this mean for Change the Rules demands?  There has been zero talk about switching the law back to the s.51.xxxv underpinning. In other words, Howard’s law – ie Corporations Power – is left unchallenged, just as J Gillard manoeuvred for and achieved in 2007-9. The bosses love that.

Part 2 to follow

https://soundcloud.com/radio-skid-row/don-sutherland-discusses-wage-theft-reports-1-december-2017.

Here On “Workers Radio”, Caroline and I discuss the latest reports of wage theft and hyper exploitation of aboriginal workers in remote Australia and meat workers in northern NSW. WE ALSO START A SERIES OF DISCUSSIONS ABOUT WAGES SUPPRESSION IN AUSTRALIA, INCLUDING NOT JUST WHATS HAPPENING BUT WHY. This discussion will continue over the coming weeks and will connect to the ACTU’s Living Wage Claim to be heard as part of the National Wage Review as it continues in 2018. Please discuss and share. Also send comments, questions and information to workersradio2017@gmail.com .

Australia’s Penal Powers for the 21st Century

White Australia was born as a penal colony. And throughout its history since there have been plenty of laws that fine, impose financial damages and lock up both the original inhabitants of the land and the working people of all nations who came here to make a living. Those laws swing into play whenever landowners and employers needed a government instrument to protect their profit making and wealth accumulation from the collective action of aboriginal communities and their supporters, and also combinations of workers whether members of unions or not.  (For more on this read Jack Hutson’s From Penal Colony to Penal Powers.)

This story (click here) describes how Labor’s Fair Work Act of 2009 replicates that history so that it systematically prevents workers from exercising their collective power in the twenty first century.

Some of us who have been around for a long time know very well that there is NO END to the hypocrisy of employers when it comes to the exercise of their power. Employers like Bluescope Steel, in their own right and through their associations like the AIGroup, AMMA, and the Business Council of Australia, constantly whinge about the role of outside third parties in industrial relations.For them, “outside third party interference”means unions, especially those that coordinate effective worker action across industries, and a Fair Work Commission with genuine democratic powers to ensure that workers human rights to organize and take collective action are protected.

But, they made sure, when they negotiated the Fair Work Act to replace Howard’s Workchoices in 2008-9, they kept and re-energized that extra third party power that would punish workers for exercising the only power they have – collective industrial action. And, what is more, new ALP negotiators and certain (not all) union leaders let them have it.

What we see here, as we have seen in other disputes, is the PENAL PROVISIONS OF THE TWENTY FIRST CENTURY.

The penal provisions of the 20th century were neutralized in big disputes through the 1960’s that culminated with the national strike when Tramway Union official Clarrie O’Shea was jailed for refusing to pay fines imposed by the courts because union members were taking industrial action in defiance of the so-called “bans clauses” of the day.

The industrial strategy that led to that great union and democratic victory was ten years in the making.

The Australian workers of the twenty first century need a strategy that defeats the penal powers of the twenty first century. It is all about a deeper meaning of democracy than the very limited form that too many of us are sort of comfortable with these days.

Electing a genuine reforming Labor government backed up by the Greens and genuine pro worker and democratic independents to get rid of these undemocratic industrial laws will make a difference.But this was never on the radar in recent Federal elections.

So, that will not happen unless it is part of a conscious strategy that creates a massive and independent movement of workers that makes it impossible for Labor and Green politicians to dodge their responsibilities.

GREEN BANS FOREVER … AGAIN!

This thought looms because of the lead letter in today’s Sydney Morning Herald. The letter, that I cut and paste below, laments the steady destruction of Sydney’s parks and green spaces and associated amenities. As we all should. The writer wonders who should control decisions about these in the face of the profit hungry developers.
In Sydney’s own history we find the perfect answer: the builders labourers’ greens bans that saved so much of Sydney against the ancestors of these profit hungry developers in the 60 s and 70s and occasionally since.
In brief, a green ban is workers taking industrial action that puts a ban on a project that might or actually is destroying the environment and the human enjoyment of that environment, either as residents in it or as passers-by or visitors to it. The workers combine through their union to say, “We will not supply labour to the site and we will act with the community to prevent rich property developers and / or their governments from trying to do so.”
For more on these and the democratic processes that the New South Wales builders labourers, through their union, insisted on, read Green Bans, Red Union by Meredith and Verity Burgmann and Jack Mundey’s autobiography. Or click here. Or here.
Green bans required 2 things: a democratic decision of the community that wants them that is then presented to the union, and a democratic decision of the construction workers to agree to carry out the ban.
The capacity to organize can deliver the first.
But, IN THESE TIMES, the second, requires, as well as the capacity to organize, a determination to disobey repressive anti strike laws in Labor’s Fair Work Act, and to stand with construction workers against the Turnbull- Abbott government’s laws to set up a special Commission (the Australian Building and Construction Commission – ABCC) to repress and police construction workers and their friends and associates.
The ABCC laws are now before the Australian parliament and, because they are strongly opposed, they are potentially the trigger for the right-wing government to dissolve the parliament and run a new election.
These laws intend to, among other things, stop, detain, interrogate and imprison construction workers and their friends in the community for doing things like standing up against profit hungry developers. (For a plain language summary of the laws and links to more information: click here.)
Yet, many in eastern Sydney, the scene of civil protests against the destruction of Anzac Parade, and the northern suburbs (not all I stress, but I mention these because that is where the author of the SMH letter comes from) who lament the loss of green spaces and want more democratic control over the decision-making, either like or couldn’t care less about Turnbull’s lies about construction workers and their unions.
Such irony. These lies and the associated media propaganda are the means to persuade a majority of Australians and parliamentarians that special repressive powers against construction are necessary.
The powerful property developer 1%érs are the direct beneficiaries of these proposed laws. Metaphorically, who knows maybe “for real”, the government is in their pocket.
To all lovers of Australia’s natural habitat and historical buildings: if you don’t want the property developers to have the power to do what they are doing then you must stand up with construction workers – today’s builders labourers – to stop Turnbull’s ABCC laws and ABCC election. Green bans are socially useful democratic actions.
Here is today’s Sydney Morning Herald letter:
“Who is really looking after our urban public space?
“Elizabeth Farrelly’s article (“Parks and Trees make way for profit”, April 14), in highlighting the loss, degradation to Sydney’s public space amenity poses the obvious question: who is really looking after our urban public space?
“Growing cities like Sydney are under constant pressure from the demands of development.
“Loss of public amenity adjacent to redeveloped harbour front land (for example, Barangaroo), adjoining parks such as the Botanic Gardens or along historic majestic major boulevards like Anzac Parade form the unfortunate casualties of an absence of both custodianship and advocacy by an appropriate public body.
“Since the early 1990s, this publicly staffed office working within the-then Department of Planning has been outsourced largely to private consultants.
Hence developers and their consultants, “push the envelope”, including incursions into the public space.
It doesn’t take that much imagination to conceive of the potential conflict of interest that design consultants risk in having both public and private clients.
Possibly it’s high time to reconsider resurrecting in a contemporary guise, the role of civic authority of “city designers” to ensure both the quantity and quality of open public space commensurate to a dynamic, sustainable “global city” like Sydney.
Cleveland Rose Dee Why

From “Pig Iron Bob” to “The Mad Monk”

Once upon a time it was “Pig Iron Bob”, and justly deserved it was. I am talking about Robert Menzies former Liberal Prime Minister and devoted anti-unionist, among other craven things. He who begat in a political sense Malcolm Fraser (who happily wanted to jail union leaders in 1978 and thereabouts for being strong and intelligent), John Howard, and now Tony Abbott.
But what will we call Abbott? “The Mad Monk” does not quite fit in this new situation, especially in the light of his Royal Commission into unionism, as it truly is, and his swing last week through Japan, South Korea, and China.
Today’s Sydney Morning Herald carries commentary by John Garnaut about all of this. Garnaut refers to the Menzies backdrop to the Abbott free trade expeditIon and like most others, including Labor’s own free trade champion Craig Emerson, finds in favour of the Abbott effort although with some fault lines.
It’s not a surprise but Garnaut neglects why Menzies’ was called “Pig Iron Bob.” Because, as Deputy Prime Minister and Attorney General (Brandis and Abetz know it well) he launched a war against waterside workers who followed their consciences in 1937 to refuse to load pig iron that Menzies said should go to Japan. The when wharfie sand their leaders KNEW that it would be coming back from fascist Japan as weapons of war. And they were dead right. Millions were slaughtered by Japan in Korea and China, and other parts of East Asia as well. And tens of thousands of Australians, mainly workers, did also, defending our peoples from something that a Liberal icon had complied with. (Note that in the discussions with Japan Abbott suggests that Japan can re-arm. )
Abbott’s ruling class Royal Commission aims to destroy such union activity and its underpinning – a profound collective intelligence about fairness, justice, social progress and peace.
So far, there is no sign of ANY FAIRNESS, for Working Australians or their counterparts in Japan, Korea, and China, in these so-called free trade deals. There are no ILO core labour standards let alone arrangements to ensure they are complied with. Labour standards will be left in the hands of those workers determined enough to struggle for them against their so-called masters, their employers.
Each of these free trade deals rest upon the extra exploitation of workers across all 4 countries, and seek the continual handover of democratic sovereignty to the enhanced power of transnational corporations.
Against this, we must struggle and in doing so discover anew the possibilities of a society not based upon the exploitation of humans and of nature.