Impending crisis, the broken rules of the system v the 90%

Here, Michael Roberts gives a good overview of the global picture regarding new levels of instability in the economic system. Instability is an intrinsic feature of the capitalists system we live in.

He starts as follows:

The US stock market turned volatile this week and has now erased all the gains made up to now in 2018 in just a week or so.  So much for Trump’s boast that things for rich investors have never been better.  The fall in the US market has been matched by similar drops in the European and Asian stock markets.  The all-world index has had its worst performance since the Euro debt crisis of 2012.

— Read on thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2018/10/25/correction/

What does it mean for Australia?

Australia is affected, and the impact will sharpen in the months ahead as the national election gets closer.

Living in denial is dangerous. Governing in denial is destructive. Campaigning in denial is not very smart.

That does not mean giving up. It does means re-thinking the campaigns we are active in and how we join in them, and bringing others with us. Many of our demands will be just as valid. We will have to be tougher and more united in defending and winning them.

Living … in brief

Among other things, profits and profitability will fall. There will be bankruptcies. If you are a small business employer that possibility is very sharp. If you are a worker with a job, the likelihood that you will lose it or be pressured to take a big cut in wages will escalate. If you are a worker without a job there will be downward pressure on your social welfare entitlements. Just surviving will be tougher and we will have to resist a louder call to blame it on refugees and migrant workers. It will infect our thinking and our social solidarity instincts or, it will make them stronger.

Governing … in brief

The LNP government is preparing to leave the next economic crisis to the market. Deciding to do that takes about 5 minutes and means the government is not in control.

In the meantime, they will seek to get re-elected on the basis of “their record”: current growth numbers, reduced unemployment, and very low strike figures.

Growth as GDP is barely adequate.

Unemployment has fallen. They say, for example Kelly O’Dwyer (the rather shrill and vacuous Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations), that unemployment is at 5%. She is using the volatile nominal figures not the more reliable “trend” figures that say it’s a bit higher. I haven’t seen an interview with her that deals with that.

She also does not talk about underemployment. That is now rising and more entrenched.

Campaigning … brief, but not so brief

On climate change …

Apart from the big and growing campaigns against the Adani mega coal mine there remains no coordinated national campaign. There is rich potential for this in the dozens of small initiatives and mini campaigns.

A thousand flowers blooming, each one in its own paddock, will not be good enough to win the battle to reverse climate change.

On workers rights and Changing the Rules …

The union movement’s campaign to “Change the Rules” (CtR) that seeks more power in the hands of workers to reverse inequality and poverty will be affected by instability and new crisis.

We must factor impending crisis into our strategy. Not to do so would be negligent.

Electoral intervention will not be enough.

This is true for those who want the campaign to be focussed almost entirely on getting a new Labor government. That is, an electoral strategy that focuses on the marginal seats that the Labor Party must win.

If the crisis hits not long after such a government, as it did in 2008-9, that new government – on historical form – will seek that we retreat from our most important demands. They will join with the employers, albeit with some reforms to make retreat “excusable”. Recent and longer history says that the dominant (these days) laborist tendency in our union movement will go along with that.

Compliant industrial strategy will not be enough

The CtR’s current industrial strategy is to comply with the rules (even though a percentage who attended last week’s rallies did not do that) and then whinge about them through social media and national union leader media appearances.

This is a dead end strategy because it leaves both union and non union workers fully exposed to the bankruptcies and wage cut demands that go with economic crisis.

The champions of the dead end approach are also champions of rules that restore arbitration powers to the Fair Work Commission and inspectorial and prosecuting powers to the Fair Work Ombudsman. They oppose a comprehensive “right to strike” that puts power into the hands of workers, union and non union alike.

A prospective new Labor government relies on the “dead end” champions as it prepares to win the election with the focus on the ALP National Conference in December.

A defiant strategy: electoral and industrial action before and after the national election

For those who want an strong, interventionist industrial strategy for CtR that interacts with the electoral strategy and also escalates the priority on the “right to strike”, the impending economic and climate crisis is also a big deal.

If we are “fair dinkum”, the need to change the rules by defying them – a big part of Australian history – will rise.

There is a serious option: a minimum wage increase

The National Minimum Wage Review starts soon. The Fair Work Commission will announce a timetable at any time in the next few weeks. The Review process will then start and traverse through to June 2019. This is the period leading up to and probably just after the national election.

In the next few weeks, the ACTU will prepare and present a proposal for a minimum pay increase by taking all minimum wages – the statutory and award based minimums closer to a “living wage”.

Lets start discussing that proposal now even, if necessary, before it is formalised.

Lets build an industrial campaign, reinforced by our efforts in the key electorates, that puts pressure on employer organisations, the government and the Commission to accept that proposal.

Otherwise they will dominate the public debate with the economic c risks logic of 0% increase.

All methods and tactics of campaigning can be harnessed into such a campaign.

It can be designed to appeal to all of those workers who are not in unions but who try to live on the minimum wage and those whose thieving employers pay below the minimum.

The 90% in charge

The modest efforts that the Rudd Labor government produced in 2008-9 to deal with the economic crash back then will be inadequate. They complied with the financial management rules of the day. But we know the rules of the finance system are stacked for the 1-10%, even more today. They must not be allowed to dominate “governing” as the crisis strikes and takes effect. Unless the 90 % take charge, the 90%, and the natural world we are dependent on, will suffer horrendously.

But we also have the rich working class potential to develop and win an alternative.

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 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