An intriguing email landed in my inbox on Friday.
In two weeks’ time, the Australian Labor Party will meet for their National Conference, where they will thrash out their policies for the 2007 federal election.
We have seven days to make sure the ALP know how much we are counting on them to make fair and democratic IR policy their top priority. Use our website to email Labor Leader Kevin Rudd, Deputy Julia Gillard, and the Labor team now!
Together, unions and Rights at Work supporters have over the past 18 months decided on some guiding principles for fair workplace laws. These include: no AWAs, collective bargaining if the majority of workers want it, protection from unfair treatment and dismissal, a decent safety net, and the right for all workers to be represented by a union if they choose.
Email Mr Rudd and his team and ensure this important agenda for fair and democratic workplaces is at the top of their plans. Australia and Australians have plenty of big issues – IR needs to be number one.
Should you wish to, and I have, you can send an email via the ACTU’s campaign page.
But what’s the broader political significance of this campaign?
Joe Hockey, when not playing Ruddster’s fellow former Channel Seven television personality, is supposed to be delivering the government’s hard hitting attack lines on IR. I can’t personally work out why it does make any difference if the ALP and Unions have spent $100 million on the anti-WorkChoices campaign, even though it appears more likely that one of Uncle Joe’s staffers worked it out on the back of a napkin. I suppose it’s meant to drive home the “evil Union bosses in brown cardigans out of touch with TEH WORKERS and plotting to raise interest rates” message, but no one who’s in a Union would be in any doubt that Unions oppose WorkChoices. Sure, the government has to try to hold on to some of the unionised vote, but given how bloody difficult it is to actually be in a union in many workplaces these days, I very much doubt that there are that many union members who are open to such tactics – which really made sense only in the long gone days of compulsory unionism.
The “faceless union bosses dictate policy” message isn’t going to fly.
In fact, what the email, and the website campaign suggests, is that there’s an appreciable difference in policy priorities between the ACTU and federal Labor. Big business, and numerous commentators rattling on about “New Labor” and “economic management” have been on the front foot since day one of the Rudd era pushing the ALP to take a softer line on IR. I doubt that this will have much effect, but it will have some, as the clamour will add impetus to an election year impulse to make some concessions to the business agenda – probably not with regard to AWAs, but quite possibly with regard to unfair dismissal provisions. We might not even get the detail, and the detail will be crucial, from the National Conference. But all this, and the evident concern that WorkChoices might not receive the campaign attention it deserves, does suggest a real concern among unions to lobby Labor to hold the line. We live in interesting times, but we certainly don’t live in times when unions can readily dictate policy to the Labor party. That’s perhaps not the worst thing in the world, either electorally or in principle, but it does underline both the old fashioned and shopworn nature of the government’s attack and the necessity for those of us who are concerned to see justice in the workplace to keep our eyes firmly on the ball.