Tuesday, 1 May 2007
It is unfair that the ALP has to have its National Conference months before an election since there is never a time the party is more self-absorbed and therefore unappealing to the electorate.
Labor conference was dominated by the two debates that were largely about itself – industrial relations and uranium. The first is about its relevance in Australian society, the second is about how that relevance works itself internally through the factions.
The IR debate is mainly an internal one for the labour movement. If Australian workers are troubled by Howard’s IR reforms then they would have already been feeling vulnerable with Keating’s moves to end centralised bargaining a decade before. They could even go before that with unions rolling over while Hawke and Whitlam cut tariffs with the loss of thousands of jobs. To be brutal about it, one could go back to the 1960s when the Australian labour movement abandoned the only serious commitment it ever gave the Australian worker, the White Australia Policy.
Nowadays Australian workers vote for the relevance of unions with their feet as seen by the decline in union membership occurring even before Howard’s reforms. It is obviously far more comfortable for the union movement to see their decline in terms of a legislative attack from the coalition than its real history.
It is also more comfortable for the union movement to see its decline as a matter of concern to the Australian electorate and interpret polling with that bias. Given the real erosion of worker rights that anyone directly affected would have already experienced before Workchoices, the negative polling on IR reforms more likely reflect a negative view on the Howard government itself and the exhaustion of its limited program. In a decade of government, Howard had only two ideas, a tax that Keating had already proposed and IR reforms that Keating had already brought into being.
Rudd’s proposed new body Fair Work Australia is by its very name, more for political campaigning (externally and internally) than a change in the industrial landscape. The constitutional issue over powers of the new body should not be a problem because there is little that it is likely to do. Within days of proposing it, WA’s Carpenter was insisting that even if AWA’s were abolished, individual workplace agreements would still have to be in place at least for the mining industry and Gillard was very emphatically affirming that this would be the case. What is interesting is to see the flight of trade union bureaucrats from the ACTU to the ALP looking for a job. Howard claims this is a sign of rising union influence in the ALP, it is actually a sign of their decline.
Posted by The Piping Shrike on Tuesday, 1 May 2007.Filed under State of the parties