So what is Howard for?

Friday, 4 May 2007 

It is no surprise that within two days of Labor’s negotiations with the industry supposed to be most opposed to the abolition of AWA’s, the mining sector, there was already talk of an agreement. What was the basis of it? To return to the preWorkchoice arrangements of individual agreements with safeguards. This is also the basis on which Howard has announced his ‘battler’ clause today.

If the mining industry, the ALP and Howard can all reach common ground so quickly, what is this about? At the heart of IR was less one of substance between the two parties but actually two internal morale-boosting campaigns of their own supporters on which the public, eventually, has taken a view. In terms of electoral chances, despite ACTU delusions, IR was not central and the immediate electoral effect of the back-down could be compared to Howard’s pragmatism in 2004 on MPs super. Howard must be hoping that Rudd will believe the ACTU that the sidelining of unions is a key electoral concern and make it central to a losing election campaign.

But there is a key difference to 2004. Howard could be pragmatic then because there were key positions, such as supporting the US alliance in Iraq, that his own base stood for and much of the electorate ultimately agreed with. This time IR was the key position. If people were irritated with Workchoice without being directly affected it was because nobody could see what it was for. Even business was unhappy about politicising a decline in union power that had already occurred. Howard’s attack on Labor’s proposals was meant to rally the business community behind him but they almost immediately started negotiating with Labor and could end up preferring their less disruptive way of managing union decline. This backdown may temporarily alleviate an issue with the electorate but undermines further the coherence of Howard’s own base.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Friday, 4 May 2007.

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