There is a moment in Keating’s seminal interview on Lateline when the old teeth-puller starts to come over a bit mushy.

It comes when he is explaining why Workchoices will have a negative effect on productivity:

If you go to 200 or 300 people in a factory […] and come to a three or four year bargain to improve productivity and share it between wages and profits you’ve got a good chance of getting productivity from the whole enterprise. But if you just take one person at a time, bring them into the boss’s office and cut their wages, there’s no chance of getting any productivity. That’s why trend productivity is now rapidly on the way down.

But who would have been the ones under Keating’s system that would have negotiated a three to four year bargain with the work-force? None other than the unions, who had just had their teeth pulled out by Keating and were left “dying on the vine”. This was the problem with his enterprise model: once unions had been pushed aside, there was nobody to conduct enterprise bargaining and the move to individual contracts was inevitable even before Workchoices.

It was also why, after spending an hour claiming every feature of the current economic success was due to his structural reforms, Keating was careful to avoid taking credit for a negative consequence, the removal of an active union agent to push through productivity. As ALP Senator Nick Sherry notes in Rudd’s briefing document leaked to the government, Howard’s IR changes were too recent to have any real effect.

Having wound down the union movement, no Labor leader can seriously talk about a programme to improve productivity these days and Rudd has been found out. In terms of electoral impact, this is really the flip-side of the IR debate and given that the government has no alternative productivity strategy, it is unlikely to make much impact. Noticeably The Australian avoided mentioning that the significance of industrial relations as an electoral issue in its latest Newspoll continued to decline to middling importance. Rudd will just have to grin and bear it and hope for more news from the AEC.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Wednesday, 20 June 2007.

Filed under State of the parties

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