Workers Online
Workers Online
Workers Online
  Issue No 2 Official Organ of LaborNet 26 February 1999  




Campaign Diary

Carr And The Unions

By Peter Lewis

No-one would accuse the Premier and the labour movement of being bossum buddies, but their fortunes are inextricably linked.


Bob Carr: New Labor?

When Bob Carr ventured into Trades Hall to launch Workers Online last week, there was tension in the air.

Just days after his private views on the union movement were pasted across the Bulletin magazine, the Premier outlined his credentials as a Labor leader to an audience more loyal to the Party than the man.

While Carr handled a couple of isolated heckles with humour, his reception was restrained, indicative of an Administration that has been characterised by mutual arms-length dealings.

For the Labor Government, the relationship with the unions is inherently difficult, trying to hang onto the mainstream while recognising the debt owed to the trade union movement in any election campaign.

For Carr, this has been fuelled by policy differences over a range of issues, from police dismissals to health budgets, education policy to management of DOCS.

It climaxed in Treasurer Michael Egan's failure to win support for power privatisation at the 1997 State Conference, ensuring it would be the Coalition who would carry that electoral millstone to the polls.

That Carr's private frustrations with the union movement have come to light in the Bulletin profile is not surprising. As Carr himself admitted at the Workers Online launch -- "they only quoted the mild terms".

But the public and private friction should not overshadow the achievements in the trade union movement's core area of interest, industrial relations, for these have been significant.

Through Jeff Shaw, Carr has managed to secure an Industrial Relations Act that sets the standard in labour market re-regulation. Remember, the Carr Government inherited an ideological experiment that was just not working.

It has replaced it with a system which both employers and employees have confidence in, which delivers quick access to awards and agreements, and has given the Commission the power to carry out significant social inquiries, such as that into Gender Pay Equity.

There has also been a swathe of laws setting benchmarks -- both nationally and internationally -- particularly in the areas of video surveillance in the workplace and compensation for dust diseases.

Add to that Carr's own principled stand during the waterfront dispute, including his refusal to allow the Daily Telegraph to set policy and bully him into breaking the picket and there is much to commend the government for.

Yet, the feeling remains that this has been a government distant from the trade unions. With some notable exceptions, many officials complain of the difficulty in getting access to their relevant Ministers.

One explanation could be that these are the natural tensions that exist between a professional political office managing the day by day crises and an active union movement trying to push the envelope for the workers.

At the end of the day, the movements' two arms have different objectives. The political arm must succeed electorally, while the industrial arm must represent its members.

Where that balance falls is a question of ongoing and necessary debate. While some would see the union movement's disproportionate influence at State Conference as a shackle on the political wing, others would see this as a necessary means to ensure the Party does not lose its way into populism.

Most thinking members of the movement, regardless of their factional allegiances, would agree that these issues need to be resolved.

But that can only occur after the election, after the two wings have worked together to ensure that the significant advances won for working people over the past four years are not wound back.


*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 2 contents

In this issue
*  Interview: Checking the Spellar
We talk to a former union official who is now a minister in the Blair Government about the difficult relationship between New Labour and the labour movement.
*  Unions: Working It Out
NSW trade unions have embraced a movement-wide campaign to deal with the vexed issue of ensuring workers have a life.
*  History: Remembering The Eveleigh Railway Workshops
The Eveleigh railway yards have a rich history which your average commuter would never imagine.
*  Review: Opening Tanner's Australia
Lindsay Tanner's new book offers a frank and forthright view of the future for Australia.
*  Campaign Diary: Carr And The Unions
No-one would accuse the Premier and the labour movement of being bossum buddies, but their fortunes are inextricably linked.

»  Revealed: Reith Defies Own Pollster To Bash Unions
»  What's Going Down at Gordonstone?
»  VSU To Stop The Music
»  Employment Advocate Dines Out, But Not A Sausage For Workers
»  Union Interpreter Translates The Word “Exploit”
»  How Much Can A Koala Bear?
»  Botsman Shifts North To Tame The Rednecks

»  Guest Report
»  Sport
»  Trades Hall
»  Piers Watch

Letters to the editor
»  No Fan of Piers
»  Don't Be Glib
»  EMILY's List International Women's Day bash

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