||Issue No. 243||22 October 2004|
The Perfect Storm
Interview: The Last Bastian
Unions: High and Dry
Security: Liquid Borders
Industrial: No Bully For You
History: Radical Brisbane
International: No Vacancies
Economics: Life After Capitalism
Technology: Cyber Winners
Poetry: Do It Yourself Poetry
Review: Hard Labo(u)r
The Locker Room
Shop Till the Worker Drops
Bob’s Silver Anniversary
Hit And Myth
Letters to the Editor
Your October 15 editorial, "Historical Revisions", said "for the union movement the challenge is to reclaim our positive agenda". This cannot be done by, as you suggest, owning "the tremendous economic achievements" and "the reforms" of the Hawke-Keating Accord years, however.
These "economic achievements" did not serve workers. The wages share of national income ˆ down (and the profits took up most of the slack). Earnings - down through the 1980s. Earnings inequalities up, especially between the bottom 80% and the top 20% and between men and women. Productivity up - through longer working hours and lost working conditions. So the national economy delivered more prosperity to fewer people than ever before, but not to most workers.
Hawke and Keating also gave "reform" a new Australian political meaning. The regressive introduction of user-pays (for example, in tertiary education), the first wave of privatisations and ever-increasing "obligations" on social security recipients were only some of the reactionary measures to be misnamed.
The biggest blow to social cohesion and solidarity from the Hawke-Keating years, however, was the decline of union membership ˆ by one count from 49% in 1981, at an accelerating rate, to 35% in 1996, and then to 25% and below in the new century. Support for an industrial and political pro-business agenda by most of the labour movement radically reduced its ability to develop the new activists who would have held together existing memberships and organised new workplaces. The impact of this took several years to develop and has not yet been fully overcome. How are "the best ideas to come from the ground up", as you suggest, if that ground has been razed?
This picture above is a "remarkable achievement" for the ALP, but not for any "party of the left". Union activists, rather than accept your injunction to try once more with feeling, need to think and think again about whether the ALP is an adequate political party for workers. That is the real question raised by this election result. If other unionists reading this, like me, think not, get involved in trying to create something that is.
(In a personal capacity)
NTEU UTS Branch Committee member
Ph.D student, University of Wollongong
(Topic: The Accord and class consciousness: the working class under the
Hawke and Keating governments)
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