Interview: Minority Report
Industrial: Girl Power
Unions: Made in NZ
History: Spirit for a Fair Go
Economics: Fool's Gold
Politics: Worth Fighting For
Health: The Force Behind Medibank
Legal: Robust Justice
International: After the Revolution
Poetry: The Sound of Unions
Review: Bad Santa
The Locker Room
Not A Casey Fan
Outside the Tent
Once again, a Federal Labor election defeat has been quickly followed by calls for Labor to distance itself from the trade union movement. Some argue that the path to economic credibility for Labor lies in parting company with the industrial wing of the labor movement.
Some contend that labor's industrial relations policies should be reshaped to meet the concerns of business organisations like the BCA and ACCI. Others see electoral salvation in embracing the growing number of workers who are contractors, not employees.
I regard these views as misconceived. They imply that Labor no longer has the strength to stand up for its values. They suggest that Labor may repeat its last post - defeat experience in 2002, when the vital process of party reform was diverted into a self - lacerating and largely pointless debate about whether unions should have 50 or 60 per cent of the votes in Labor forums.
Distancing Labor from its trade union connections is not going to deliver economic credibility for Labor. Adopting the big business lobby's industrial relations policies will not deliver better economic outcomes for working people.
It has become fashionable to give credit for Australia's current economic prosperity to the Hawke and Keating Governments. This is a good thing. That credit is well deserved.
What is now largely forgotten, however, is that Hawke and Keating had a partner, the trade union movement. When credit for our prosperity is being handed around, a significant share belongs to the ACTU and to people like Bill Kelty, Laurie Carmichael, Simon Crean and Martin Ferguson. Trade union co - operation with difficult economic reforms provided the foundation for the success of the Hawke and Keating Governments.
That era is now over and there is no suggestion that the Accord should be revived. The Australian economy, workplace and workforce are now very different from 15 or 20 years ago. Yet the lesson of this era for Labor remains a powerful one. We need to engage with the trade union movement with the common aim of building a stronger, more competitive Australian economy. Rather than distancing ourselves from trade unions, we should be challenging the union movement to contribute more strongly to the renewal of Labor's agenda to build a better Australia.
Such greater engagement will inevitably involve pain and controversy. The union movement has often been in a defensive, sometimes reactive position during the Howard years, and understandably so. Breaking that pattern will not be easy.
There is a need for reform in our industrial relations system, but not the kind of reform John Howard has in mind. Instead of exposing vulnerable low - paid workers to exploitation through individual contracts, we should be establishing new mechanisms to enable workers to upgrade their skills, the true source of job security. Instead of abolishing the right of workers to obtain redress for unfair dismissal we should make the system simpler and cheaper by restricting the involvement of lawyers. Instead of further restricting the ability of workers and unions to collectively bargain we should be developing the next wave of improvement to our superannuation system.
At a time when industrial disputes are at a record low level, it is ridiculous to claim that trade unions are a threat to Australia's future prosperity. The challenge for Labor is not to walk away from the union movement, but to engage constructively with unions and other groups to address the many difficult economic and social issues facing our nation.
Renewing our national infrastructure, upgrading our skills, and reviving our non - commodity exports will require big thinking and hard work. As representatives of 2 million working Australians, the trade union movement has a major role to play in this process.
As the party of working men and women, Labor has a responsibility to these people to improve their living standards and life opportunities, along with those of the millions of other Australians who work for their living.
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