Australia’s Penal Powers for the 21st Century

White Australia was born as a penal colony. And throughout its history since there have been plenty of laws that fine, impose financial damages and lock up both the original inhabitants of the land and the working people of all nations who came here to make a living. Those laws swing into play whenever landowners and employers needed a government instrument to protect their profit making and wealth accumulation from the collective action of aboriginal communities and their supporters, and also combinations of workers whether members of unions or not.  (For more on this read Jack Hutson’s From Penal Colony to Penal Powers.)

This story (click here) describes how Labor’s Fair Work Act of 2009 replicates that history so that it systematically prevents workers from exercising their collective power in the twenty first century.

Some of us who have been around for a long time know very well that there is NO END to the hypocrisy of employers when it comes to the exercise of their power. Employers like Bluescope Steel, in their own right and through their associations like the AIGroup, AMMA, and the Business Council of Australia, constantly whinge about the role of outside third parties in industrial relations.For them, “outside third party interference”means unions, especially those that coordinate effective worker action across industries, and a Fair Work Commission with genuine democratic powers to ensure that workers human rights to organize and take collective action are protected.

But, they made sure, when they negotiated the Fair Work Act to replace Howard’s Workchoices in 2008-9, they kept and re-energized that extra third party power that would punish workers for exercising the only power they have – collective industrial action. And, what is more, new ALP negotiators and certain (not all) union leaders let them have it.

What we see here, as we have seen in other disputes, is the PENAL PROVISIONS OF THE TWENTY FIRST CENTURY.

The penal provisions of the 20th century were neutralized in big disputes through the 1960’s that culminated with the national strike when Tramway Union official Clarrie O’Shea was jailed for refusing to pay fines imposed by the courts because union members were taking industrial action in defiance of the so-called “bans clauses” of the day.

The industrial strategy that led to that great union and democratic victory was ten years in the making.

The Australian workers of the twenty first century need a strategy that defeats the penal powers of the twenty first century. It is all about a deeper meaning of democracy than the very limited form that too many of us are sort of comfortable with these days.

Electing a genuine reforming Labor government backed up by the Greens and genuine pro worker and democratic independents to get rid of these undemocratic industrial laws will make a difference.But this was never on the radar in recent Federal elections.

So, that will not happen unless it is part of a conscious strategy that creates a massive and independent movement of workers that makes it impossible for Labor and Green politicians to dodge their responsibilities.

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Posted in Australian union movement, Common Action, Corporate behaviour, Engineering Services: metal workers- fitters, mechanics, boilermakers, electricians, techicians, TA's, labourers, Labour and union history, Solidarity

Four theses on ‘green bans’ and the contemporary right to the city

I JUST DISCOVERED THIS BLOG POST AND BLOGGER – ITS VERY THOUGHTFUL AND RELEVANT IN A NUMBER OF WAYS:

The ‘right to the city’ is back on the agenda. In Brisbane, hundreds rallied this past Saturday against rapacious development in the city’s migrant and student heavy West End. In Melbourne, houses …

Source: Four theses on ‘green bans’ and the contemporary right to the city

Posted in Uncategorized

A FUTURE FOR STEEL MAKING IN AUSTRALIA

By Warwick Neilly and Don Sutherland

Introduction

If anyone wondered about the actual abilities  and vision of highly paid private sector executives in Australia one need look no further than the grand scale debacle that Arrium steel has become. Arrium’s operations are essential  to Australia’s manufacturing, jobs in regional Australia, and national security, but you wouldn’t know that from the performance of its owners and managers.

If Arrium’s Australian operations were to be completely shut down, it would mean 3000 direct jobs lost at Whyalla, devastating for the company dependent town, plus over 2000 more redundancies principally in NSW and Queensland company operations. It is not hard to see who finally pays when the global enterprise fantasies of highly paid executives come undone by the real owners of the 21c global economy.

And it would also mean increased dependency on imported steel, sometimes of doubtful quality.

Future development plans for the steel industry must include specific and effective arrangements for workers and their local communtities to help guide the implementation of the plans, including but not just inside the workplaces.

The corporate culture of selfishness and incomeptence

Arrium still describes itself on its website “proudly” as having a “global mining and materials operations spanning Australia, Asia and the Americas” (www.arrium.com).

That pride, if one could ever describe a dysfunctional corporate as having such an attribute, was destroyed on the Australian stock market on 7 April when Arrium went into a trading halt and then forced administration to block USA based vulture private equity investor Blackstone taking control of Arrium.  Blackstone were offering to pay 55 cents for each $1 debt held by Australia’s big four banks.

To stop the prospect of Blackstone taking control, the banks forced the move into administration to protect their investments, effectively executing  the existing Arrium board, threatening the livelihoods of a committed workforce and, may have permanently trashed many small and even big shareholders’ wealth.

Blackstone’s attempt to take control of Arrium followed attempts by two other vulture capital funds – Argand Partners or Cerberus Capital Management- to bid for Arrium’s USA based Moly-Cop mining consumable businesses.  These two vulture investors had offered around $1.0 Billion compared to Arrium board’s price estimate of $1.5 Billion which would have gone towards reducing debt held by the four Australian banks.

The Administrator is now expressing confidence that Arrium can survive following talks between the banks and the Australian Workers Union, the union covering workers at Arrium. The same banks funded Arrium’s ill-fated expansion in iron mining and export in the past which has created the current crisis.

The workers’ response

The AWU, along with the AMWU and CEPU-ETU, is doing its utmost to retain steel manufacturing in Australia and its crucial they be extended community and progressive activists support. Workers employed with Arrium- also known as One Steel across the nation- accepted a reduction in wages in March.  Similarly, BlueScope workers accepted a freeze on wages and job losses last year.

The wage cuts followed 900 Arrium job losses in the past 12 months.

There is high risk in thinking that accepting wage cuts and freezes to can save enterprises like Arrium and BlueScope. Clearly, the crisis in the industry has not been driven by what workers are paid. Neverthless, when workers make  such decisions they have to be respected. The campaign is not over and full success will be measured with a return to previous wage levels and a lifting of a freeze at BlueScope.

The AWU and associated unions have put pressure on both LNP and Labor Party governments and oppositions to be proactive in the current crisis which was precipitated by BlueScope last year with its threat to close steel production in Port Kembla.

Alternatives and trade policy

South Australia’s Labor Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis has appealed to the banks to remember what federal Labor did for them with account guarantees during the GFC.  This followed what was a mild market regulation intervention of imposing a new quality assurance regime on steel used in SA to prevent the importation of low quality steel.  The new regulatory regime has been backed with SA government funding for fabricators and manufacturers to establish quality control systems and they have established an Advocate for the sector.

When PM Turnbull was in SA weeks before Arrium was forced in to administration he promised to buy $80 million of rail line steel from Arrium to replace up to 600 kilometres of ageing railway lines in South Australia under a no-bid contract that would be awarded by at the federal rail agency- Australian Rail Track Corporation.

Bill Shorten then called for a national procurement program for all three tiers of government to save Arrium, after the company went into administration. Minister Pyne came close to this on Q&A on 4 April but then dodged mandated procurement because of competitive pricing issues and his government’s obsession with a free trade stance. Pyne and Trade Minister Ciobo have since become more strident in their defence of free trade and have rejected a national procurement plan. Ciobo’s elevation to Trade Minister followed the resignation of Andrew Robb the most pro-active free trade politician in Australia’s history.

The LNP have bad form when it comes to steel and untrammelled free trade.

AFTINET (the Australian progressive fair trade and investment advocacy organisation) has pointed out (11 April 2016) that when the USA Australia agreement was negotiated under Howard’s rule in 2004, the USA excluded steel after Australia sought to include it. The more recent China Australia agreement saw China do the same to protect national procurement rights.

Our major trading partners can have national procurement in free trade but Australia can’t according to Minister Ciobo!

Even BlueScope’s submission to the senate Inquiry called for “fair trade” measures within free trade agreements.

The LNP are bending over backwards to set up the destruction of steel manufacturing in Australia. Just as they did with the auto industry.

In the Arrium crisis, the Baird NSW government announced imported rail line steel from Spain would be used for Sydney’s North West Metro project being built by an overseas private consortium.

In effect, they told the Whyalla community they could close down.

Baird’s announcement followed the NSW Greens tabling a very reasonable state projects procurement bill in the Legislative Council in March this year that had strong Illawarra unions’ and community support.

The Illawarra Greens made a comprehensive submission to the current Senate Inquiry prior to the committee’s public hearing in the Illawarra on 1 April this year.

Their proposal called for: a mandated 100% structural steel procurement for all projects across all three tiers of government; more effective anti-dumping measures; a stringent quality assurance regime for steel used in all building and construction works-public and private- in Australia  outlined in the Australian Steel Institute’s submission to the Inquiry; and investment, including public sector co-investment, for a transition to technologies in manufacturing; and the use of renewable power supplies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The South Coast Labor Council’s Secretary Arthur Rorris believes that BlueScope hasn’t committed to the latter as they have a board running a global manufacturing enterprise which does not want to commit to maintaining production in Australia.

The Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) has put in place models of public co-investment that work and can guarantee greenhouse gas reduction and long-term enterprise sustainability and regional community jobs.

The same can be done with steel production by both BlueScope and Arrium. This approach to public sector investment in Australia’s sustainable economic future is what has driven the Abbott and Turnbull government’s ideological drive to shut down the CEFC.

Making the future of steel more democratic

The next phase of determining the future of steel making in Australia is, in the very short term, focussed on Arrium.

The Illawarra Greens have submitted a very reasonable, achievable plan.

There are, though, some additional things that could happen now.

They are:

-An immediate federal government decision, or commitment from Labor if they win government at the coming federal elections, to block any overseas takeover of either company as part of their input to the current Senate Inquiry.

-Insist that the three tiers of government procurement plan include a return to pre-existing wages and conditions at Arrium, an end to the BlueScope wage freeze and re-employment of workers by both companies.

-The unions and workers pursuing the right to establish councils in all Arrium and BlueScope workplaces across Australia to assess all plans that may come forward in consultation with their local communities, express views that are listened and positively responded to by all parties, and to monitor all future co-investments.

-A discussion of full public ownership if co-investment, including on greenhouse gas reduction, is not accepted and either of the companies threaten closure of production in Australia.

These are all reasonable proposals but no be doubt will be met with strident opposition from the anti-worker, anti-union, climate change denying, free trade, pro-private sector LNP.

Authors:

Warwick Neilley

Don Sutherland

13 April 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

GREEN BANS FOREVER … AGAIN!

This thought looms because of the lead letter in today’s Sydney Morning Herald. The letter, that I cut and paste below, laments the steady destruction of Sydney’s parks and green spaces and associated amenities. As we all should. The writer wonders who should control decisions about these in the face of the profit hungry developers.
In Sydney’s own history we find the perfect answer: the builders labourers’ greens bans that saved so much of Sydney against the ancestors of these profit hungry developers in the 60 s and 70s and occasionally since.
In brief, a green ban is workers taking industrial action that puts a ban on a project that might or actually is destroying the environment and the human enjoyment of that environment, either as residents in it or as passers-by or visitors to it. The workers combine through their union to say, “We will not supply labour to the site and we will act with the community to prevent rich property developers and / or their governments from trying to do so.”
For more on these and the democratic processes that the New South Wales builders labourers, through their union, insisted on, read Green Bans, Red Union by Meredith and Verity Burgmann and Jack Mundey’s autobiography. Or click here. Or here.
Green bans required 2 things: a democratic decision of the community that wants them that is then presented to the union, and a democratic decision of the construction workers to agree to carry out the ban.
The capacity to organize can deliver the first.
But, IN THESE TIMES, the second, requires, as well as the capacity to organize, a determination to disobey repressive anti strike laws in Labor’s Fair Work Act, and to stand with construction workers against the Turnbull- Abbott government’s laws to set up a special Commission (the Australian Building and Construction Commission – ABCC) to repress and police construction workers and their friends and associates.
The ABCC laws are now before the Australian parliament and, because they are strongly opposed, they are potentially the trigger for the right-wing government to dissolve the parliament and run a new election.
These laws intend to, among other things, stop, detain, interrogate and imprison construction workers and their friends in the community for doing things like standing up against profit hungry developers. (For a plain language summary of the laws and links to more information: click here.)
Yet, many in eastern Sydney, the scene of civil protests against the destruction of Anzac Parade, and the northern suburbs (not all I stress, but I mention these because that is where the author of the SMH letter comes from) who lament the loss of green spaces and want more democratic control over the decision-making, either like or couldn’t care less about Turnbull’s lies about construction workers and their unions.
Such irony. These lies and the associated media propaganda are the means to persuade a majority of Australians and parliamentarians that special repressive powers against construction are necessary.
The powerful property developer 1%érs are the direct beneficiaries of these proposed laws. Metaphorically, who knows maybe “for real”, the government is in their pocket.
To all lovers of Australia’s natural habitat and historical buildings: if you don’t want the property developers to have the power to do what they are doing then you must stand up with construction workers – today’s builders labourers – to stop Turnbull’s ABCC laws and ABCC election. Green bans are socially useful democratic actions.
Here is today’s Sydney Morning Herald letter:
“Who is really looking after our urban public space?
“Elizabeth Farrelly’s article (“Parks and Trees make way for profit”, April 14), in highlighting the loss, degradation to Sydney’s public space amenity poses the obvious question: who is really looking after our urban public space?
“Growing cities like Sydney are under constant pressure from the demands of development.
“Loss of public amenity adjacent to redeveloped harbour front land (for example, Barangaroo), adjoining parks such as the Botanic Gardens or along historic majestic major boulevards like Anzac Parade form the unfortunate casualties of an absence of both custodianship and advocacy by an appropriate public body.
“Since the early 1990s, this publicly staffed office working within the-then Department of Planning has been outsourced largely to private consultants.
Hence developers and their consultants, “push the envelope”, including incursions into the public space.
It doesn’t take that much imagination to conceive of the potential conflict of interest that design consultants risk in having both public and private clients.
Possibly it’s high time to reconsider resurrecting in a contemporary guise, the role of civic authority of “city designers” to ensure both the quantity and quality of open public space commensurate to a dynamic, sustainable “global city” like Sydney.
Cleveland Rose Dee Why
Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in Australian union movement, Environment and labour

Where does a diesel mechanic, including field service, a fitter, an electrician, a driver, a yardie, a trade assistant sit in the Australian income leagues tables?

Don Sutherland 27/3/16

I decided to take a close look because early last week the Australian Tax Office (ATO) released to the general public the latest stats on the incomes and income tax paid of Australians. (Click here , and look for Tables 14 and 16)

For example, we learned just how little tax was being paid by some of Australia’s highest income earners.  For example, click here.

Remember, we are talking about “incomes”, not wealth. (We know that some people can report very low incomes but somehow or other be very wealthy.)

The incomes information is in a very big table that divides income levels into 100 “percentiles” – that is, the bottom 1% of income earners, then those between the 1-2%, all the way through, percent by percent, to those earning at the very top, between 99-100%.

And, the ATO tells us how many individuals, both men and women, there are for each percentile, and where particular occupations sit. From this it’s possible to work out reasonably well what the average income is and what the median – the middle point – is in the income league table.

I have been guided by the work of Greg Jericho, a journalist who writes for The Guardian (the Australian on line edition) and the ABC program, The Drum. If you are interested, click here to take a look at Greg’s latest work. Or, follow this link: http://www.theguardian.com/business/grogonomics/2016/mar/24/the-budget-is-coming-so-standby-for-talk-of-ordinary-australians-who-are-these-people

Jericho shows the increase in incomes across all 100 percentiles compared to the previous report.

Among other things, Jericho supports the idea that since the 2007 global economic crisis the rich are paying themselves (earning?) a lot more than they are paying those who they employ. For example, he says:

“But the average income of those in the 90th is 34.9% more than in the 80th; and the average income of the 100th percentile is a jaw dropping 481% larger at $698,574

My go at Greg’s work starts here and then goes on to look at the typical engineering service / metal worker  occupations. It is interesting, also, to see how any individuals there are at each percentile, but that is not the purpose of this commentary.

Avge Tax Income Oz 040416a

So, what about the typical engineering services / metal worker?

Here in this graph is my go at a snapshot for some of the typical occupations in the industry.

EnginServs workers avge taxable income 040416

Remember!  The numbers 30, 40, 50 etc are selected  percentiles only, and each is the average at that percentile for both men and women.

Also, these are the stats for 2013-14, at the beginning of the fall in incomes associated with the fall in mine site production. These numbers also reflect very long working hours for the blue collar jobs. The current numbers (ie early 2016) would tend to be somewhat less, especially for fitters and diesel mechanics.

Anyone can compare their own actual annual income with the graph. I suspect some would be higher than the number for their occupation, and some probably less.

It is worth reflecting on the gender pay gap that prevails in the industry.

Just in case you are interested, you can also see the average taxable income of the senior executives of the type that “manage” engineering service work from their corporate boxes.

We do not know at this time what this means for the members of company Boards and owners. Secret squirrels’ business?

 

 

 

Posted in Engineering Services: metal workers- fitters, mechanics, boilermakers, electricians, techicians, TA's, labourers, Political Economy - Basics, Political Economy News & Commentary, Wages

Bubbles, profits and debt – look out!

Australia is not mentioned once in this up to date rveiew of the real and severe problems in the global economy. Having said that, the story is as much about Australia’s economy as any of the countries actually referred to. Now, why should we get to grips with this sort of analysis? One important reason: it helps very much to understand not so much the effects of unemployment and underemployment but very much the causes of unemployment and what might be the best immediate and also medium to longer term policies to deal with the causes and also the effects.

Michael Roberts Blog

Stock markets in the major economies continue to hit new highs. At the same time, economic growth in the major economies is either slowing down or already at a relatively low level. The UN now forecasts that the global economy, including fast-growing India and high rate China, will expand in real terms (after inflation) by just 2.8% this year. Thus the UN joins the IMF and the World Bank in reducing its growth forecast for this year to around 3% for the world.

And in its semi-annual economic outlook released this week (http://www.oecd.org/economy/strengthening-investment-key-to-improving-world-economy.htm), the OECD has also reduced its forecast for global economic growth.  It warned that weak investment and disappointing productivity growth risk keeping the world economy stuck in a “low-level” equilibrium. The OECD now expects the global economy to expand this year by 3.1%, a sharp downgrade from last November’s forecast of 3.7%. The revision follows…

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Posted in Political Economy - Basics, Political Economy News & Commentary

A Trade Deal at What Cost ?

Harold nails it here: “A great deal for international lawyers and investors — two groups of embattled U.S. proletarians who clearly needed our government’s help. “

Talking Union

HaroldMeyersonAIDHarold Meyerson.

So what gives with the American people? Don’t they realize, as my colleague Charles Krauthammer argued last week, “that free trade is advantageous to both sides”?

The sides to which Krauthammer referred, of course, are nations. But perhaps those who’ve experienced such free-trade consequences as factory closings and lower-paying jobs are thinking about two entirely different sides — capital and labor. Trade promoters cite David Ricardo’s 200-year-old assessments of trade’s benefits to nations, but skeptics can mine a rich vein of mainstream economics that demonstrates how trade deals can, and frequently do, benefit major investors at workers’ expense.

As a letter to The Post noted this week, future Nobel laureate Paul Samuelson wrote in 1955 that, under free trade, “national product would go up, but the relative and absolute share of labor might go down.” More pointedly still, another Nobel laureate, Bertil Ohlin, showed that as a…

View original post 698 more words

Posted in Fair trade and trade policy, Manufacturing Jobs
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