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Work Choices: total abolition

Speech to Inner West (Sydney) Your Rights at Work public meeting
by Pip Hinman
(For a strong and democratic trade union movement that is prepared to fight for workers rights and the community interest against attacks from the corporate rich and from Liberal or Labor governments)

Thank you for the invitation to address this meeting.

The Socialist Alliance is campaigning for the total abolition of the anti-union, anti-worker “Work Choices” laws.

We say abolish Work Choices now – not in one, two three, five of 10 years time but immediately.

Work Choices is a deadly attack not just on the rights of workers to organize but it is ultimately an assault on the rights of the broader community.

Work Choices is an attempt to destroy political and social rights won through 100 years of collective working-class struggle.

Work Choices is an assault on the basic principle that made those victories possible: united we stand, divided we fall. It is an assault on the basic principle of class solidarity.

Work Choices is an attempt to abolish collective resistance to exploitation.

Work Choices is an attempt to prevent the great majority in this society from standing up against exploitation, against social vandalism, against total environmental irresponsibility.

And so, the Socialist Alliance is proud to be part of the fight to throw out the reactionary Howard Liberal-National government.

The greedy corporate elite that seeks to gain billions of dollars more in profits from Work Choices and other anti-union laws knows that if they can cripple the trade union movement they will weaken all other community resistance to their profits-first agenda.

The Socialist Alliance is union-proud and union active but we are also very active in all the progressive social movements. So we know first-hand that the activists in the environmental, indigenous rights, anti-war, refugee-rights, same-sex rights movements appreciate that if the unions can be crippled by these laws then all the social movements will be weakened.

This is why it is in the broad interest of the community that Work Choices should be totally abolished now. And AWAs and the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) industrial police laws should also be abolished – immediately.

All laws and regulations that restrict, or prevent, working people from organizing for their rights on the job, must go.

We should not accept the Work Choices Lite that the Rudd Labor opposition is promising.

We reject Rudd Labor’s decision to keep AWAs and the ABCC (even for just a few years) and its support for the Howard government’s restrictions on the right to strike and right of entry.

We should not accept that what Labor promises on the IR laws is simply not as much as we are workplace rights activists would like, that it would be nice to be offered more by the Labor opposition, but we should accept what the ALP offers as the best we can get.

Rather we should recognize the grave danger posed to the working class and the community as a whole from the incorporation of the key restrictions on the right to organize collectively that a Rudd Labor Work Choices Lite stands for.

Accepting Labor’s Work Choices Lite regime would make it harder to stand up to the greedy corporate elite on workplaces rights, on environmental rights and on all other critical social and political issues.

And our society confronts many critical issues today – including the very survival of humanity.

Socialist Alliance identifies these critical issues as follows:

1. We need emergency action on climate change with serious and mandatory emission reduction targets, a phase-out of fossil fuels to renewables (which would involve retraining workers, retooling factories, and the public ownership of the power industry). We say nuclear is no solution and we need targets that take us to zero greenhouse emissions or less as soon as possible.

2. We say all the troops should be withdrawn from Iraq and Afghanistan – as that is the prerequisite to these countries’ peoples ever being able to decide how they wish to govern themselves and a first step to free the world from George Bush’s never-ending war of global terror.

3. We fight for serious affirmative action to address the shocking conditions of Indigenous communities in Australia. We support real land rights and a treaty with Indigenous Australians, and we oppose the bi-partisan NT intervention which, in the end, will remove community land ownership and rights from Indigenous people. We say shame on Rudd Labor for standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Howard on this latest racist invasion of Aboriginal communities.

4. We say stop squandering billions of dollars on tax cuts for the rich – invest it instead in social services, including public transport, public education, public housing and public health and dental care.

5. We say scrap the so-called anti “terror” laws which, as the Dr Haneef case showed, are being used to attack the democratic rights of all of us, including our basic our civil liberties and our right to protest.

We think it is CRITICAL to get rid of Howard and his reactionary government. And we are for the replacement of the Howard government by a Labor government.

But we also think Labor should not be given a blank cheque, and, for that same reason we ask you to vote 1 Socialist Alliance, then preference the Greens and then Labor before the Coalition parties. This way you triple the value of your vote to kick out the Howard government.

The vote in federal election is very important, as you would all agree, but we also know that we can’t rely on politicians to fight for our rights – we have to do it for ourselves. And the fight for our workplace and other rights will continue in the streets and on the picket lines even after Howard is voted out.

The Socialist Alliance is not a party that just pops up at election time: we’re an activist party all year round; we’re involved in workers’ struggles on a day-to-day basis.

Our party is pretty young – only six years old – but our active commitment to a strong and democratic union movement, and in particularly the fight against Work Choices, has earned us respect among many other militant trade unionists.

We thank the following militant unions which have made donations to our federal election campaign so far: the Victorian, Qld, Tasmanian and WA ETU, the WA MUA, the Victorian AMWU, the Victorian CFMEU and the Victorian Posties.

We worked with many of these militants for the total abolition of Work Choices and Howard’s other anti-worker laws.

Is the total and immediate abolition of these laws unrealistic?

Is the working class in this country too weak to destroy Work Choices and the other anti-union laws?

A large majority of workers reject Work Choices, poll after poll has shown. At least 69% think that AWAs give too much power to the bosses; and 71% agree that the power given to workers by collective bargaining is a good thing, according to the latest polls.

More than 1 million workers have taken to the streets, over and over again, against Work Choices. This included, on November 15, 2005, the biggest ever trade union mobilisation in Australian history. This proved that working people do not accept these draconian IR laws and are prepared to fight them.

In 2005, the Socialist Alliance activists fought hard along with other union militants for a campaign of mass trade union mobilisations against Work Choices. It is a matter of record that at the beginning, mass mobilizations against Work Choices was opposed by the ACTU and ALP leaderships which favoured a “clever” campaign of TV advertisements with no mass mobilizations or industrial action -- which they feared would cost the ALP votes.

While these mobilizations did not prevent Work Choices from being introduced they have laid the basis for our continuing fight for workplace rights after the federal elections.

Those historic and powerful actions also demonstrated the power of independent working class mobilization. We need a strong and democratic trade union movement that is prepared to fight for workers rights and the community interest against attacks from the corporate rich and from Liberal or Labor governments.

That is what the Socialist Alliance stands for and fights for.

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