Strikes needed to push up pay after Labor’s Jobs Summit ignores cost-of-living crisis

Anthony Albanese’s response to the Queen’s death brought out his caution and subservience to the establishment.

His decisions to suspend parliament for 15 days, declare a “national day of mourning” and claim that “Her Majesty had a special claim in our hearts” saw him bending over backwards to the most conservative elements in society.

This approach mirrors Labor’s general reluctance to launch any more serious social change.

After passing a weak 43 per cent climate target, Labor is making things even worse through backing mining company plans for dozens of new gas and coal projects.

This will see Australia’s emissions rise, blowing any chance of getting emissions down even by 43 per cent. But as the climate disasters across Pakistan, Europe, China and North America show, we need urgent action to avoid climate catastrophe.

Much of the media gushed over Labor’s Jobs Summit as an effort to bring together employers, unions and experts together to help solve the nation’s problems.

But if the outcomes were thin the aims were clear. The summit’s focus was on the needs of business and Australian capitalism—and Labor’s effort to serve their interests.

Women were described as an untapped economic resource who could be working more to boost the economy. More skilled migration was urgent to deal with companies’ labour shortages. And there was furious agreement about boosting workers’ productivity.

The immediate cost-of-living crisis facing workers was barely mentioned.

The Reserve Bank has now increased interest rates for the past five months and signalled that further increases are ahead. That means the cost of an average mortgage is already up $570 a month since May. Inflation is set to keep rising.

Gas and coal mining companies’ profits are soaring due to higher international prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Mining profits were up 17 per cent between April and May to $83 billion. Yet Albanese was quick to reject calls for a super profits tax.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers has also repeatedly defended the stage-three tax cuts, costing $30 billion by the end of the decade and flowing overwhelmingly to people earning over $120,000.

Union leaders, intoxicated by their new seats at the table, embraced the rotten logic of consensus and collaboration with the bosses.

Before the election, ACTU Secretary Sally McManus denounced Scott Morrison’s suggestion of changes to the Better Off Overall Test as “plans to cut wages and undermine the rights of working people”. But the ACTU will now support watering down the BOOT in exchange for some form of multi-employer bargaining.

This is likely to operate only in limited areas, such as low-paid work like aged care, childcare and small business.

Unless unions win greater rights to strike, workers won’t have the power to win serious gains. Yet there has been no suggestion that Labor will remove any of the restrictions on strike action under the Fair Work Act.

For three decades most union leaders have sought consensus with the employers. This has delivered a decline in union membership and industrial power, resulting in falling wages even as companies post higher and higher profits.

Fightback

It’s clear we will have to fight to get any relief from the rising cost of living.

Some groups of workers have started to win decent pay rises—taking advantage of labour shortages that mean employers are desperate to keep their staff.

Certis security and baggage screeners at Sydney airport won a 7 per cent pay rise each year. Dnata, which employs baggage handlers on international flights, agreed to an immediate pay rise of 12.6 per cent plus 4.6 per cent next year.

Official strike figures showed a significant increase in the three months to June from a very low base, to the highest in one quarter since 2004.

The bulk of this is the public sector strikes in NSW, with nurses, teachers, public servants and rail workers all staging industrial action against the state Liberal government’s 3 per cent pay cap and staff shortages. Nurses staged another 24-hour strike on 1 September, while teachers are likely to strike again next month.

A public sector-wide strike could escalate the industrial campaign and break Liberal Premier Dominic Perrottet’s pay cap. But instead union leaders have adopted a strategy focused on the NSW election next March, in the misplaced hope that electing a Labor government is the answer.

Stepping up the strike action is the way to fight. With Albanese sticking to the small target policies, and kow-towing to business and the establishment, it is going to take a fightback outside parliament to deliver the wage rises, climate action, jobs for nurses and teachers and the real social change that is badly needed.

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