Refugees have temporarily pushed the global recession off the front pages, as Rudd ratchets up his racism, claiming desperate people pose an “emerging threat”. Meanwhile, the real threat of mass unemployment gathers steam everyday.
Unemployment hit 5.7 per cent in March. Almost 11,000 mining jobs have been slashed since June last year. And now Qantas has announced 1750 job cuts.
Even conservative economists are expecting that unemployment will rise to around 9 per cent in 2010, well beyond the Rudd government’s predictions. And the real rate will probably be much higher still. The unemployment rate in working class Woodridge, Queensland for example was already 14 per cent in December last year.
In early April, Kevin Rudd spoke about unemployment in sympathetic tones usually reserved for victims of bushfires, “I think it is time for all Australians to gather round and support those who have lost their jobs or are in danger of losing their jobs.”
Rudd speaks as though the global crisis were a natural disaster. But it is caused by the capitalist system and companies only too willing to throw workers onto the scrap heap in order to protect their profits.
Billions of government dollars are securing bank deposits, but the banks continue with sackings while making multi-billion dollar profits.
Despite promises to the Finance Sector Union prior to the merger with BankWest, the Commonwealth Bank has slashed 400 BankWest jobs (250 in Western Australia). And the government has done nothing to force the banks to pass on the most recent cut in interest rates.
Far more radical action—like putting the Commonwealth Bank back under public control—is going to be needed to stop the banks profiteering at workers’ expense.
The government’s $42 billion stimulus package was not aimed at job creation (see page 27). In fact, following announcement of the stimulus, the government outlined cuts in the “Job Network” public employment agency that would see up to 5000 workers retrenched.
Government assistance to companies should be made conditional on guaranteeing jobs and backed up with a commitment to nationalise those companies that won’t comply.
The government could have nationalised ABC Learning and directly funded not-for-profit childcare providers. But after selling off the most profitable places, nineteen centres will finally be closed and up to 450 jobs lost.
Kevin Rudd should unshackle the unions too, by scrapping WorkChoices entirely and removing the restrictions on the right to strike.
If trade union officials gave a fighting lead against job cuts, they would win enthusiastic support. But many union leaders have been willing to accept the job cuts and redundancies.
Transfixed by the headlights of the oncoming recession, they seem to think that “buying Australian” or calling for more government subsidies for business is all that can be done.
The LHMU, which covers childcare workers, originally called for a public take over of the ABC Learning centres. But LHMU National Secretary Louise Tarrant now says, “the process followed is worth emulating as business and communities face these dark days of the global financial crisis.”
In South Australia, thousands of Holden workers have been forced onto short time, losing penalty rates, with workers working one week on, and one off, on half pay. The AMWU has supported the move. Yet the car industry is getting $6.2 billion in government handouts without any demands that they guarantee jobs.
A real fight could stop the jobs massacre, with unions using their industrial muscle both to pressure Rudd and directly fight the job cuts. Strike action at Qantas could stop the job cuts.
This will require strong organisation at the rank-and-file level that can force officials to act (see example of Brisbane Casino workers, page 20). It will mean taking on the argument that workers should accept wage restraint (like teachers in Queensland, page 22). And it will mean fighting to defeat all of Workchoices, see page 21).
In this issue of Solidarity we report on the action by Waterford Glass workers in Ireland who occupied to stop their factory closing and saved hundreds of jobs (page 22). Their example has now been followed by Ford workers in Belfast. Unions here need to learn the lesson too.
Capitalism really isn’t working. A fight for jobs could not only the stop the bosses making workers pay for the crisis—it points to the possibility of organising society in a different way—producing for human needs and not for profit.