Forget about the threat of a General Strike, the posturing of ‘left’ bureaucrats such as John Halfpenny, the sacrifice of the workers who struck in good faith for a pay rise, and lost money for nothing, forget about the impoverishment of women and migrant workers, and the growing anger of a working population reduced in income to the level of 15 years ago. We don’t count in the eyes of bosses, politicians and union leaders.
They’re all crowing, despite the usual ritual posturing from some individuals, about the August 12 decision of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission (CAC) to impose a massive real wage cut, particularly to the poorest workers, in the guise of a 5.2% ‘increase’ which will only be awarded in return for ‘restructuring’.
As workers found out during the 4% ‘campaign’, this means a further sellout of hard-won conditions, more job losses and more ‘productivity increases’ – speed ups – which gave back to the boss far more than the lousy couple of dollars we got in pay rises in the last year.
5.2% a wage cut for some, a wage freeze for most.
The ALP, bosses and their lieutenants in the unions hold working people in utter contempt. They really expect us to swallow the pay rise line again. But the lie of the Accord, of the “maintenance of real wages” has worn too thin. Some of us said when the Accord was imposed that we’d be screwed absolutely. Now many workers are seeing that the union leaders and the ALP are simply lying. Our take home pay is worth about the same as in 1973, so that the gains of the last 15 years have been wiped out in return for nothing.
To see why the so-called 5.2% pay rise is a fraud requires simple arithmetic. The predicted inflation rate for the next year is 7%. There’s 1.8% for starters, at least. But the staggering of the rise over 12 months at least has the effect of reducing the amount because the first rise applies over the whole year, but the second over only six months. So 5.2% becomes 3.7% for workers on the average wage so that’s a cut of 3.3%. But it gets worse. Only workers who can get agreement with their bosses can get the rise, and then only from September 1. The vast majority will have to wait till much later, and may in fact get nothing at all in the next year.
A pay increase of 7% is required just to keep up with the projected rise in prices over the next year, but we’re already 19% behind because that’s the loss in buying power we’ve sustained since the 1981 wage freeze. So to keep up with the bosses’ profits we need a 26% pay rise. This is just to make ends meet! A real pay rise, that is, a pay rise which allows us to get ahead, would have to be in the order of 35%.
‘Restructuring’ = work more for less.
A worker’s pay is a reward for the labour time s/he puts into production of goods or services, less a certain amount kept back by the boss as profit. Under capitalism workers never get the full value of their labour to start with. This is exploitation: the working class creates the wealth of those who do not work – there’s no such thing as “a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work”.
However, through united action, usually in unions, workers have managed to set bounds on the depth of exploitation – pay for the time spent at work rather than the amount produced – limits on processes and improvements to conditions in the name of health and safety. This affects profit, but adds to the living standards of the workers. It reduces the “surplus value” which the boss gets from each worker’s labour.
In Australia most awards contain provisions about sick and annual leave, hours of work, penalty rates, safety, amenities and so on which have the force of law (won only through struggle – the boss gives nothing willingly), and these “work practices” cost the boss money. There are also provisions about which workers do which jobs. This is ‘demarcation’ and it serves to limit the type of work any one worker can do. It acts to create jobs at the expense of profit. What the ALP, the bosses, the union bureaucracy began with the 4% “two tier” system is to be perfected under the new wage system. What is wanted by the capitalists is a total rollback of conditions, job cuts and speedups which means that even if all workers got a 26% catch up increase, the value of their wages would fall because they would be required to work more for them. Here are a few translations of the language of the bosses and the ACTU which shows just exactly what the CAC has in store for workers over the next few years.
* “Inefficient work practices” – anything at work which costs the boss money over and above the basic wage of the worker. This includes safe working methods, workers compensation, penalty rates, restrictions on hours worked and guaranteed minimum rates of pay. What is “efficient” for the boss is a wage paid by the hour which is sufficient only to cover the basic survival needs of the worker – about $182.30 per week – with unlimited hours of work.
* “Multi-skilling” – the ability of the boss to demand that any worker be available to perform any task within the workplace. In the early days of the Railways there was a person called a ‘policeman’ who sold tickets, repaired the tracks, worked the signals, enforced the rules, carried the parcels, etc, etc … this is the perfect example of multi-skilling. In a factory it means that workers can be asked to produce goods, service machines, even build new machines and plants, deliver the finished goods and so on. Multi-skilling allows the boss to get the absolute maximum surplus value out of every worker, by the destruction of highly skilled work tasks and their replacement with production line type piece work. For the working class it means sweatshop conditions, fewer jobs, fewer types of work, fewer opportunities for promotion.
* “Productivity increase” – more work per worker and more work for each dollar paid in wages. This increases the amount of surplus value per worker, of course, but it does not add to profits. The less time it takes to produce a given item, the less that item is worth. Increased production coupled with less demand leads to bankruptcy – which is where the economy is heading – but it does lead to a reduction in production costs and gives the appearance of increased profitability.
* “Career paths” – The creation of unproductive bureaucratic structures into which certain selected ex-workers can be absorbed with the idea of keeping the rest subdued. The destruction of opportunities for promotion for the most exploited workers, – youth, women, migrants etc by the removal of the ability to further one’s skills and move into different areas. Also known as “jobs for the Boys/Girls”. A device to punish the unruly by denying them pay increases unless they submit to the bosses’ terms, perfected in Italy under Mussolini. Achieved through Multiskilling.
- “Restructuring” – The means by which all the above can be achieved
* “ACTU” – The ‘vehicle for change’ by which all the above can be achieved.
* “Labour Market Flexibility” – Where all of the above have been achieved.
What the CAC has done, what the ALP wants, is to begin the formation of a wage system which will reduce wages to the bare minimum which workers will bear. For although cash profits are rising, the rate of return on investments is falling and the cash is worth less. Someone has to pay to keep the system going and that is the workers. You may get a money increase, but the value of that money will fall further and further. This decision is the direct result of the subjection of the unions to the Accord, and the union leadership must stand condemned for the deliberate treachery with which it hoodwinked workers into supporting the totally corrupt ALP/ACTU misleaders.
For more than 80 years the working class in this country has been shackled to the capitalists through the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. This has held workers back, kept them impoverished, derailed their attempts to break the chains. The Accord, which is the parent of the new wage system is the latest attempt to clothe the emperor. But workers are beginning to see how transparent is the game. Arbitration is submission to the boss through the bosses’ courts. The Accord is a no-strike agreement, where workers and their unions are punished for refusing to submit. We have seen the ETU defeated in Queensland, the Meatworkers defeated at Mudginberri, the Confectioners defeated at Dollar Sweets, the miners defeated at Robe River and the BLF totally smashed in most parts of the country. All because the current crop of misleaders will not break from the ALP, will not take up the fight with the methods of the workers. As long as you let the boss set the agenda, the boss will win!
The CAC must be told precisely where to get off. Workers must reject the 5.2% wage cut and must fight to gain a wage rise with no offsets, givebacks, speedups or job cuts. That means sending a clear message to what passes for leadership in the unions that acceptance of this deal will mean their jobs. The unions desperately need to be reorganised, rearmed and reinstated as weapons in the struggle. This means a break with Arbitration, with the ALP and, if necessary, the splitting of the ACTU.
Perhaps it is time for a General Strike to draw the line against further attacks and to take the fight up to the bosses. The experience of NSW workers under the Tory (“Liberal”) government of Nick Greiner is a warning to workers across the country. The ALP is preparing the way for an Australian version of Thatcher or Reagan – though Hawke’s been doing a pretty good job of imitating them as it is. The union movement is paralysed by the real Accord – the one between the leaders of the ALP and the leaders of the union movement. The so-called “left” union leaders are unwilling to rock the boat and police the no-strike, wage cutting policies of Hawke and his ministry. As always, concessions can only be wrenched from the greedy rulers of this country with the strongest, most militant methods.