Organising the Unorganised

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From 12 to 14 December 1997, a camp sponsored by the Progressive Labour Party (PLP, formerly the New Labour Party) was held at Camp Eureka. Delegates, shop stewards, rank-and-file activists and progressive officials from across the Victorian trade union movement discussed strategies to counter the barrage of attacks on workers’ rights. Participants voted to establish a PLP industrial caucus and adopted a manifesto for fighting back in 1998.

            The first day was spent identifying pressing issues faced by the trade union movement. The massive casualisation of work was acknowledged as a key issue facing the working class. All present expressed a strong commitment to organising unorganised workers and taking up the demands of the most oppressed.

            Casualisation is a permanent feature of the bosses’ cost-cutting wars. Using a “just-in-time” workforce gives capital the upper hand in getting the flexibility it requires to cope with the unpredictable conditions of late capitalism.

            In the United States, the new trend is toward labour-leasing firms. This “industry” is growing at a rate of 30-40% per year. It blatantly urges business to “outsource its labour law liabilities” and avoid having to comply with family leave, pension, health and safety and affirmative action requirements.

            A similar pattern is emerging in Australia. Part-time and casual work is growing at more than double the rate of full-time work. This is coupled with a sharp rise in hours of work – many unpaid – for full-time workers.

            Australia has one of the highest rates of part-time and casual work in the world, and three-quarters of part-time and casual workers are women. Casualisation is growing sharply. Two years ago, one in five workers was part-time or casual. Now it is one in four.

            At its last congress, the ACTU acknowledged these developments as a problem, but proposed no solutions. By contrast, the PLP calls for the reduction of working hours with no loss of pay. The PLP also advocates reducing the attractiveness of casual work for employers by campaigning to improve casual workers’ pay and conditions.

            The PLP trade union camp also voted to support the campaigns of victimised workers, Barbara Morgan and Alison Thorne from the Australian Education Union, Bill Deller from the National Tertiary Education Union and Merv Vogt, a Community and Public Sector Union delegate who was unfairly dismissed from Telstra for producing Nighthawks, a popular union newsletter.

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