UnionEyes: Distinguishing the fakers from real solidarity

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This year has seen support for the call to boycott apartheid Israel escalate within the international trade union movement. The entire Palestinian labour movement backs this strategy.

In April, the Scottish Trade Union Congress came on board. They joined the Irish Congress of Unions, six Norwegian unions, unions in Catalonia, several Canadian unions representing postal workers, the Transport and General Workers Union and UNISON in the UK and the Congress of South African Trade Unions.

Members of the West Australian Branch of the Maritime Union of Australia and the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union will not load or unload ships transporting goods to and from Israel. They stand in a proud tradition: Australian wharfies who imposed bans in support of Indonesian independence and railway workers who banned transportation of uranium; Liverpool dockers who refused to ship goods to apartheid South Africa; Oakland dockers who downed tools rather than load bombs for use by Pinochet in Chile. Such actions are collective, public and very powerful and will help strengthen the international mass movement demanding justice for the Palestinians. While politically conscious consumers can decline to purchase Israeli goods, the movement will really be on a winner when retail workers organised through the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association prevent goods from even getting on the shelves!

But some Zionist-friendly union officials have gone into overdrive, aiming to undermine the growing support for the Palestinian people. Among them is Paul Howes of the Australian Workers’ Union. He has teamed up with the U.S. and Canadian Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and Community, a British union, to launch a counter-offensive called Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine (TULIP). The Murdoch press conveniently gave this crew an opinion piece to launch TULIP, but in amongst the friendly spin about peace, they brand opponents of the state of Israel, you guessed it, anti-Semitic!

TULIP collaborates with Histadrut. This nationalist organisation supported apartheid in South Africa and defends Israel’s recent assault on Gaza. It has been guided since its formation in 1920 by the idea of cooperation between unions, government and employers based on the “shared ideology” of full support for the Zionist state.

This TULIP is a noxious weed. Let’s fertilise genuine solidarity.

Fire up to defend and extend public services!

Both the Rudd government and its predecessor have been very generous when it comes to handing out corporate welfare. Let’s take two examples. Clothing manufacturer, Pacific Brands, received $17 million in taxpayer handouts, pocketed the cash and then announced plans to sack 1,850 workers earlier this year. In 2008, the Rudd government announced a $6.2 billion package for the car industry. During the Howard years, the car industry was the fourth most heavily subsidised industry in the country with an effective rate of assistance of 11.9% according to the Productivity Commission.

Year after year, governments claim that handouts to big business are essential to save jobs, but they do nothing of the sort. It’s the corporate bottom line that is being secured.

Just imagine the impact on both employment and the provision of socially necessary services if governments spent this money directly employing workers to provide high quality public services and build public housing, transport and other infrastructure.

But governments, both state and federal, are doing exactly the opposite.

Many services that should be provided directly by properly resourced public sector workers are delivered by the woefully under-funded community sector. Non-government organisations are put on a funding drip-feed to provide essential services such as mental health and disability advocacy, crisis accommodation or domestic violence and sexual assault services. The staffing levels are appalling with agencies expecting workers to carry unsustainable workloads, relying on their commitment to the clients. Funding is insecure and, as a result, workers are forced to move around the sector or seek employment elsewhere.

Last year, the Australian Services Union (ASU) launched the Respect the Workers, Sustain the Services campaign to demand increased funding for better wages, portability of Long Service Leave across the sector and paid parental leave and to achieve safe workplaces and address workplace bullying.

For years, federal government has also been off-loading direct responsibility wherever it could, with recruitment, human resources, mail house services and IT being favourite targets. The private job network is also a classic example. Not so well known is that during the Howard years, the government imposed an annual 1.25% efficiency dividend on every government department, and it also refused to fund pay rises. The efficiency dividend is just a fancy term for an across-the-board cut, forcing public sector workers to provide the same services with less.

In its first budget, the Rudd government increased the efficiency dividend from 1.25% to 3.25%! In response, the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) launched the Essential Services Campaign with the goal of scrapping the efficiency dividend and winning adequate funding to provide quality public services. The union points out that cuts mean a reduced service to the public and a stressed-out workforce.

In its second budget, the arbitrary cut was brought back to the Howard era level as a result of campaigning. But after years of continuous cutbacks, public sector workers are at breaking point.

The ASU and CPSU campaigns are both a good start but should not be conducted in isolation. The struggle to win properly funded, high quality public services is the business of the entire union movement and the working class communities that need what community and public sector workers can provide. These campaigns need people power! Democratically run committees with grassroots representatives from a broad range of community and public sector workplaces are needed now to propel this organising forward.

As well as the immediate goals of these two campaigns, let’s also demand:

  • Stop the corporate welfare, tax the rich, make the corporations pay!
  • No job cuts and no cuts to public and community services
  • Redirect military spending to public and community services
  • Guarantee the right to organise — scrap WorkChoices in full!

    If you are a community or public sector worker keen to take this on, we’d love to hear from you!

    Alison Thorne is a workplace delegate with the CPSU.

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