Australia’s Labor movement gets busy
During the couple of days the TUC’s leadership delegation spent in Australian capital Canberra, the Labor Government took a series of steps designed to help ordinary Australian workers and their families. To us, it looked like a whirlwind of action, and even our trade union hosts admitted it wasn’t usually that exciting. But the ALP Government and the trade unions, so crucial to its election in 2007 and absolutely vital to its third election victory in a year or two’s time, have suddenly got busy in setting out a positive agenda of values and practical action worthy of electoral support.
The measures taken this week are fundamental to Labor’s drive to make Australia a fairer, more successful economy, and they are avowedly social democratic rather than neo-liberal. Former No 10 spin doctor John McTernan, who we met in his new job as Julia Gillard’s official spokesperson, describes Australia as “Scotland with sunshine, not Texas with better beaches.”
Safer Rates will make sure the truck drivers who are the life blood of Australia’s geographically vast economy, won’t have to pop pills to meet their schedules. Support for the iconic Holden auto manufacturer will protect skilled jobs for a generation. Reforms to the industrial relations system will reduce punitive restrictions from organising in construction and bring atypical workers in textiles like outworkers into the regular labour force. All this reform (massively supported by the relevant unions and the union movement generally) and we still got to meet the PM and five of her Ministers in a space of less than twelve hours!
The purpose of these reforms is to reclaim the political agenda from a right who have probably shot themselves hugely in the foot by opposing superannuation (pensions) reform and the carbon pricing and mining profits tax which will pay for the super reforms that will benefit lower paid workers especially and the better training and education that will provide skilled careers for their children. in John McTernan’s phrase, it will address the people who, when asked if they vote Labor, say “used to”.
But as Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan demonstrated in a ground-breaking recent article responding to the billionaire mining magnates who have become increasingly outrageous in their defence of their wealth (no, honestly, one called Clive Palmer recently accused the Greens of being paid by the CIA to destroy the Australian mining industry!), Labor’s approach is not just transactional. It’s about values, with the reforms and subsidies jus demonstrating what a modern ‘Fair Go’ looks like.
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