Opposition Leader Tony Abbott told his MPs yesterday that a Coalition government’s industrial relations policy would “reflect a return of the pendulum back to the middle”.
What’s your union’s Abbott strategy? While there’s no certainty that Abbott will win the next election — after all, he is the least popular opposition leader in Australia’s history — the fact is that conservative institutional forces have locked in behind the Liberal Party. News Ltd, the big business establishment, and a coterie of billionaires are working hard to ruin Labor and hand the prime ministership to Abbott.
For unions, this presents a significant risk — a revival of the worst, anti-union elements of WorkChoices — combined with a negative assault against the principles of unionism. We’ve already seen what the future could hold: witness Wisconsin, where the Republican governor Scott Walker outspent the Democratic candidate by more than eight to one. The trashing of collective bargaining rights for public servants with the ultimate goal of smashing unions altogether. We’ve also seen David Cameron take on workers rights — particularly the rights of public sector workers — using the shock doctrine noted by Naomi Klein.
Closer to home, in Australia we’ve seen Colin Barnett, Barry O’Farrell and Ted Baillieu take aim at the rights of working people and their unions. These conservative premiers have demonstrated an ideological opposition to collectivism and unionism.
Tony Abbott is an anti-union crusader. His time as industrial relations minister under Howard was tempered only by the fact that they did not control the Senate. Expect the rights and protections in the Fair Work Act to be wiped away and replaced with harsh restrictions.
Although every union will targeted, public sector unions in particular will be viciously attacked.
If unions were companies facing IPOs (like Facebook recently), they’d need to set out the risks they are facing. The number one risk for almost every union in the next three years is an Abbott government.
Whether you’re a union activist or an organiser, you should be thinking about and asking about the union’s Abbott strategy.