The Coles workers’ strike and the state of our society
The strike of Toll Holdings workers and their picket at the Coles’ distribution centre in Somerton tell us much about Australian society today.
The workers want the same pay and conditions as workers at other Coles’ distribution centres. They don’t currently get that because they are employed by a labour contractor, Toll Holdings, whom Coles outsourced the labour supply recruitment and management to.
Their pay for example is approximately 20% less than workers at other centres doing exactly the same work.
Labour hire is Coles’ way of driving down ‘costs’ and making even more profit.
If Coles and Toll Holdings win this dispute workers at other distribution centres will be under pressure to cut their wages and conditions to the level of the Toll holdings workers.
If the bosses are successful, the Toll Holdings ‘lower wages and conditions’ model will spread, which is why for all the workers in the industry the strike and picket at Somerton are very important.
It is wages versus mega profits.
Last year the Coles supermarket chain made $1.16 billion in profit. Toll Holdings’ net revenue predictions are over $400 million this financial year.
While workers at the distribution centre are paid a pittance, the Coles’ Chief Executive Officer is on a salary package of over $15 million.
The strike exposes the rottenness at the core of labor’s heart. No significant ALP member has supported the workers.
Anthony Albanese evidently gave $5 to the strike fund. This is a man earning $320,000. His memory supports them, his current reality doesn’t. So his support is meagre and begrudging. And he is one of the ‘better’ ones. It is Labor to a tee.
Under Labor’s industrial laws strikes are illegal except when bargaining a new enterprise agreement. These lines from a song come to mind. ’When they jail a man for striking, it’s a rich man’ s country still.’ That is Labor’s legacy.
The mood on the picket line is strong and united. When workers at another distribution centre refused to handle scab supplies they were ordered back to work under Labor’s rotten industrial laws for their ‘illegal’ action.
On Tuesday it is no surprise the Supreme Court ordered some union officials and others not to participate in the strike. The number of times the courts have ruled in favour of striking workers you can count on your fingers.
No surprise there. The courts are enforcing the laws of the 1% against the 99%. They are part of the 1% or perhaps more correctly part of the institutions of rule of the 1%.
The Labor Government has been silent on the strike and picket. They too are part of the institutions of rule of the 1%. In power they manage capitalism.
They support the profit system so they support Coles in its drive for more and more profit.
Yet the Labor Party comes out of the labour movement, or more correctly the trade union bureaucracy, a special layer in society who bargain with capital over the price of labour power. This explains why the ALP is a capitalist workers’ party.
In today’s environment where the ALP has embraced the dominant ideology of neoliberalism and loosened its links to the trade union bureaucracy, but not cut them, it is a CAPITALIST workers’ party.
The strike is having an effect. Coles’ shelves are emptying and not being re-stocked. The lessons? We labour; they profit. Without us they are nothing.
At the time of writing (Tuesday night) it looks as if Coles and the police will try to break the picket line early tomorrow morning.
It is no accident that the most effective form of action, strikes and pickets, is under sustained attack from the 1% and their institutions, the courts, the police, the media, the politicians.
I will update the post when more information on the attempts at strike breaking occur, if they do.
Community and political organisations like Socialist Alternative have supported the picket. There has been a large community presence at the picket line, helping the workers in their just claim for parity of pay and conditions.
The court order against 27 named National Union of Workers’ officials and others makes it imperative for all supporters of the labour movement who can be there to attend and support the picket at the corner of Union and Somerton roads in Somerton in Melbourne.
If other unions gave support and their members walked off the job to help man the picket line, the strike would conclude successfully in a short period of time.
Of course to do that would mean breaking Julia Gillard’s industrial laws.
And that raises a wider point. It is the trade union bureaucracy and Labor Party which through their class collaborationist policies have seriously weakened the strength of the union movement over the last 30 years.
The Accord and enterprise bargaining, both ALP or union bureaucrat initiatives, have destroyed rank and file control of unions where it existed. They have concentrated power in the hands of the retailers of labour power, the officials.
They have resulted in making strikes and other industrial action illegal except in certain very limited circumstances.
At the heyday of the union movement, when membership was over 50% of the workforce, unions fought for better wages and conditions. They took on the bosses. They rarely do that today.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s in some years over 1200 strike days were ‘lost’ per thousand workers. Today the figure is around five.
This collapse in class struggle has meant the unchallenged rise of neoliberalism and the shift, nay shovelling, of the wealth we workers produce to capital.
The figures show the stark reality of that shift. The share of national income going to capital today is at its highest since records began to be kept in 1960 and that to labour its lowest.
And still, as the Coles/Toll Holdings strike shows, the bosses want more.
This is an important fight. If the Coles/Toll holdings workers win other workers might feel confident to try to win better wages and conditions and claw back some of the wealth that the bosses have won from them over the last 30 years.
If Coles and Toll Holdings win, other bosses may feel emboldened to attack workers’ wages and conditions and when workers strike to try to smash picket lines.
The one sided 30 year class war of the bosses has produced a fight back by Toll Holdings workers. The deserve our support.
Here is a communiqué from the Victorian Trades Hall Council about the situation and how you can help.
These workers will continue to face economic hardship. Every day they continue a strike that we all benefit from is another day they don’t receive pay from their employer.
By making a donation to the account below you will ensure those that are brave enough to fight against militant employers are still able to feed their families and live with dignity.
Account Name: NUW Vic Coles Somerton Relief Fund
BSB Number: 063 074
Account Number: 10014540
Branch: Commonwealth Bank
If you can get to the picket line it is at the Coles Distribution Centre, Union Road and Somerton Road, Somerton. You will be most welcome.
If you are in Melbourne, get down to the picket line to support the workers there. Victory to the Toll Holdings’ workers at Coles!