QANTAS on Thursday announced it would sack 5000 workers. This comes on top of the announcement a few weeks ago that Toyota would cease car production in Australia in 2017, following by a few months Holden who will stop then too.
Recently Alcoa decided to close down its aluminium smelter; SPC still hasn’t decided whether it will continue operating its Shepparton cannery.
In November last year Rio Tinto announced it will shutdown the Gove alumina refinery this year, destroying 1,100 jobs and the Northern Territory town of Nhulunbuy. indeed mining companies such as Coal & Allied, Uranium One, Iluka Resources Newcrest, Peabody and Glencore Xtrata have been laying off workers for over a year now.
During the GFC mining bosses sacked 15% of their workforce. They are ruthless.
One estimate is that 90 percent of mining construction jobs will have disappeared by 2018. This will see a fall from 85819 workers now to 7700 in 2018, the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency says.
Unemployment is about to increase markedly. Official unemployment jumped to 6% in January. Unemployment will pass 6.25 % in the next few months, according to the Treasury, and the Budget in May will add further to it with its cuts, cuts, cuts for the poor and working class and benefits for the rich.
The Abbott government also plans to axe 12000 public servants in the Budget. This will add to unemployment and worsen the quality of public services. In doing this Abbott is only following in the footsteps of the previous Labor government which cut the size of the public service by over 5000 to the year ended 30 July 2013 through its increased ‘efficiency’ dividend.
On top of that particular agencies are cutting back. The Tax Office for example is getting rid of 900 staff while company tax collections remain in decline.
Real unemployment is much higher than the ‘official’ rate of 6%. Many people have given up looking for work. According to Roy Morgan Research unemployment in January this year was 11.3% (not quite double the official rate) and with another 8.7% of people wanting to work more hours it means those looking for work or wanting more work are 20% of the workforce.
The Australian economy has been restructuring for decades and is now predominantly a services economy. Whereas in the past a Labor government may have managed the transition from manufacturing to services, the Abbott government seems to have adopted a fully Schumpeterian approach of creative destruction to allow restructuring to occur ‘naturally’ (ie through market forces and without government intervention) rather than through a ‘plan’, which in Labor’s case today looks like giving more money to multinationals to prop their profits up.
Is there an alternative to Labor’s guided Schumpeterianism and the Liberals’ overt ‘let the market forces rip’ destruction of jobs and capital?
The Transport Workers Union has given a hint of an alternative. It has threatened strikes against QANTAS and its attempts to sack 5000 staff. However in the hands of the union leadership this talk of strikes looks more like a paper threat to force QANTAS to negotiate the sackings rather than fight them, yet another example of laborism’s guided Schumepterianism.
QANTAS workers have shown some fight before. Here is a video from 3 years ago of them marching on QANTAS in Brisbane.
The trade union bureaucracy is not part of the working class. its role is to retail the price of labour power to the bosses, so it sits above the working class playing an intermediary role between the two main classes.
However the coming tidal wave of sackings threatens the position of many of these bureaucrats. Couple that with the Royal Commission into union ‘corruption’, the attempt to re-introduce the Australian Building and Construction Commission, the creeping re-introduction of Workchoices style laws and it is clear the special position of all trade union bureaucrats under capitalism is under attack.
Abbott’s goal is to hamstring unions so much that he strips them of their last vestiges of power and effectiveness and so renders them useless in defending working class jobs, wages and conditions.
This is a fairly reductionist view because it imagines workers cannot fight back on their own without the ‘leadership’ of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. They can. The question is will they?
I suspect even some of the trade union bureaucrats can see their positions are under grave threat and that you cannot negotiate with the devil, whether that devil be Tony Abbott or ALan Joyce.
Some of them like Tony Sheldon from the TWU, will talk about strikes. That gives an opening to rank and file workers and the left to start building a campaign to defend jobs, and to do so in those industries under threat – Holden, Toyota, QANTAS, Alcoa, Gove, SPC all come to mind. Give life to the bureaucrats words of resistance.
The solution isn’t only strikes. Workers could occupy their workplaces and begin production of socially useful goods. Car plants could be tooled to produce buses and trains, high speed rail tracks, solar plants and wind farms.
Workers could occupy SPC to produce canned fruit for free for the 2.2 million people living below the poverty line.
QANTAS workers could occupy their workplaces across Australia and begin running the airline for free for working class people to travel around the country.
The economic might, indeed must, flow into the political. By occupying and stopping the flow of profits now, workers would then be in a position to raise other demands such as the nationalisation of the car industry and QANTAS without any job losses and with job taxes on big business and the rich to fund those takeovers long term.
And there must be other demands – for example cheap and very fast transport between the cities of Australia with the track and trains produced in the car plants. But the demand could extend to massive improvements in public transport in the major cities so workers can get to work. Again car plants could build that new public transport infrastructure and the vehicles necessary to transport millions of workers daily.
Given the ambiguous class nature of the trade union leadership and the past 30 years of defeats they have led, it is likely that they won’t lead any real fightback against the sacking tsunami. That will be the task for the rank and file.
However the Accord and developments since have concentrated power in the hands of the bureaucrats and destroyed rank and file organisation in almost every union. Rebuilding may not be easy but it is a necessity. The threat of sackings may provide the spark for workers to defend themselves. If they don’t the future looks bleak for Australian workers with rising unemployment and falling real wages the end result.
If one of the unions or their workers fight back and especially if they are successful in resisting the barbarian bosses, and they might only be successful with solidarity from other workers, it can set an example for all the others under attack.
As the BLF say: if you don’t fight you lose. It is time to fight.