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So why don’t unions refuse to pay the fines?

Last Thursday teachers and others went on strike against a 2.5 percent pay cap imposed by the New South Wales Liberal Government of Barry O’Farrell.

In Australia it is illegal to strike except during the bargaining period when industrial agreements (usually 2 to 3 years long)  run out or are about to run out. Even then there are voting and other requirements which make it difficult to organise bargaining strikes.

This strike limitation destroys the capacity of workers to impose discipline on the bosses outside that small period. Bosses can cut health and safety corners, impose draconian work  conditions on employees, treat staff with utter contempt, and unions have no capacity to fight back.

The teachers Union will be fined for its ‘illegal’ strike. The union says it is proud to stand up for its members against O’Farrell’s real wage cuts and proud to pay the fines. Proud to pay the fines? Oh dear.

In the West two of the strongest unions, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union and the Amalgamated Metal Workers’ Union have reached an agreement with the bosses as part of a settlement over fines for unprotected strike action.

They have agreed there will be no strikes outside the legal period for the next seven years. that agreement means they will avoid fines for the previous ‘illegal strike activity, if the Court accepts the agreement.

Seven years! The agreement means that effectively the union leadership will become a policeman for the boss, stopping workers striking and without that power accepting every attack of the bosses. 

Work deaths are likely to increase as bosses put profit before people and with the unions stopping workers taking industrial action to defend safety standards.

Is there an alternative? Yes. Unions could refuse to pay the fines, and strike across Australia if any fines are imposed. They could strike if any union official is jailed for not paying the fines.

They have the power to destroy Labor’s current industrial straight-jacket and win the unfettered right to strike.

Sound far fetched? It happened in 1969 when left wing unions across Australia went on rolling strikes against the jailing of Tramways Union official Clarrie O’Shea.  Five days into the general strikes a mysterious benefactor paid the fines and O’Shea was released from jail. As he told cheering workers the Union hadn’t paid a cent.

The penal powers became a dead letter.

Unions have the strike power today to turn the penal powers in Labor’s Workchoices lite into a dead letter. Why don’t they?



Comment from Darin Sullivan
Time September 13, 2011 at 8:46 am

Good right up mate.

Couple of points. The strike action in NSW is more about our reduction of rights in the IRC, which is now an arm of the Lib Govt, than the 2.5% restriction. Both important, but we’ve been fighting the % restriction for sometime – the IRC issue is a bridge too far, and demands serious ‘separation of powers’ questions.

I suspect the logistical differences of various Unions being either State based, or Fed based, which may fracture any genuine attempt or ability to make real change at either level. The campaign against Workchoices in 2007 prob undermines my argument there, but the point needs to be made.

Clearly who’s in power influences how hard we buck the system – rightly or wrongly.