The Guardian January 26, 2000

Stay collective

In 1834 the six Tolpuddle martyrs were transported from Britain to 
Australia for the "crime" of attempting to form a trade union. However, the 
idea of unionism spread world-wide and now, millions of workers are members 
of trade unions. Workers, experiencing the savage exploitation of capital 
know that they have to become a collective if they are to improve their 
living and working conditions.

But the ruling class and the employers never gave up their hostility to the 
organised working class, first displayed in the penalty imposed on the 
Tolpuddle six.

Laws were enacted to limit and control the organisations that workers 
formed. When workers withdrew their labour and went on strike the ferocity 
of the employers knows no bounds. Workers and their leaders are jailed and 
sometimes shot.

The collective power of workers united is always a threat to the interests 
of capital. Capitalists know that their profits come from the labour of 
workers. The more they can reduce the wages and other provisions going to 
workers the higher their profits.

The ongoing accumulation of private profits and successive mergers and 
takeovers has resulted in the formation of ever bigger companies and the 
giant transnational corporations (TNCs) that dominate whole industries, 
with demands to get rid of trade unions and backed by governments willing 
to help them achieve their aims.

The Howard Government is one such creature of the corporations and Peter 
Reith is their hatchetman. Strikes are outlawed with courts ready to order 
a return to work, backed by threats of heavy fines on unions and workers 

This is the anti-worker state in action  the laws of governments, the 
courts to enforce the laws, the money bribes of the employers, the police 
to protect the employers' interests, and when even this fails, the army is 
moved in. Let it be recalled that the army has been used in Australia  
during the Miners' strike in 1949 and later in the airlines dispute in 

Employers want to return to the days when there were no unions to challenge 
the power and interests of capital.

The way to do this is to introduce individual work contracts, exclude 
unions and eliminate any form of collective agreement. Employers are even 
prepared to pay a price by offering a higher wage to some, provided the 
worker resigns from his/her union. Initially it might be higher wages for 
those who sign up, while others lose their jobs. Individual contracts leave 
workers on their own with no one to defend them as wages are later reduced, 
hours of work extended, holidays cancelled, health and safety measures 
abandoned, etc

This is now BHP's aim, starting in the Pilbara. The giant TNC mining 
company Rio Tinto has virtually achieved this objective and BHP wants to go 
into partnership with Rio Tinto in iron ore production. But is Rio Tinto 
prepared to go ahead before BHP has eliminated trade unions (especially the 
CFMEU) and collective agreements from its workplaces?

BHP management attempt to justify their vicious anti-unionism by claiming 
the necessity to become "competitive", always forgetting to mention the 
huge profits made by BHP over many decades and the dividends paid to 
shareholders who have never mined an ounce of iron ore or coal or smelted 

In the Pilbara, the police have been called in to break up pickets so that 
the roads can be cleared for scabs to pursue their own selfish and 
shortsighted aims. When the workers link arms to strengthen their line, a 
phalanx of intimidating police with batons and chants moves against the 

The press and TV cameras are at the ready to report "violence". They record 
the action but forget to say that it is the police who initiate the 
violence, not the workers. 

Above all, employers fear the collective strength of the working people and 
BHP is out to destroy the workers' collective now. They, of course, still 
need workers, but on a one-to-one basis, without organisation and without 
any power to defend themselves.

The workers who are standing up for the collective are the real heroes of 
our time. And, as the CFMEU sticker says, "It takes GUTS AND PRINCIPLES to 
stay collective."
Back to index page