The Guardian 18 May, 2005


Unity and organisation crucial

Overall, last week was a typical one in the life of capitalism: jobs cuts; bankruptcies; predatory takeovers; war. All the symptoms of an ailing system are replicating themselves over and over. However, last week the signs became clearer that the current economic downturn is about to hit previously spiralling monopoly profits. The National Australia Bank gave notice of this by announcing thousands of job cuts on top of a “disappointing” half yearly profit of $1.6 billion. “NAB cuts 4200 jobs on way to recovery” ran the front page headline in The Australian Financial Review.

That is how a system based on theft “recovers”, by throwing workers on the scrapheap. NAB intends to continue cutting jobs — up to 10 per cent — and slashing services here and in its overseas operations.

NAB chief executive John Stewart summed it up when he stated, “It’s not a happy day when you announce 4200 job losses in an organisation, but it is absolutely part of what we have to do if NAB is going to be a great company and be where we want it to be”.

NAB recognises the inevitability of the economic cycle of boom and bust and is taking measures now to try to soften the impact of the next downturn on its profits. And one of the ways its does this is by sacking workers and other attacks on working conditions.

The Howard government is trying to prop up the system in the only way it can, by making ordinary Australians pay to safeguard the superprofits of the monopolies. The ruling class supports Howard’s methods, preferring him even to the stridently right-wing Labor Party leader Kim Beazley. The Howard government is highly class conscious and committed to the ruling elite.

This month’s federal budget reflected this with $25 billion in tax cuts to higher income earners and the wealthy while cruel and punitive cuts to welfare were announced. These include Centrelink suspending all of the $197 Newstart Allowance paid to the unemployed if they fail to attend interviews or breach any part of their agreements. The payment will not be reinstated until the person attends an interview with a Network provider. After three such breaches in a year the unemployed person will lose the payment entirely for eight weeks.

This alone will hit 80,000 homeless people on Newstart and Youth Allowance. Welfare agencies the Salvation Army and the Brotherhood of St Laurence warned that the Network Providers in the privatised system would be forced to become its policemen. They will be required to notify Centrelink of breaches that will result in people losing their payments.

At the same time, and using falsified unemployment figures obtained by forcing people off the unemployment lists, Treasurer Peter Costello is claiming that Australians have “never had a better chance of getting a job in the last 28 years”.

In the next few weeks the government will finalise details of its anti-union laws — its aim being to destroy the trade union movement. The collective power of organised labour is a bulwark against the ruthless exploitation of big business.

Included in the government’s raft of anti-union laws, which it intends to pass once it has control of the senate from July 1, are: the right for the Building Industry Taskforce to sue unions and individual unionists retrospectively; the removal from workers of the right to remain silent when being interrogated by the Taskforce; and the outlawing of union or political meetings during work hours.
(See The Guardian, May 11.)

The crisis-ridden mode of existence of capitalism comes out of its basic contradiction, the social nature of production and the private ownership of the means of production. The likes of NAB never have enough profits — no matter how high they go they will always want more. They are willing to sacrifice workers and services to the community to maintain the rate of profit achieved in relatively more prosperous times. The government is now preparing for an open offensive against the working people. Unity and organisation by workers will be crucial in the coming period: both broad unity and specific organisation with specific political objectives.

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