The Guardian 9 November, 2005

Defeat the IR and terror laws!

Anna Pha

Hundreds of thousands of Australians are expected to join in the National Day of Community Protest on November 15 for the largest ever protest action in opposition to the Howard Government's industrial relations legislation. This will include tens of thousands of building and construction workers who will be at risk of huge fines, damages claims from employers and even jail.

"The essential aim of the new workplace laws is to allow businesses to unilaterally determine the pay and employment conditions of employees free of interference from unions, collective bargaining, awards, industrial tribunals and workers themselves", said ACTU Secretary Greg Combet.

"For all of these reasons the labour movement must fight for as long and as hard as it takes to see justice done. And fight we will."

Many legitimate union activities will be made illegal. Union officials, delegates and workers face fines of $33,000 simply for asking an employer to do any one of the following:

  • include a provision to remedy an unfair dismissal in a collective agreement

  • have union involvement in dispute resolution

  • allow employees to attend trade union training

  • commit the employer to future collective bargaining

  • protect job security in the event that people are replaced by labour hire or contractors or

  • anything else that the Minister decides is illegal.

    The Minister will be able to bypass Parliament and outlaw other basic trade union functions by regulation!

    Under special industrial relations legislation covering the building and construction industry that came into force last month, virtually all industrial action is outlawed. Breaches of its tough anti- worker, union crunching provisions are subject to massive damages claims and carry massive fines of $22,000 for workers and union officials and $110,000 for unions as well as jail sentences.

    Building workers who refuse to attend a secret interrogation or to answer questions even though it may incriminate them, or refuse to hand over documents, as requested by the new Building and Construction Commission, face jail sentences of six months: six months jail for carrying out legitimate trade union activity!

    "I accept there will be people going to jail in the period ahead", John Sutton, CFMEU Construction and General Secretary said. "All the struggles necessary to build the union movement 100 years ago will have to be fought again."

    "If the Howard Government sticks to its own laws it will need to prepare 100,000 prosecutions under its anti-worker laws.

    "If, as is likely, workers can not afford or refuse to pay the fines on principle, then there will not be enough prisons in Australia to accommodate these political prisoners.

    "The government appears hell bent on criminalising industrial action and is heading for a major crisis in the administration of justice."

    "The Prime Minister needs to send the clear message that the right to political protest still exists in this country or admit that he has now created a fascist State", Mr Sutton warned.

    Class warfare

    "This Federal Government is acting as the out and out agents of big business and their clear aim is to increase the economic share of wealth to capital and away from labour", he added.

    "This process represents a smash and grab raid by business interests It's the 1890s all over again.

    "It's class warfare played out to the hilt by wealthy and powerful interests."

    Living standards will be slashed for the majority of workers and their families. People with disabilities, the unemployed and sole parents will be thrown off benefits into a workforce to compete with other workers who have jobs but no job security. The law effectively gives employers the ability to hire and fire at will, to pit worker against worker in a race to the bottom.

    At the same time as incomes are plummeting and hours of work are sky-rocketing for many, education, health services, transport and housing will rise in cost as the destruction and privatisation of Medicare, public education and other vital public services take their toll. The very basics of life will be unaffordable for millions of Australians.

    As the security of the people is sacrificed, there will be further tax cuts for the rich, more hikes in spending on the military and "security" services in the name of fighting "the war on terrorism". Australia is already spending $60 million a day on military alone, spending that increases the risk of terrorism and creates greater insecurity.

    The battery of authoritarian and police-state powers being given to the military, ASIO and police will be strengthened as more and more people take up the struggle, realising they have very little if anything left to lose.

    This is unless the laws and government are defeated and new democratic, progressive laws passed in their place.

    As John Sutton says, big business is waging class warfare. Howard and his Government represent the legislative and political arm of that struggle.

    Howard's agenda is by no means limited to the Australian scene. The Federal Government is an integral part of the extreme international right wing which is increasingly adopting fascist measures to control community opposition to their policies. Their drive for more wars and the most far- reaching attacks on workers' rights and living standards are bringing hundreds and thousands on to the streets in many countries.

    The rioting in France caused by mass unemployment, poverty, discrimination and hopelessness is one recent example. Massive demonstrations and strike struggles are taking place in many countries across the world. Governments are preparing to meet this opposition with attacks on democratic rights and the use of extreme, brutal measures against the people.

    In Australia the political climate is changing as more and more people wake up to the cover-up and lying being resorted to by governments. The lying is the propaganda side of it.

    The trade union movement has declared war on the IR legislation and the Howard Government. This opposition will intensify as workers' rights and living standards are trashed by profit-hungry employers.

    These undemocratic laws can be defeated. This can be done by massive trade union and community demonstrations and actions. The millions of Australians who are for a democratic Australia must become part of the struggle, along with the trade unions and all workers.

    The Howard Government must go. Beazley and the ALP leaders have gone along with the Howard Government on too many issues, including the most recent terror laws, to be trusted.

    We need a people's government: a government of trade unionists and other worker representatives joined by representatives of community organisations that are trustworthy and committed to the interests of the people.

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