Hawke and Keating – the bosses’ men

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Eight Hour Banner, Melbourne, 1856

Contradicting the immediate elevation to national sainthood of Bob Hawke (soon to be Australia’s Abe Lincoln?) by the capitalist media and political agents of the bourgeoisie (regarding the Labor Party, note the American spelling of ‘labour’), across the board from ‘left’ to ‘right’, following his death yesterday, the article below points to why the bourgeoisie and their lackeys thought and think so highly of both him and Keating.

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Luke Faulkner, ‘When did unions become the bad guys?’ ABC News, updated 25.09.07

How things have changed since April 1983 when Bob Hawke’s union credentials were seen as a big plus in his quest to get into the Lodge.

Hawke’s ability to work in partnership with the union movement through the Prices and Incomes Accord was a direct result of his ACTU history.

While a drover’s dog could have won the 1983 election for the Labor Party, it is unlikely that the Accord would have been introduced, let alone remain in operation for the entire period of the Labor Government, had Hawke not had a union history.

The union movement, the Accord and the federal Labor government worked well together during the Hawke years.

The fact that the Labor Party was the political child of the union movement was not only openly confessed to, but proactively touted; especially come election time. And it worked, time and time again.

The wider Australian community which benefited from tax cuts, funding for job creation and training, extra child care places and other benefits negotiated as features of the Accord, was also happy with the role of unions.

This period of widespread union popularity and acceptance under Hawke and the Accord was not unusual but, rather, a reflection of how things had always been in Australia. Unions were an acceptable, indeed a necessary, feature of Australian working life.

So, when did unions become the bad guys? As always, there is more than one explanation.

Poisoned chalice

First there was the Accord itself.

Odd though it may seem, it could well be argued that the period in which unions had most input into the formulation of government policy was also the one which heralded their downhill slide; with one addition – Paul Keating.

Each of the ‘editions’ of the Accord (and there were eight of them) specified how, when and where pay improvements could be secured.

Pay rises were no longer won – they were awarded and any union which tried to step outside the very strict stipulations of the Accord was quickly and severely punished.

The airline pilots’ dispute in 1989 is the most obvious example of the Government response to rogue union action, though there were a number of others.

Unions became complacent. Life was easy.

The fighting spirit that had been honed over previous generations and which had resulted in great benefits being won for working people was weakened by the Accord.

With this loss of spirit came a loss of respect – from friend and foe alike.

Union members noticed the inability to strive for improvements in pay and conditions over those stipulated, and the concurrent (though possibly not related) decline in real wages over the Accord.

They blamed their full-time officials and then questioned the benefits of spending their weekly union dues when most of the same benefits negotiated under the Accord were accessible to the wider, non-union, community. The decline in union popularity started with their own members.

Keating’s EFAs

Paul Keating is another reason for the demise of union popularity. Keating wasn’t Hawke. He believed that unions inhibited organisational flexibility and productivity.

He introduced ‘Enterprise Flexibility Agreements’ (EFAs) – organisation-specific non-union collective bargaining mechanisms.

This was the first in a series of anti-union changes to the industrial legislation laws.

Between 1991-1996 he increasingly divorced himself and his government from being perceived as being political tool of the union movement. The last three editions of the Accord clearly reflect this change.

The Accord became a series of motherhood statements rather than a comprehensive policy document.

We are all aware that anti-union laws have increased over the years. What was forgotten is that Keating started it with the introduction of EFAs. …

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Eight hour day procession

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