Lynton Crosby. Photo: Wikimedia user Cobber27 (Creative Commons)
Sir Lynton Crosby? Two countries, one strategy – weakening unions to make attacks on workers easier
In the New Year’s Honours List, David Cameron’s Australian attack dog Lynton Crosby will receive a knighthood for his services to the Conservative Party. But his assistance has not been solely electoral. He has been a crucial transmission belt between the right-wing parties of both countries, and in both countries his strategy is being ruthlessly implemented. Weaken trade unions so that the 1%’s attack on working people is so much easier. That’s what Lynton Crosby’s knighthood is really for.
In the UK, the Trade Union Bill would undermine unions’ ability to defend public services from attack, and public sector workers’ wages and rights at work. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Earth, the Australian trade union movement is confronting an $80million attack ahead of a full-frontal attack on penalty rates – the extra pay for weekend, holiday and overtime working that so many Australian workers depend on.
In both countries, the Government has attempted to smear the reputation of unions by focusing on alleged abuses. The Trade Union Bill follows the so-called Independent Review of the Law Governing Industrial Disputes, chaired by QC Bruce Carr, which found no need to revise the law on picketing or union campaigns, despite strenuous attempts and 58 pages devoted to “alleged use of extreme tactics in industrial disputes.” Carr concluded that:
“I believe that any recommendations which I could have put forward without the necessary factual underpinning would have been capable of being construed as making a political rather than an evidence-based judgment.”
Despite the lack of evidence of abuse to be addressed, as the police themselves have confirmed, the Government has included an attack on picketing in the Trade Union Bill.
This process is remarkably similar, although on a different scale, to the concerted attack on the reputation of Australian unions by the Liberals’ Trade Union Royal Commission, also chaired by a formerly distinguished lawyer (in this case Dyson Heyden, who was found out speaking at a Liberal Party fund-raiser during his term of office at the Commission). It reported this week, and Dave Oliver, Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), responded:
“Between 2009-13, 837 workers in the industries investigated by this Royal Commissioner have died doing their job. We are very concerned some recommendations will make it harder for workers to raise safety concerns in their workplace. This Royal Commission went back 30 years, spent $80m taxpayers’ money, examined 505 witnesses and has found only a handful of matters to prosecute.“
In both countries, these attacks on trade unions are designed to soften us up, justifying measures that make it more difficult for us to defend working people. In the Trade Union Bill, the Conservatives are attempting to make it more difficult for public sector unions to take strike action against cuts, and interfere with members’ ability even to pay their subs by prohibiting the freely-chosen automatic deduction of subscriptions from wages.
In Australia, the Government’s intentions were made brutally clear by the ‘coincidental’ publication of the report of the Trade Union Royal Commission just days after the so-called Productivity Commission recommended scrapping penalty rates for Sunday working in retail and hospitality (although these sectors have grown more than the rest of the economy in recent years.) Dave Oliver responded that:
“The Commission’s recommendations ignore the economic evidence, expert advice and very real concerns of everyday Australians. This Report attacks the take-home pay and rights of hardworking Australians.
“We will not get a more productive economy by cutting wages. The Productivity Commission’s recommendations are out of step with Australian values, out of touch with the modern lives of working people, and would compromise future economic and productivity growth.”
These attacks on trade unions so far apart, but united by the common cause of defending the vulnerable against the greed of the rich and powerful, must be resisted. Just as hired guns like Lynton Crosby facilitate common attacks on working people across national boundaries, we will ensure that they are met by global solidarity.