The past few days in Australia have seen the media spasm over whether union “militancy” is a “throwback”, in the words of a right wing newspaper The Australian, to a bygone era. The union movement, does not shy from the tag of “militancy”, which means vigorously, actively and aggressively pursuing goals that advance the lives of our members, their families and their communities.
Militancy secured better wages, safer working conditions, superannuation and healthcare and workers compensation to secure a fair quality of life for all.
Every genuine union leader I have known has been ready and open to reach rational deals with companies and industries to improve productivity and improve our competitive position.
The Maritime Union of Australia’s perspective relating to automation is instructive.
We know automation is a reality in the workplace. But we are firm that the benefits of productivity or increased competitiveness from new technologies must also partly flow to the workers.
Increasingly, however, we are confronted with a phenomena I call “militant capitalism”. It’s a mutant strain, virulent, dangerous and unsustainable. Its values place shareholders above wider community responsibilities.
Militant capitalism powered the global financial crisis, snuffing out millions of jobs worldwide and obliterating trillions of dollars in wealth. Much of that wealth sat in workers’ pension funds: hard-earned, deferred wages that people entrusted to stewards who squandered vast sums of money in the global financial casino.
Out of the ashes of the old militant capitalism arises the new version, led by mining companies and their industry groups. They lay their claim to our nation’s natural wealth while nay-saying any responsibility to assist economic reconstruction.
Militant capitalism espouses the casual work that erodes workers’ lives. Militant capitalism turns a blind eye to horrific deaths on roads and heavy industry workfronts. Our employers don’t want a consistent national regulation for wharfies who work the same ship from one Australian port to the next.
Militant capitalism views every tax with contempt, even if such a tax might fund a national disability scheme or a broadband network. Redistribution of wealth is upwards, never downwards, regardless of managerial performance.
When Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard or a senior minister like Bill Shorten recognises links between Labor and the union movement, they are laying down a marker: the pursuit of an economic agenda that will touch every worker.
Workers will form and actively and robustly participate in labour unions as long as militant capitalism builds its self-interest at the expense of employees.