The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) led Change the Rule campaign is necessary, if the decline in the reward for and quality of work is going to be arrested and turned around.
While it concerns work, the right to belong to a trade union and exercise the right to pursue collective interests, it is also about how we want Australia to operate as a society.
The campaign should be supported for both reasons.
And it captures the mood of the times. Anger over the cumulative restrictions that are leaving most people worse off and with fewer rights is growing.
This could prove to be an historical opportunity. Organising by the ACTU, the advertising campaign, delegates mass meetings and plans for big marches around Australia, lay a very good foundation to build a movement for change. What is going to take place over the next few weeks is part of an ongoing effort.
Victory can be won. The Turnbull government is already looking terminal and it can be pushed over. This is the immediate focus, and rightly so. For this reason, the ACTU and unions are sighting the election due next year. It is an obvious strategy.
This government does not have the legitimacy to speak for most of us. It exists to serve privilege and the interests of big business only. In doing so, it has been screwing the rest of us and selling our future down the drain. It must go.
But if experience should have taught us just one lesson, it is that we should not leave it at this. What happens after the election is just as important.
The biggest mistake of the WorkChoices campaign during John Howard’s time was that the organisational structure built to win it, was undone after Howard as thrown from office, and it allowed the creep back of a significant part of WorkChoices. The strength was an organised union/community alliance that brought a huge number of Australians into united and ongoing action. Its absence meant that the grass roots movement was disempowered, and the barrier towards returning to WorkChoices removed.
A movement like this is needed again, and it is up to all of us to make it a reality.
A rotten law must go. But replacing this with another one is not enough.Improvement needs action. Building a movement through the Change the Rules campaign, must be a vehicle to make Australia a more democratic place.
There is considerable support for raising the demand for the right to strike to be legislated. While this would also be a considerable advance that deserves support, it will still only be as good as it is able to be implemented. The right to strike has never existed in Australia. Although this makes industrial action more difficult, it does not illuminate it, when the determination to act collectively is there.
The ability to take industrial action is necessary, because workers are not in an equal position to big employers. They lack the control over the workplace, money and connections that the employer enjoys. It is only by acting together that the tables can be equalised to an extent.
True democracy is founded on the capacity of the population to assert its rights. A fair industrial relations system gives workers a decisive say in the workplace.
Across the whole of society, it gives communities a decisive say over interests they hold in common. Like in the workplace, the wealthiest and best connected have a much greater voice, although we are all supposed to stand equal before the law. Take the example of the contrast between allowing massive tax evasion for corporations and the squeezing of Centrelink benefits. Australia needs a movement to change the balance of power towards the majority.
Democracy is therefore much more than having the right to vote. It is about the existence of power from below, over every day affairs.
True democracy is the only means to ensure a better future. Surely, this is worth fighting for.