ACTU economic paper deserves to be supported

Contributed by Joe Montero

Last week the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) released a new paper called “An economy that works for people.” This is important because the ACTU is the peak body of all Australian unions and because it will have a significant impact.

Calls for a shift from neoliberalism have been around for a long time, and it has not only come from unions. There is a considerable body among economists who agree. Most importantly, millions of working men and women have been feeling the cost of the direction in which Australia has been going, they don’t like it and are angry at our political leaders.

The Neoliberal Rescue Plan

The ACTU has heard, and its paper calls for a reboot that puts the wellbeing of working Australians must be the priority in economic policy.

A major player has been Dr Jim Stafford. He authored the paper at the Centre for Future Work, where he provided the evidence showing the Australian economy’s underperformance over the last 10 years and the use of the casualization of work to shift the share of income towards corporate high-level shareholders. The evidence also shows that these shareholders and the companies they control are not investing in Australia. Investment as a share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is now lower than it has been for 75 years.

This is proof that economic policy based on neoliberalism, that is, the causalisation of work to lower workers share of national income, cutting back on government funding of services, the privatization of public enterprises, and the handing of hundreds of billions of dollars to the corporate sector, has failed to stimulate the economy.

ACTU Secretary Sally McManus made the ACTU’s position clear when she said, “Working people have suffered through nearly a decade of insecure work and stagnant wages, only now to be met with historically high inflation delivering massive real pay cuts.”

ACTU secretary Sally McManus

Suggestions for immediate action are made.

  • The Reserve Bank should be restructured around the objectives of ensuring the primacy of full employment, other key goals to meet people’s and the economy’s needs, and balance between inflation and these objectives.
  • The application an inflation reducing policy that takes care of workers incomes, prevents price gouging, and tackles the underlying energy costs, the costs of housing, early childhood education, and other essential needs.
  • Ensure that the government’s fiscal policy is directed at creating quality jobs in the public and private sector.
  • Reform the industrial relations system to allow workers to bargain for their fair share of our national wealth.

No one is pretending that these proposals cover everything. There is enough here to open an opportunity to raise the sort of changes that are needed. This is why the ACTU call must be put onto the centre of the public stage. The aim of all should be on working to achieve a broad consensus on some basics, and forums before, during, and after next month’s jobs summit provide stages to broadcast this.

The paper says, “the Jobs Summit is a chance for Australia to chart a path towards an economy that works
for people.”

Getting agreements on paper is one thing. Bringing about a change in practice is another. The shift form one to the other requires organisational form. There must be widespread discussion on what this should be. Circumstances are also providing the opportunity to raise opinions on how public enthusiasm and involvement can be raised. This is the only way that the needed change can be assured.

The ACTU’s paper is right to suggest the “the economy is us.”

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