unions

Victory at Boom cranes after defiant five week strike

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 10/12/2018 - 11:09am in

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unions

Crane workers have won a five-week strike against Boom Logistics through widespread action in defiance of the law.

The win brings their pay packets up to industry standard with immediate pay rises of between 8 and 26 per cent at the Port Kembla yard. The union covering the workers, CFMEU, said that workers at the Singleton and Newcastle yards won immediate pay rises of between 20 and 50 per cent. It combines three sites onto a single agreement.

Workers have also secured their original claim of 2.5 per cent pay rises every six months. This applies for the next year until the agreement expires, with the CFMEU hoping to roll it over afterwards.

Boom began advertising for scab labour through labour hire companies about a month before the strike began—aided by a Fair Work Commission decision that banned an earlier strike in August.

In Port Kembla workers stopped the scab operation early on by forming an illegal hard picket.

At the Singleton and Newcastle sites it required an ongoing fight against the scabs.

“A lot of those guys, once the union shut them down on the first day, said they didn’t want to work when there was industrial action happening,” Port Kembla CFMEU delegate Luke Jewitt told Solidarity.

In response the bosses sent an email to them saying, “we’re grateful for your work during these tough times,” gave them a $100 a week pay rise and took them all out to dinner.

The company moved the cranes out of their yards and onto sites at mines and the coal loader where the company works.

Pickets spread out all across the Hunter to shut them down.

Workers parked in front of yard gates to prevent the company from moving its cranes around. If they spotted Boom cranes on the road, they followed them, entering yards and then boxing the cranes inside so they couldn’t leave.

For cranes that could only be moved at night because of their size, the CFMEU organised 24-hour pickets. While solidarity action in support of striking workers is technically illegal, workers on organised CFMEU sites found ways of refusing to work with Boom Cranes if they showed up on site.

The CFMEU mobilised support across the union, levying all members to support the strikers financially and toured Boom workers to speak at union meetings.

Conditions

Workers won improved working away from home allowances, including an increase of $25 per day after three weeks away.

Port Kembla workers spend on average 75 per cent of their time working away. There are also redundancy improvements.

“The workers are happy to have got it done,” said Jewitt. “It’s a good result. But at the same time there are things that are not in our new EBA that have been there for a long time, which was a bitter pill to swallow. But the company had a bitter pill to swallow when they had to give us a bloody pay rise.”

Port Kembla workers had not received a pay rise for four years. It was even longer, six years, at the Newcastle yard.

Crucially all three yards are now on the same EBA which places them in a stronger position to fight in the next round of bargaining.

The bosses desperately wanted to avoid that.

“They tried to play us off against each other, early in the piece,” said Jewitt. “They rang everyone in our yard, telling us if we went back to work they would give us the union EBA, but we would have to separate from the other two yards. But we said no.”

A significant loss for workers is that the company is no longer required to have a minimum of three people as part of every crane crew. Such a requirement is banned under the new federal Building Code introduced by the LNP government.

Previously, the CFMEU had vowed to fight the Building Code and to continue to fight for EBA provisions that were not code compliant, like the minimum three-person crew.

But last year the union took a decision to no longer fight the code, in the hope of electing a Labor government that would scrap it. The strategy has involved signing short-term EBAs with a view to changing them after Labor is elected.

“We wanted a three-year deal, but the [CFMEU organisers] said trust us. The Liberal Party have really handcuffed us,” said Jewitt.

This sets up a renewed fight under a Labor government right across the construction industry to restore conditions lost under the Liberals.

By Caitlin Doyle and Miro Sandev

The post Victory at Boom cranes after defiant five week strike appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Unionists stop work to Change the Rules—but we can’t rely on Labor

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 09/11/2018 - 2:03pm in

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unions, unions

Thousands of unionists walked out of work to join Change the Rules rallies on 23 October in Sydney and Melbourne.

Workers shut down the ports again in both Sydney and Melbourne. Stevedoring companies DP World, Hutchison and Patrick agreed to let the MUA use a clause in their agreement allowing a paid four-hour stopwork meeting to attend.

This time more unions brought sizeable numbers to the Sydney rally of around 4000 people. Construction workers were again out in force. The NUW brought hundreds of union delegates, with the entire permanent workforce at some sites attending.

But Melbourne’s rally dwarfed it, in display of union power as tens of thousands of construction workers walked off building sites.

Workers defied threats from the Fair Work Ombudsman, which wrote to employers reminding them that workers who take unlawful strike action can face individual fines of $12,600.

Victorian Trades Hall responded by threatening a union name and shame-style campaign against any employer who threatened workers attending the protest.

These acts of defiance are crucial. Unions are going to have to openly break the laws that ban industrial action if we are going to change the rules and win the right to strike.

Most unions brought contingents, with migrant farm workers from the NUW again prominent.

But, with the rally timed for a month before the Victorian state election, the focus from the platform was much more narrowly on the elections. Almost every speaker from the stage made reference to what Trades Hall Secretary Luke Hilakari called “a time to make a change… two key elections”, and the chance to re-elect Labor’s Daniel Andrews in Victoria and kick out Scott Morrison in Canberra.

The ETU’s Troy Gray even said, “We need to fix trickle-down economics by fixing our broken workplace laws and every state needs a Premier like Daniel Andrews. Do that and you’d fix the inequality.”

“Next year, we get rid of the Libs,” he added. “Then we pressure, pressure, pressure, and we change the rules.”

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews himself helped lead the march.

The turnout was far short of the claims it would be Melbourne’s biggest ever rally. Despite official claims of 170,000 attending, the turnout was substantially smaller than the 120,000 who hit the streets in May.

A number of unions have already shifted their focus to electoral campaigning through doorknocking and phone banking, putting less effort into mobilising for the rally. Their aim is to elect a Labor government, in the hope they will deliver change.

But the limits of what Labor leader Bill Shorten is prepared to offer are already clear. Labor is offering modest changes in industrial relations, including an end to the termination of enterprise agreements, scrapping the Australian Building and Construction Commission, limitations on use of labour hire and overturning the cuts to penalty rates.

However they will not even promise to introduce industry-wide bargaining, as the ACTU has proposed, or getting rid of the fines and other restrictions that frustrate strike action.

The union movement cannot afford to simply elect Labor and hope this will solve our problems. Change the Rules needs to be turned into an ongoing campaign of stopwork rallies and protests, to drive the Liberals from power and force Labor to deliver.

By James Supple

The post Unionists stop work to Change the Rules—but we can’t rely on Labor appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Boom cranes strike into its fourth week

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 09/11/2018 - 1:57pm in

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unions, unions

Workers at Boom Logistics cranes in Singleton, Newcastle and Port Kembla were into their fourth week of an indefinite strike as this article was written.

In Singleton and Newcastle, bosses have used casual workers to undermine the strike. Workers at Port Kembla stopped a scab operation early on by forming a hard picket around the yard.

Luke Jewitt, a union delegate in Port Kembla, said casuals at the other yards were threatened with sacking if they refused to work. “To be threatened and bullied like that, and then [the company] have the hide to say we bully is a bit hypocritical,” he said.

Crane hire services are in high demand due to the construction boom. But the workers have not had a pay rise for four years. “At the moment it’s a race to the bottom,” Luke said. “Everyone’s pushing to win all this work so they’re going in cheaper, and the way they’re going cheaper is by pushing wages down.”

The company is offering a 3.5 per cent increase, leaving pay significantly below the industry standard. Management gave themselves pay rises of 25 per cent over the last year.

The union is demanding 5 per cent a year. Workers at Port Kembla are want to be properly compensated for the three out of four weeks they spend working away from home.

Bosses are trying to play the Port Kembla workers off against the other yards by offering them a separate agreement—which they refused.

Alongside workers at WGC cranes, their strike was initially banned by the Fair Work Commission after the CFMEU asked both companies to sign a template agreement with the same wages and conditions agreed to by other crane companies in NSW. This kind of “pattern bargaining” is currently illegal.

Workers were initially banned from striking for three months. On appeal the ban was reduced to two weeks—in exchange for concessions such as dropping a claim for back pay for 2017 at WGC. It’s another example of how the law stops effective strike action—and why the Fair Work Commission needs to be defied.

The 80 workers at WGC cranes won new union enterprise agreements after two weeks on strike.

Darren, a union delegate at WGC cranes in Smeaton Gorge told Solidarity, “Since Freo Cranes bought us out they wanted to pay all the Wollongong workers at a lower rate than they’re paying us at WGC’s Smeaton Grange yard.” The move came after the company was bought by a firm owned by billionaire Warren Buffett. Workers at the company’s two sites have now won the same pay and conditions.

Solidarity from across the union movement can make sure the Boom workers win their fight too.

By Caitlin Doyle

You can donate to support the Boom workers here

The post Boom cranes strike into its fourth week appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Why do the union leaders back Labor?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 09/11/2018 - 1:26pm in

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unions, unions

Union leaders see the Labor Party as a vehicle for their interests in parliament, argues David Glanz, even though Labor ultimately governs in the interests of capitalism

When the ALP’s 48th national conference opens in Adelaide on 16 December, about half of the 400 delegates will be from affiliated unions. Many delegates elected from among the party’s individual members will be union activists, too.

The union movement and the ALP are tightly interwoven. Former ACTU Presidents who have gone on to be federal MPs include Bob Hawke, Simon Crean, Martin Ferguson, Jennie George and Ged Kearney. About half of the ALP caucus are former union officials.

Yet there’s a considerable gap between what unions want from Labor and what the parliamentary party is prepared to promise—whether on Change the Rules, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) or refugee policy.

How should we understand the relationship between unions and Labor? Which is the tail and which is the dog?

The starting point is to understand that the ALP was born of workers’ defeat. It represented an attempt by union leaders to claw back through political means the influence that direct action no longer seemed capable of delivering.

From 1890 to 1894, with the economy in deep crisis, the ruling class went on the offensive. As one historian noted: “Within the space of three years the colonial unions had conceded almost every major concession won from the capitalist class to that date.

“The national confrontations between the unions and capitalist organisations involved all sectors of production. Seamen, waterside workers, shearers, coal miners, silver-lead miners, transport workers, were all locked out by their bosses.

“Police and military actions were used, thousands of special constables were sworn in and detachments of light horse brought out from the barracks.”

The union officials responded by turning away from industrial action to political action.

This in one respect was a step forward—it recognised that the working class had distinct interests and needed to organise separately from the boss class.

But from the beginning the officials made it clear that they wanted gradual reform and that they had no intention of challenging capitalism.

William Spence, leader of the Australian Workers Union, saw the Labor Party as, “introducing co-operation instead of competition… not because we are going to abandon the principles that guided men in the days of the old unionism” but because, “we must unite on the common platform when we speak, and when we vote for reforms that are necessary”.

The parliamentary party

The second thing to understand is the relationship between the parliamentary Labor Party and its affiliates and members.

Officially, the party’s policy is set by its national conference where, as we have seen, union officials would have a majority if they united.

Labor’s constitution says the parliamentary party’s decisions should be shaped by, “taking such action which may be possible to implement the Party’s platform” and should not contradict the platform.

But the reality is different, for two reasons.

The parliamentary party has an immediate interest in maximising the vote, to keep their own seats and privileges. This often means acting against party policy to please the media or the bosses.

When the Victorian Labor government smashed the Builders Labourers Federation in 1985, the Premier, John Cain, thumbed his nose at the party conference, which passed resolutions condemning the attack.

“For my part I had said to Conference on two occasions… that the government was not going to implement their decisions…

“So despite the oft-repeated phrase that Conference is supreme and decides policy, in effect, when the crunch comes, if the government is right… it can hold sway against Conference.”

The second reason is that the parliamentary party’s over-riding concern is the “national interest”—in other words, the interests of Australian capitalism.

This commitment—hard-wired into the ALP from the days of Spence and “co-operation”—is so strong that it can lead the ALP leadership to take decisions that result in it losing votes.

The Labor government of James Scullin took office a week before the 1929 Wall Street Crash that heralded the onset of the Great Depression.

On the advice of the bankers, Scullin cut government spending (including welfare) by 20 per cent and wages by 10 per cent and increased taxes—as unemployment rose towards its peak of 32 per cent.

The Labor vote, 48.8 per cent in the 1929 elections, collapsed to 37.6 per cent in the 1931 election, which saw the ALP trounced.

Similarly, in 1949, the government of Ben Chifley—who, as a railway worker, had been victimised for striking in 1917—sent in troops to break a coal miners’ strike.

His Immigration Minister, Arthur Calwell, called the strikers scum and pledged: “We will run up the Australian flag and it will cover Australian servicemen mining coal in Australia for the Australian people.”

Labor’s vote fell from 51.3 per cent in 1946 to 46 per cent in 1949, with the Liberals remaining in office until 1972.

So the parliamentary party has always been prepared to run roughshod over the interests of the union officials and their members in the interests of capitalism.

But it’s not all one-way traffic. Union officials also have a number of ways they can discipline Labor (although never to the point of a fundamental challenge to the system).

Union influence

Unions—including those not affiliated to the party—donate significant amounts to Labor.

In 2015-16, the SDA gave $657,000; the CPSU gave $395,000; the AMWU, $300,000; the Victorian branch of the CEPU (Plumbers), $95,000; the CFMEU, $49,000; and so on. Other donations went to state branches.

If officials want to show their displeasure, they can limit donations or give money to Labor’s rivals (Greens, Katter, Victorian Socialists, etc). Sometimes they disaffiliate, only to return when the party’s position changes.

The AMWU recently spearheaded a campaign to punish Labor for giving too much ground on the TPP—in particular, for allowing what it regards as too many workers to enter the country on temporary visas.

National Secretary Paul Bastian said the union had made it clear to Labor that this was a threshold issue for its continued support of party candidates and campaigns.

The union stopped the flow of funds and in-kind support and threatened to protest outside an ALP event.

Labor refused to change its TPP vote but promised that future free trade deals would be subject to a range of considerations including labour market testing, which was enough for the AMWU to declare victory and reinstate its support.

What is important here is not so much the detail but the way that the episode highlights the pragmatic deal-making between union officials and the ALP, who, however much they quarrel, are very much partners.

Union officials can also try to win influence by throwing considerable forces behind Labor election campaigns.

In Victoria, Trades Hall is coordinating work on the ground in seven marginal state seats, with rank-and-file workers running street stalls and going door-knocking.

The ANMF, which is not affiliated, is hosting phone banking operations of up to 350 ALP members and supporters at a time.

The ACTU’s Change the Rules campaign is a positive step in mobilising workers.

But it is strategically entirely subordinated to the aim of returning a Shorten Labor government. Union officials are largely pessimistic about the chances of winning reforms any other way.

The result is that the ACTU is raising only those demands that it thinks the ALP might be prepared to deliver. Issues like the right to strike are quietly dumped in the too-hard basket.

So the relationship between union leaders and Labor is a complex one.

The ALP looks to the union movement for funding (although business also contributes heavily) and even more importantly, for an army on the ground that can significantly boost its election campaigns.

In return, the party knows it has to offer some prospect of the laws changing—for instance around penalty rates or abolishing the ABCC. How much Labor offers is carefully calibrated to offer union officials the minimum acceptable while avoiding a ruling class backlash.

On the other hand, union leaders have looked to Labor for more than a century to bring about reform through parliament.

For leaders on the right of the party, such as those from the SDA, this is pretty much the totality of their strategy.

For leaders on the left, there is occasionally a willingness to take on Labor, industrially or politically. So in Victoria, the RTBU struck twice for its Metro train EBA and then moved a right to strike motion at the state Labor conference.

But all union leaderships are united by a desire to see Labor elected. They share an approach that minimises potentially embarrassing demands before elections in the hope that the ALP can be lobbied once in office.

We are all desperate to see the end of this racist, reactionary anti-worker Morrison government.

However, history shows that Labor is prepared to sacrifice workers’ interests if it thinks that will help the viability of Australian capitalism.

The task for socialists continues to be to encourage independent activity by workers, to fight the Liberals until the last and to make it clear to Labor that if they do not deliver, we will continue the fight with them, too.

The post Why do the union leaders back Labor? appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Is an over-supply of labour depressing wages?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 31/10/2018 - 6:10am in

image/png iconYlCgiXq - Copy.png

Are trade union bureaucrats correct in saying Marx believed an over-supply of labour depresses wages? We take a look at what Marx called "the absolute general law of capitalist accumulation" to discover if this is true.

To put it mathematically: the rate of accumulation is the independent, not the dependent, variable; the rate of wages, the dependent, not the independent, variable.

Karl Marx

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Union Co-op Initiative Seeks To Create Union Jobs, Democratic Workplaces

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 25/10/2018 - 1:00am in

Every election, politicians promise jobs. Regardless of who wins, good jobs keep getting scarcer in most UE communities. Is there anything else that working people can do to create — and more importantly, keep — good jobs in our communities? A group of trade unionists and community organizers in Cincinnati thinks they have an answer — union co-ops. The Cincinnati Union Co-op Initiative is a nonprofit founded in 2009 with the mission of incubating unionized businesses that are cooperatively owned by their workers. CUCI believes that bringing together unionization and cooperative ownership creates a powerful tool to generate family-sustaining jobs that can be the foundation of an economy that works for everyone.

Nostalgia Mining

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 23/10/2018 - 1:08am in

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Labor, unions

Celebrating the men of a once-massive industrial labor union that essentially no longer exists.

Report on the 2018 IWW Organising Summit

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 22/10/2018 - 6:24am in

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UK, unions

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My notes on the UK IWW's organising summit in Sheffield.

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Unions condemn Labor’s backflip on TPP trade deal

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 14/10/2018 - 7:25pm in

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Labor, unions

Daniel Wallace, secretary of Hunter Workers, the Newcastle Trades Hall Council, resigned from the Labor Party in response to their decision to support the Trans Pacific Partnership-11 trade deal. He spoke to Solidarity.

Why are unions opposed to signing the TPP-11?

Daniel Wallace

The matter had been considered by the rank-and-file of the Labor Party at national conference, and there was a decision that only under certain conditions would Labor support the TPP. That’s been in their platform and was over-ridden in the caucus. Over-riding the rank-and-file doesn’t sit well with a party that’s supposed to represent the working class.

The TPP itself has the potential to bring labour in where skill shortages may not apply, like in regional areas and have an effect on local jobs. There’s also concern about pharmaceuticals that minor changes to original products may extend the patent life and medicines may be dearer.

Who benefits from free trade deals like the TPP?

Corporations and the big end of town benefit, there’s very little in the agreement that would assist workers. There’s a number of clauses that they say have been ruled out but they’ve just been suspended until such time as the US rejoins in the future. Corporations benefit and the government’s rights to regulate in the public interest are compromised.

What do you think of Labor’s decision to backflip and agree to support the agreement?

When power privatisation took place in NSW, Labor MPs were threatened when they breached the platform they would be potentially kicked out of the party. There’s MPs that are opposed to the TPP who spoke against it in caucus but now they’re saying, because of caucus solidarity, they’ve got to support it. Unions are saying they don’t have to support it because it goes against the platform. But they’re not prepared to do it.

What’s the response in the union movement been to this decision?

We’ve seen one union write to the Labor Party saying they’re not participating in any events or donations because of the TPP. The national secretary of the ETU said they’re disappointed and hope they’ll change their mind. The CFMEU and even the ACTU have also commented.

What do you think this means in terms of relying on Labor to Change the Rules or deliver changes like the right to strike?

It’s very clear in my view that if their own party members can’t trust them to abide by their own decisions there’s no way the union movement can trust them. The campaign on Change the Rules has got to hold them to account on any decisions made prior to the election and anything we’d like to see changed by any future government.

 

No to free trade, no to xenophobia

Free trade deals are designed to benefit big corporations. Governments have used them to strike down laws that reduce corporate profits, including labour and environmental regulations.

The TPP-11, the version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership stitched together after Donald Trump ended US support for the deal, is no different.

Labor leader Bill Shorten’s decision to wave it through parliament is about reassuring business that he will govern in their interests. He claims he would renegotiate side deals once in office to improve the deal, but it’s unlikely other countries involved would agree.

It includes an Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism that would allow overseas investors to sue governments that pass new laws damaging their profits. Tobacco giant Philip Morris used a similar mechanism in a trade deal with Hong Kong to challenge Australia’s plain packaging tobacco laws.

The agreement would also allow companies to bring in temporary workers who qualify under the existing temporary skills visa list, waving the usual requirement for labour market testing.

This means there would be no requirement to advertise the jobs or to allow workers to apply locally—a change which should be opposed.

Some unions have opposed the TPP by spreading xenophobia about migrant workers. The AMWU said the deal would, “open the gates to foreign workers”. The meat workers’ union argued against immigration in general, saying the TPP would mean more workplaces like Thomas Foods in Tamworth where, “their workforce is made up of nearly 90 per cent migrant workers, in a region where youth unemployment is currently more than double the national average”.

Workers on temporary visas are vulnerable to exploitation. They rely on their boss to be able to remain in the country. But the solution is to organise them into the unions and demand full permanent migration rights.

But it’s a myth that immigration costs jobs. Job cuts and unemployment are caused by corporate profiteering and government failure. Telstra for instance announced 8000 job cuts in June, and thousands of jobs have gone in manufacturing through automation. We should say no to the TPP, but reject the scapegoating of migrant workers.

The post Unions condemn Labor’s backflip on TPP trade deal appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Victorian delegates meet, but electoral campaign for Labor on the agenda

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 14/10/2018 - 7:20pm in

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unions, unions

More than 1700 workers attended Trades Hall’s mass delegates meeting on 25 September, to plan for the next Change The Rules stopwork rally on 23 October—this time branded in Victoria as “Australia Needs a Pay Rise”.

Victorian unions led the way with 120,000 joining the stopwork rally in May. But the strategy at the delegates meeting this time was even more unashamedly electoral. After a brief discussion of the rally, the rest of the meeting was dedicated to signing delegates up for phone banking, door knocking, and train station leafleting for the elections.

Delegates were told that we needed to kick the Liberals out federally, “re-elect Daniel Andrews” and then the rules would change, and we would get a pay rise.

ACTU Secretary Sally McManus described Daniel Andrews as the “best boss ever”. Trades Hall Secretary Luke Hilakari told the Herald Sun that Andrews “would be the most progressive Premier we have ever seen in this state. He’s delivered more for working people than just about anyone else”.

This is the same Daniel Andrews that has just prioritised funding Catholic schools over government schools with a $400 million sweetheart deal, and proposed laws criminalising the freedom of association of African communities. Andrews also privatised the Port of Melbourne and the Land Title Registry. More welcome is his statement that electricity privation in Victoria has not worked. But he is not promising to take power back into public hands.

The tottering federal Liberal government needs to go, and their racist clone Matthew Guy in Victoria must be stopped. But we can’t simply leave it to Labor to deliver the change we need.

This risks repeating the mistakes of the Workchoices campaign that went from “Your Rights at Work worth Fighting For” to “Your Rights at Work worth Voting For”. The mass rallies of 200,000 did not continue after the election and Labor did not deliver on our rights at work. The rules we are trying to change now are the ones that Labor put in place after getting elected in 2007.

Federally Labor is promising some modest changes including the restoration of penalty rates and an end to the termination of agreements. But Labor won’t deliver on the one rule that really holds the union movement back—the right to strike. Nor has Labor made any promises around the ACTU’s call for industry wide bargaining. Shorten’s backflip to support the Trans Pacific Partnership is an indication that the ALP is still committed to supporting corporate interests.

But there was no room for debate, with the delegates meeting stage managed. Motions or amendments to the official motion were not allowed on the basis that these needed to “come up through unions’ structures”.

We need to make the right to strike a key demand of the campaign and plan for an ongoing campaign of stopwork rallies beyond the federal election. A follow up delegates meeting and stopwork rally in the new year would be a good start.

By Chris Breen

The post Victorian delegates meet, but electoral campaign for Labor on the agenda appeared first on Solidarity Online.

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