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Monopoly Mayhem: Corporations Win, Workers LoseWhy do big...

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 08/07/2020 - 5:46am in

Tags 

unions, wages, Video

Monopoly Mayhem: Corporations Win, Workers LoseWhy do big corporations continue to win while workers get shafted? It all comes down to power: who has it, and who doesn’t.    

Big corporations have become so dominant that workers and consumers have fewer options and have to accept the wages and prices these giant corporations offer. This has become even worse now that thousands of small businesses have had to close as a result of the pandemic, while mammoth corporations are being bailed out.  

At the same time, worker bargaining power has declined as fewer workers are unionized and technologies have made outsourcing easy, allowing corporations to get the labor they need for cheap.    

These two changes in bargaining power didn’t happen by accident. As corporations have gained power, they’ve been able to gut anti-monopoly laws, allowing them to grow even more dominant. At the same time, fewer workers have joined unions because corporations have undermined the nation’s labor laws, and many state legislatures – under intense corporate lobbying – have enacted laws making it harder to form unions.

Because of these deliberate power shifts, even before the pandemic, a steadily larger portion of corporate revenues have been siphoned off to profits, and a shrinking portion allocated to wages.

Once the economy tanked, the stock market retained much of its value while millions of workers lost jobs and the unemployment rate soared to Great Depression-era levels.

To understand the current concentration of corporate power we need to go back in time. 

In the late nineteenth century, corporate power was a central concern. “Robber barons,” like John D. Rockefeller and Cornelius Vanderbilt, amassed unprecedented wealth for themselves by crushing labor unions, driving competitors out of business, and making their employees work long hours in dangerous conditions for low wages. 

As wealth accumulated at the top, so too did power: Politicians of the era put corporate interests ahead of workers, even sending state militias to violently suppress striking workers. By 1890, public anger at the unchecked greed of the robber barons culminated in the creation of America’s first anti-monopoly law, the Sherman Antitrust Act. 

In the following years, antitrust enforcement waxed or waned depending on the administration in office; but after 1980, it virtually disappeared. The new view was that large corporations produced economies of scale, which were good for consumers, and anything that was good for consumers was good for America. Power, the argument went, was no longer at issue. America’s emerging corporate oligarchy used this faulty academic analysis to justify killing off antitrust.

As the federal government all but abandoned antitrust enforcement in the 1980s, American industry grew more and more concentrated. The government green-lighted Wall Street’s consolidation into five giant banks. It okayed airline mergers, bringing the total number of American carriers down from twelve in 1980 to just four today. Three giant cable companies came to dominate broadband. A handful of drug companies control the pharmaceutical industry.

Today, just five giant corporations preside over key, high-tech platforms, together comprising more than a quarter of the value of the entire U.S. stock market. Facebook and Google are the first stops for many Americans seeking news. Apple dominates smartphones and laptop computers. Amazon is now the first stop for a third of all American consumers seeking to buy anything.

The monopolies of yesteryear are back with a vengeance.

Thanks to the abandonment of antitrust, we’re now living in a new Gilded Age, as consolidation has inflated corporate profits, suppressed worker pay, supercharged economic inequality, and stifled innovation.

Meanwhile, big investors have made bundles of money off the growing concentration of American industry. Warren Buffett, one of America’s wealthiest men, has been considered the conscience of American capitalism because he wants the rich to pay higher taxes. But Buffett has made his fortune by investing in monopolies that keep out competitors.

– The sky-high profits at Wall Street banks have come from their being too big to fail and their political power to keep regulators at bay.

– The high profits the four remaining airlines enjoyed before the pandemic came from inflated prices, overcrowded planes, overbooked flights, and weak unions.

– High profits of Big Tech have come from wanton invasions of personal privacy, the weaponizing of false information, and disproportionate power that prevents innovative startups from entering the market.

If Buffett really wanted to be the conscience of American capitalism, he’d be a crusader for breaking up large concentrations of economic power and creating incentives for startups to enter the marketplace and increase competition.

This mega-concentration of American industry has also made the entire economy more fragile – and susceptible to deep downturns. Even before the coronavirus, it was harder for newer firms to gain footholds. The rate at which new businesses formed had already been halved from the pace in 1980. And the coronavirus has exacerbated this trend even more, bringing new business formations to a standstill with no rescue plan in sight.

And it’s brought workers to their knees. There’s no way an economy can fully recover unless working people have enough money in their pockets to spend. Consumer spending is two-thirds of this economy.

Perhaps the worst consequence of monopolization is that as wealth accumulates at the top, so too does political power.

These massive corporations provide significant campaign contributions; they have platoons of lobbyists and lawyers and directly employ many voters. So items they want included in legislation are inserted; those they don’t want are scrapped. 

They get tax cuts, tax loopholes, subsidies, bailouts, and regulatory exemptions. When the government is handing out money to stimulate the economy, these giant corporations are first in line. When they’ve gone so deep into debt to buy back their shares of stock that they might not be able to repay their creditors, what happens? They get bailed out. It’s the same old story.

The financial returns on their political investments are sky-high.

Take Amazon – the richest corporation in America. It paid nothing in federal taxes in 2018. Meanwhile, it held a national auction to extort billions of dollars in tax breaks and subsidies from cities eager to house its second headquarters. It also forced Seattle, its home headquarters, to back away from a tax on big corporations, like Amazon, to pay for homeless shelters for a growing population that can’t afford the city’s sky-high rents, caused in part by Amazon!

And throughout this pandemic, Amazon has raked in record profits thanks to its monopoly of online marketplaces, even as it refuses to provide its essential workers with robust paid sick leave and has fired multiple workers for speaking out against the company’s safety issues.

While corporations are monopolizing, power has shifted in exactly the opposite direction for workers. 

In the mid-1950s, 35 percent of all private-sector workers in the United States were unionized. Today, 6.2 percent of them are.

Since the 1980s, corporations have fought to bust unions and keep workers’ wages low. They’ve campaigned against union votes, warning workers that unions will make them less “competitive” and threaten their jobs. They fired workers who try to organize, a move that’s illegal under the National Labor Relations Act but happens all the time because the penalty for doing so is minor compared to the profits that come from discouraging unionization. 

Corporations have replaced striking workers with non-union workers. Under shareholder capitalism, striking workers often lose their jobs forever. You can guess the kind of chilling effect that has on workers’ incentives to take a stand against poor conditions.

As a result of this power shift, workers have less choice of whom to work for. This also keeps their wages low. Corporations have imposed non-compete, anti-poaching, and mandatory arbitration agreements, further narrowing workers’ alternatives. 

Corporations have used their increased power to move jobs overseas if workers don’t agree to pay cuts. In 1988, General Electric threatened to close a factory in Fort Wayne, Indiana that made electrical motors and to relocate it abroad unless workers agreed to a 12 percent pay cut. The Fort Wayne workers eventually agreed to the cut. One of the factory’s union leaders remarked, “It used to be that companies had an allegiance to the worker and the country. Today, companies have an allegiance to the corporate shareholder. Period.”

Meanwhile, as unions have shrunk, so too has their political power. In 2009, even with a Democratic president and Democrats in control of Congress, unions could not muster enough votes to enact a simple reform that would have made it easier for workplaces to unionize.

All the while, corporations have been getting states to enact so-called “right-to-work” laws barring unions from requiring dues from workers they represent. Since worker representation costs money, these laws effectively gut the unions by not requiring workers to pay dues. In 2018, the Supreme Court, in an opinion delivered by the court’s five Republican appointees, extended “right-to-work” to public employees.

This great shift in bargaining power from workers to corporate shareholders has created an increasingly angry working class vulnerable to demagogues peddling authoritarianism, racism, and xenophobia. Trump took full advantage.

All of this has pushed a larger portion of national income into profits and a lower portion into wages than at any time since World War II. 

That’s true even during a severe downturn. For the last decade, most profits have been going into stock buybacks and higher executive pay rather than new investment.

The declining share of total U.S. income going to the bottom 90 percent over the last four decades correlates directly with the decline in unionization. Most of the increasing value of the stock market has come directly out of the pockets of American workers. Shareholders have gained because workers stopped sharing the gains.

So, what can be done to restore bargaining power to workers and narrow the widening gap between corporate profits and wages?

For one, make stock buybacks illegal, as they were before the SEC legalized them under Ronald Reagan. This would prevent corporate juggernauts from siphoning profits into buybacks, and instead direct profits towards economic investment.

Another solution: Enact a national ban on “right-to-work” laws, thereby restoring power to unions and the workers they represent.

Require greater worker representation on corporate boards, as Germany has done through its “employee co-determination” system.

Break up monopolies. Break up any bank that’s “too big to fail”, and expand the Federal Trade Commission’s ability to find monopolies and review and halt anti-competitive mergers. Designate large technology platforms as “utilities” whose prices are regulated in the public interest and require that services like Amazon Marketplace and Google Search be spun off from their respective companies.

Above all, antitrust laws must stop mergers that harm workers, stifle competition, or result in unfair pricing.

This is all about power. The good news is that rebalancing the power of workers and corporations can create an economy and a democracy that works for all, not just a privileged few.

Morrison’s ‘Accord 2.0’ talks are a trap for the unions

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 23/06/2020 - 2:12pm in

Tags 

unions, unions

Scott Morrison has set a trap for the union movement and the ACTU has walked straight in.

In late May, he announced the formation of five working groups made up of employer and union representatives, to be chaired by the Minister for Industrial Relations, Christian Porter.

The groups would “chart a practical reform agenda, a job-making agenda, for Australia’s industrial relations system”.

The ACTU immediately took the bait, welcoming “the opportunity to sit down with the Government and employers to discuss how our economy can be rebuilt”.

Commentators dubbed the exercise Accord 2.0 in a nod to the Prices and Income Accord implemented by the Hawke and Keating Labor governments and the unions from 1983 until the early 1990s.

Morrison’s five working groups will examine award simplification; enterprise agreement making; casuals and fixed term employment; compliance and enforcement; and greenfields agreements for new enterprises or projects (which are finalised before any of the workers are employed there).

The words hide a minefield of threats to workers. The top bosses’ organisation, the Australian Industry Group, has already issued its wish list.

It includes scrapping the Better Off Overall Test, so that deals can make some workers worse off; more individual “flexibility” for award workers, making it easier for bosses to divide the workforce; and greenfield agreements that run for the life of the project, which means workers in mining, for example, can be locked into shoddy deals for decades.

The ACTU has drawn its own lines. Secretary Sally McManus said: “The ACTU will measure any changes to industrial relations law on the benchmarks of: will it give working people better job security, and will it lead to working people receiving their fair share of the country’s wealth?”

In return for the ACTU’s cooperation, Morrison withdrew the Ensuring Integrity Bill, the vicious legislation aimed at deregistering militant unions. But while this is welcome, the Liberals had already been defeated in the Senate and knew they had little chance of getting the Bill passed.

The ACTU thinks it is making sure “the voice of working people continues to be at the table”. But the working group exercise is no more than Liberal window-dressing.

After the political debacle created by his response to the bushfires, Morrison has twigged that looking inclusive and appearing to listen strengthens his image. Creating the National Cabinet has seen his ratings soar.

Political theatre

Bringing the unions into the tent is the next bit of political theatre.

But it will be very short-lived, with the process wrapping up by September. And even as he announced the working groups, Morrison made it clear they would have no real influence on the government’s agenda.

“The working groups will either reach something approaching a consensus on issues or they won’t … Ultimately it will be the Government that will take forward a job-making agenda from this process.”

This makes this exercise very different to the 1980s Accords. Then the government was looking to tame a union movement that organised half the workforce and led massive strikes.

The Accords were written agreements between the government and the ACTU that, on paper, offered increases to the social wage (welfare, health, education) in return for wage restraint.

While the reality was the biggest cuts to real wages in more than a generation, union leaders could console themselves with being key players in shaping national economic policy for a decade.

This time around, the exercise is a charade—little more than three months of discussion with no guarantee that union claims will be considered seriously.

Weakening the union position further is the way that leaders fast-tracked changes to awards covering more than two million workers to make it easier for employers to cut hours and redeploy workers during the pandemic.

Porter joked that he and McManus had become BFFs. Now he is saying that all sides need to “lay down their arms”.

But the government and the bosses have no intention of declaring a truce. In September, the Liberals will dump one in ten people into deeper poverty by dropping JobKeeper and halving JobSeeker.

They have imposed a year-long pay freeze on federal public servants, ostentatiously refused to fund universities’ deficits and abolished free childcare.

Morrison splashed billions to keep the economy from total disaster but he will expect workers to pay.

Facing these challenges, the union leadership has to relearn an old lesson: you can’t win at the table what hasn’t been won on the ground.

The ACTU should walk out of Porter’s parlour game, declare that workers will not pay the price of the system’s failures and start organising our side for the fight that is coming.

By David Glanz

The post Morrison’s ‘Accord 2.0’ talks are a trap for the unions appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Melbourne Uni no vote on cuts to pay and conditions boosts fights elsewhere

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 23/06/2020 - 1:56pm in

NTEU members at the University of Melbourne (UoM) have dealt a decisive blow to management, voting No to a non-union ballot to vary the existing enterprise agreement.

The result strengthens campaigns against management-driven variations at other campuses including ANU and Wollongong Uni. But the union leadership is continuing to push its own variations at three universities where management backs their failed national framework.

UoM had sought to cut pay by 2.2 per cent and reduce redundancy entitlements.

National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) activists and delegates mobilised around the clock to defeat the variation, a mammoth task given that campus is shut. Over 16 mass workplace meetings were organised by activists and delegates in order to put the no case and encourage union members to campaign amongst their colleagues.

The day before the vote opened, activists organised a socially distanced protest outside the Chancellery building in the morning, crashed the VC’s online webinar at noon and facilitated an online casuals’ speak-out in the evening to clinch the campaign.

The variation was resoundingly defeated, with 64 per cent of staff voting no. Out of this victory, we have many more activists and delegates involved in the branch for the fight ahead of us.

The non-union ballot was management’s response to the profound crisis facing the higher education sector. For decades, university managements have been singing from the neo-liberal song book and running universities like businesses, reliant on private funding arrangements like corporate sponsorship and domestic and international student fees. 

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on this model. The federal government has refused to step in with any stimulus package for universities, as it has elsewhere, and staff have been denied access to the JobKeeper scheme. In response, UoM management is trying to pass the bill on to staff and make us pay for the crisis. The variation was their first attempt. But it won’t be their last.

Shamefully, the NTEU leadership had adopted a strategy of concessions that dovetails with managements’ attempts to pass the pain on to staff. Their failed “National Jobs Protection Framework” (JPF) rested on a vague promise to save jobs if staff accepted pay cuts of up to 15 per cent. The framework was defeated nationally by a rank-and-file revolt. But the union leadership has continued to push versions of it at the University of Western Australia and La Trobe and Monash in Victoria.

Activists at those campuses have continued to mobilise to reject the leadership’s bad deal.

However it’s been an uphill battle. The NTEU leadership have put significant resources into running an unrelenting scare campaign claiming that voting yes to the framework is the only way to prevent mass job losses.

The leadership have won votes among union members to accept the framework with 74 per cent in favour at La Trobe and 78.6 per cent at UWA. A similar outcome is expected at Monash. All three campuses also need to hold an all staff vote to ratify the variation.

It was painfully obvious throughout UoM’s no campaign that our union leadership did not prioritise defeating the variation.

Its resounding defeat at UoM has gone for the most part unremarked upon by the leadership, because it undermines the argument they have been prosecuting on other campuses, which is almost identical to that of UoM management—accept a pay cut to save jobs.

Fight ahead

The defeat of the variation shows the willingness of members to organise and fight for their jobs and pay, rather than accepting compromises that hurt staff.

There is a massive fight ahead on every campus, against pay cuts, job losses and the erosion of conditions. At the University of Wollongong staff have already voted to reject their VC’s attempt to cut wages in an online poll, and at ANU the NTEU branch is in the midst of a No campaign against their VC’s variation.

Now we are also facing a brutal attack from the Liberals through doubling fees for the arts and humanities. This will not only deter working class students from an education in the arts, it will decimate jobs.

The victories at UoM and Wollongong are a modest but significant step in defending the sector. The cuts on campus and the Liberals’ attacks are two sides of the same coin. The Liberals are creating the crisis and the VC’s are trying to make us pay for it. To beat them both back we need mass workplace meetings building towards demonstrations that bring together staff with current and future students. Ultimately we are going to need to challenge the anti-strike laws and flex our industrial muscle.

By Geraldine Fela

The post Melbourne Uni no vote on cuts to pay and conditions boosts fights elsewhere appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Fresh audio product

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 05/06/2020 - 8:11am in

Tags 

Radio, Police, unions

Just added to my radio archive (click on date for link):

June 4, 2020 Alex Vitale, author of The End of Policing, on why cops are being so brutal and what should be done with them • Ben Tarnoff, co-founder of Logic magazine, on tech worker organizing (essay here)

Higher ed day of action builds confidence to fight

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 01/06/2020 - 12:02pm in

Tags 

unions, unions

A higher education National Day of Action (NDA) on 21 May saw university workers mobilise across the country demanding the Morrison government fund the $4.5 billion shortfall across the sector as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

In most states the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) simply asked members to post selfies from home on social media.

But in person actions in Sydney and Melbourne in particular built union members’ confidence and began to show how it’s possible to fight, even amid current coronavirus restrictions.

In Sydney, the state branch organised a convoy of around 50 cars and 30 bikes that converged on the Liberal Party Headquarters on William St, with an on foot contingent of around 40 people waiting outside with banners and placards.

The official slogans called for public funding for universities and for JobKeeper to be extended to university workers—following the Morrison government’s deliberate decision to refuse universities any extra support, despite the COVID-19 crisis being directly responsible for the loss of billions of dollars in international student fees.

Some dismissed the actions as “left cover” for the union’s officials in the context of the National Agreement they negotiated with a team of university bosses, offering large cuts to wages in the hope managements might reduce job losses.

But rank and file activists also made sure calls for a no vote in the controversial national plebiscite on the Framework adorned cars on posters and liquid chalked messages.

Activists brought along a “Vote No to the National Framework—No Uni Worker Left Behind” banner to the on foot protest while the National Higher Education Action Network, a campaign group set up by rank and file members, handed out a leaflet arguing for a no vote and for a fightback to stop job losses.

The action followed the May 1 car convoy in Sydney, backed by a number of unions, which stood up to police pressure to call off the protest using the excuse of health guidelines.

Rank and file action

The NDA was called after rank and file members passed motions at local branches, including at the University of Technology Sydney, UNSW, Sydney Uni, RMIT and Melbourne Uni, calling for the union to mobilise members to demand the government step in to fund the shortfall in the sector and to fight to defend every job.

In Melbourne, a successful car and bike convoy was pulled together entirely by rank and file organisers from RMIT and University of Melbourne, in the face of opposition from the NTEU Victorian Division to “vote no” slogans being included in promotional material.

Not only did the state branch do nothing to mobilise members, it set out to obstruct organising efforts, deleting a Facebook event for the convoy set up by the Melbourne Uni branch. An online Zoom briefing organised through an NTEU account for the convoy was also mysteriously locked, so that no one could join it.

RMIT Branch President Sam Gibbard explained the reason for the protest by saying, “The Liberal Government and our Vice Chancellor should not just push the costs of this Covid-19 crisis onto already overworked staff. Casual staff have been sacked by email even though RMIT has a huge property portfolio, cash reserves, and a Vice Chancellor on a seven-figure salary.”

He added, “Staff should not be asked to cop potential cuts to pay and conditions, especially where many are already working excessive unpaid hours to support students”, opposing the push through the union’s National Framework to accept wage cuts.

Organisers met at the 8-hour Day Monument opposite Trades Hall before heading to the Liberal Party Headquarters on Collins St in the CBD. Around 40 staff and students gathered at the 8-hour Day Monument at the end of the convoy for a brief, socially distanced rally.

At the University of Sydney, another small in person protest gathered outside the F45 administration building in the afternoon over course cuts in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS).

The NTEU casuals network, who taped an open letter to the building, signed by over 300 members in the faculty, received an email later that night from Vice Chancellor Michael Spence, to “clarify” that cuts to courses in second semester would not be as high as the 30 per cent reported in the Sydney Morning Herald.

While “the fine detail” of course cuts was yet to be finalised, “preliminary indications from the six schools suggest an average of around 8 per cent”, he claimed. But the fight at the University of Sydney is far from over with management now signalling a 20 per cent increase in tutorial size in FASS and a number of courses on the chopping block at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music as well.

The day of action was part of the rank and file revolt that has helped kill off the NTEU National Framework, which was designed to offer Vice-Chancellors pay cuts of up to 15 per cent at campuses across the country.

We now face a fight campus by campus against variations to enterprise agreements and against job cuts.

The NDA was an important first step in mobilising the membership and building the confidence to fight—and a step towards the industrial action we will need to defend our jobs and conditions.

The union is now finalising plans for another national day of action. Rank and file activists need to go all out to mobilise and shape the next mobilisation into another defiant show of opposition to cuts.

By Ruby Wawn, NTEU member, UTS

The post Higher ed day of action builds confidence to fight appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Webinar: Building a Pro-Worker Anti-Monopoly Movement

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 30/05/2020 - 3:51am in

Webinar: Building a Pro-Worker Anti-Monopoly Movement a virtual event on Tuesday, June 2, from 3-4pm EDT, as we explore what’s next in antitrust and labor law and policy to promote a pro-worker anti-monopoly agenda. Continue reading

The post Webinar: Building a Pro-Worker Anti-Monopoly Movement appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

The NTEU Framework Agreement is dead—Now we fight the cuts

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 28/05/2020 - 10:17am in

Tags 

unions

The withdrawal of the NTEU executive’s proposed “National Jobs Protection Framework” (NJPF) is very good news.

The rank-and-file revolt has brought the National Executive to its senses—casuals’ networks, branch committees and members’ meetings across the country had expressed their opposition to the Framework.

Perhaps the overwhelming resolution from the ANU members’ meeting (almost 90 per cent opposed the Framework) on Tuesday put the nail in its coffin.

The Framework Agreement was always mistaken and would have disarmed the membership by having a union-endorsed agreement to cut wages. It has wasted a lot of time, but thousands of new members have joined, and thousands more are actively engaged in the discussion of how the union can best resist the cuts the uni managements will try to ram through.

An injury to one is an injury to all. The solidarity that has defeated the Framework Agreement has put us in a good position to take the fight onto every campus and build the active campaign that can defeat the cuts.

Deakin management has already announced that they will axe 400 jobs.

Melbourne University is pushing for a staff vote to withdraw a pay rise and reduce redundancy entitlements. We need to go all out to back any fight at Deakin, and to make sure the agreement variation at Melbourne University is voted down.

After the National Framework was withdrawn, the NTEU National President, Alison Barnes, said, “NTEU will now escalate to what will be historically high levels of industrial disputation and campaigning to fight for every job.”

This needs to go beyond just challenging job cuts through Fair Work. We need our officials to throw everything into mobilising members to fight any attempt to cut jobs and conditions.

Nor is the approach which produced the Framework entirely dead. It seems the NTEU officials still want to put it to a vote on the three campuses where management support the Framework approach, at University of WA, La Trobe and Monash. Those campuses should vote No.

Our officials should also now commit to a substantial political campaign to fight the Morrison government. The government’s $60 billion JobKeeper blunder is an opportunity for the NTEU to go hard to demand that the Morrison government covers the funding shortfall in the tertiary education sector.

It is now obvious that the government CAN find the money to include all uni workers in JobKeeper and that it can also find the money to boost public university funding and end the university business model based on private funding arrangements like corporate sponsorship and domestic and international student fees. 

Organising to win

Local organising at RMIT shows what is possible. Since March, membership has grown by 300 to over 1900 members. Actively building stronger workplace organisation means there are now over 100 workplace delegates at RMIT.

Thousands of university workers have joined the NTEU in just the last few weeks. They didn’t join to see their wages and conditions cut. We can build a stronger union by organising and expanding the base of the union.

This kind of organising work is possible on every campus. There is action that can be taken everywhere as we build our industrial strength. Members can vote to reject some cost-cutting measures without immediately taking industrial action. They can also use existing “change management” procedures in enterprise agreements to direct their Industrial Officers to raise a dispute that can result in lengthy dispute resolution proceedings. This delay provides time to organise to stop the cuts.

Students are our allies. As the scale of course cuts becomes more apparent, student campaigns against course cuts will boost any union campaign for jobs and conditions.

We can fight

The government and the uni managements are trying to use the economic downturn to push through cuts, restructures and workplace changes they were already hoping to implement.

But the truth is that the government and the university managements are politically weak. The government’s JobKeeper $60 billion shortfall has left them looking incompetent, biased and short-sighted. The government is already under fire from mainstream commentators for refusing to extend the JobKeeper and JobSeeker programs.

Neither the universities nor the government wants a real fight in the present circumstances. The government has withdrawn its union-bashing Ensuring Integrity Bill in the hope that unions will go along with the cuts it wants to make. It has an enormous social and economic crisis to manage as millions have been thrown onto unemployment queues.

University managements are banking on getting international students back, and getting back to business as usual, as soon as possible. It looks like most universities will open for semester two. Management has relied on the goodwill of NTEU members to shift functioning online. Even a minimal withdrawal of goodwill (the equivalent of a work to rule) would cause management major grief.

Industrial action of any sort would be a major disruption to their public relations and their business plans just when they want to present a very stable picture to the world. Even limited protest action by staff and students has forced Sydney University to revise down their list of arts subjects being axed.

We have learned over the last weeks that the best resource the union has is an active rank and file. That’s the power that can be mobilised to fight the cuts on every campus.

Morrison’s call for collaboration with the union movement for an Accord 2.0 is a scarcely-veiled move to cut conditions across the board. Like John Howard, he wants to introduce another WorkChoices attack on workers’ rights on the back of the COVID-19 crisis. The NTEU has learned from bitter experience over the past few weeks that the government cannot be trusted. The union needs to be in the forefront of campaigning to oppose any increased flexibility in awards or enterprise bargaining and any attack on penalty rates, or extension of hours.

In trying to talk up the NJPF, some NTEU officials have been scaremongering that the union and even individual members would face fines for taking taking unprotected industrial action. The threat of fines is massively exaggerated and ignores the fact that even protest action at a local level has already won concessions from uni managements.

In the opening throes of the COVID-19 crisis 100 casuals at the University of Melbourne rallied for pandemic leave and occupied the foyer outside the university’s COVID-19 taskforce office. Casuals won guaranteed sick leave and isolation leave within a matter of days.

Unprotected industrial action has also won gains in the past without anyone being fined. In 2005 UTS casuals took unprotected action to impose a marking ban and won increased pay. The casuals logged all the time they had spent marking during semester and then moved to withhold the results until they were paid for all hours worked.

All the universities would be susceptible to this sort of action at a time when their operations are massively disrupted.

The CFMEU has been fined hundreds of thousands for taking illegal industrial action but rarely have individual members been fined. It is absurd to suggest that the NTEU would face anything like the fines Fair Work has dished out to the CFMEU.

In any case, the benefit of taking action far outweighs any fine likely to be imposed on the union. It is the price unions pay for organising and representing members when industrial action is prohibited under the Coalition’s (Un) Fair Work Act. It’s why the NTEU has a fighting fund.

In the next period, we need to :

  • Organise campus meetings to establish action groups that can plan local protest and industrial action against any cuts
  • Back every fight against cuts—nation-wide solidarity will matter on every campus
  • Organise to vote NO to any agreement variations being put to individual branches
  • Call on our state and federal officials to organise another National Day of Action to call for full funding of tertiary education and the extension of JobKeeper

By Solidarity members in the NTEU

The post The NTEU Framework Agreement is dead—Now we fight the cuts appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Why the Pandemic Paves the Way for Labor Reform

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/05/2020 - 1:00am in

Tags 

Labor, unions, workers

Every worker in America has been affected by the coronavirus. Since the stay-at-home orders went into place, more than 30...

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Why taking wage cuts won’t save jobs

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 20/05/2020 - 5:04pm in

Tags 

unions

The calls to accept wage cuts or forego wage rises won’t save jobs, they will simply encourage bosses to demand even more concessions, argues David Glanz

The pandemic has
led to more than a million workers losing their jobs or being stood down.
Others have lost hours. The fear of unemployment and the hardship it brings is
very real.

In response, the Morrison government and
the employers have gone on the ideological offensive, arguing that flexibility
and wage cuts can save jobs.

The message is particularly focused on
the hospitality sector, which has seen the most sackings, retail and other
service industries. But universities are also on the front line.

The government is arguing that if workers
are prepared to accept fewer hours or to give up penalty rates, then employers
can afford to keep on more workers.

It is an echo of the idea pushed in the
1970s by Clyde Cameron, a left minister in the Whitlam government, that “one
person’s wage rise is another person’s job”.

Then, the union movement was willing to
resist. Sadly, today the ACTU has bought the argument, applying with employer
groups to the Fair Work Commission to increase “award flexibility” in the light
of the pandemic.

Four awards covering more than two
million workers have been amended, covering clerks, general staff in schools
and workers in restaurants and hospitality.

Meanwhile the leadership of the
university union, the NTEU, has negotiated a framework agreement that it claims
may save 12,000 jobs (out of 30,000 under threat) by making a raft of
concessions that include temporary pay cuts of up to 15 per cent.

All the bosses’ Christmases have come at
once. Those covered by the clerks award, for example, can be told by their
manager to do any task they are capable of doing.

School admin staff can have their hours
cut by a quarter. Permanent university staff can be made to take on tasks
previously carried out by casuals.

As Christian Porter, the Attorney-General
gloated: “So behind the scenes, in a quiet and cooperative way, there have been
a series of reforms to modern awards and the IR system … It’s probably fair to
say that there’s been the type of change in three weeks inside the award system
that you might otherwise wait 30 years to see.”

Lessons of the past

Some will argue that workers must be
pragmatic and do what it takes to hold on to a job in extraordinary times. But
the argument that wage cuts save jobs doesn’t stand the test.

In 1931, in the middle of the Great
Depression, the Scullin Labor government cut wages and pensions by 10 per cent.
Yet unemployment went from 20.1 per cent in 1931 to 23 per cent in 1932.

In 1934, the wage cut was reversed by the
Arbitration Commission (forerunner to Fair Work). Unemployment fell to 17.9 per
cent that year and to 15.5 per cent just before the Second World War.

Under Labor’s Accord with the unions in
the 1980s, profits were boosted and real unit labour costs fell. Yet
unemployment went from around 10 per cent in 1983, to 6 per cent in 1989, but
to almost 12 per cent in 1992.

In June 2013, Holden asked its factory
workers to take a pay cut of up to $200 a week or risk the company shutting its
Australian manufacturing operations.

They accepted the cut—and the company waited
just months to announce it was shutting down in 2017 with the loss of 3000 jobs
in Adelaide and Melbourne. Meanwhile, the parent company, General Motors, was
boasting of a fourth consecutive year of profits.

In recent times, workers in the federal public
service have received meagre pay rises at or around CPI— but there has been no
reward in terms of staffing levels. Overall headcount has fallen from a peak of
more than 167,000 in June 2012 to 147,237 in June 2019.

The argument
that wages and jobs are linked comes up in other ways. Employers routinely
argue against decent increases to the minimum wage, yet when Reserve Bank of
Australia researcher James Bishop analysed the data in 2018, he admitted that
increases in the minimum wage “appear to have had little adverse effect on
hours worked or job loss”.

In 2017, the Fair Work Commission
approved cuts to penalty rates paid to retail and hospitality workers on
Sundays and public holidays, arguing that the move would lead to more trading
hours “and an increase in overall hours worked”.

Two years
later economists Martin O’Brien and Ray Markey carried out a survey and
concluded, “We were unable to establish any evidence of a relative increase in
the prevalence of Sunday, public holiday or weekly employment for modern award
employees or employers.” In other words, cutting penalties had not increased
jobs.

Dividing the pie

The argument that a wage cut can save
jobs relies on the apparently common sense assumption that the economy is like
a pie—the larger the slice for one group of workers, the less for others.

Karl Marx took up this issue more than
150 years ago, arguing against those in the workers’ movement who said that
unions shouldn’t fight for pay rises as workers would simply end up worse off.

In two speeches in 1865, later published
as the pamphlet Wages, Price and Profit, Marx showed the double fallacy
in the pessimists’ argument.

First, he pointed to the dynamism of the
system. The pie sometimes shrinks, but it’s often growing.

That might seem hard to believe in the
midst of the current crisis, but from just 2015 to 2018 world gross domestic
product (GDP) rose by 10 trillion US dollars.

More importantly, Marx showed that within
certain limits (starvation for the workers on the one hand, total seizure of
profits from the capitalists), how that wealth was distributed was decided by
struggle.

He wrote,
“The will of the capitalist is certainly to take as much as possible. What we
have to do is not to talk about his will, but to inquire into his power, the
limits of that power, and the character of those limits.”

Marx acknowledged that the working class
needed to look beyond “these unavoidable guerrilla fights incessantly springing
up from the never-ceasing encroachments of capital” to a new society which
would end the wages system.

But he was clear that in the here and
now, workers needed to fight to avoid being “degraded to one level mass of
broken wretches past salvation”.

We can see how Marx’s arguments have been
vindicated over the past 30 years as working class struggle in Australia has
declined.

In 1989, Australia’s GDP was worth 299.3
billion US dollars. By 2018, it had risen to 1.434 trillion US dollars.

Workers
should be much better off. Yet the share of GDP going to workers collapsed,
from more than 55 per cent of GDP in the early 1980s to 46.5 percent in the
March quarter of 2017, the lowest point since 1960.

As Jim Stanford, Director of the Centre
for Future Work, put it, “The labour share began to decline rapidly after 1984,
initially due in part to the effects of the Prices and Incomes Accords system
launched in 1983 by the new Labor government (led by Bob Hawke) and the trade
union movement.

“The Accord process was aimed at
restricting wage growth and boosting profits, purportedly to ameliorate the
effects of ‘excessive’ wage growth in previous years.”

Undermining workers’ resistance

The Accord put a brake on industrial
action, encouraging first the Keating Labor government and then the Howard
Liberal government to impose the kind of restrictions on workers’ right to
strike that would have been unthinkable in the 1970s.

The decline in struggle has been
accompanied by increasingly meagre wages growth.

Far from
moderation leading to more jobs, it has laid the basis for today’s assault on
pay and conditions.

Then as now, accepting pay “flexibility”
not only leaves workers worse off, it undermines traditions of resistance. When
the ACTU goes along with pay cuts, it weakens the class’s memory of struggle.

As one Holden worker said in 2013, “We’ve
done everything that can be done. We took the pay cuts, we took the other
concessions.”

But there was so much more that could
have been done. In 2013, they could have gone on strike, occupied the car
plants and insisted either General Motors underwrote its Australian operations
or that the government nationalised Holden.

Today, the transport unions could be
calling mass protests at the airports, refusing to move aircraft on the ground
to save jobs at Virgin.

There will be car convoys in Melbourne
and Sydney for the NTEU national day of action but if the union leadership
rejected cuts and instead put its efforts into mobilising thousands of members
into convoys, we could be seeing city centres brought to a halt.

That would put political pressure on Education
Minister Dan Tehan and give members confidence for in-person protests on
campuses.

Every backward step encourages bosses to
take more—more pay, more conditions, more jobs. Wage cuts do not save jobs.
Instead, by breaking down hard-won habits of fightback and solidarity, they
make it easier for employers to sack, casualise and dump conditions.

Workers are already bearing the brunt of
the pandemic. It’s time to demand that the bosses pay the price of recovery.

The post Why taking wage cuts won’t save jobs appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Vote No to the NTEU national framework agreement—defend every condition, fight for every job

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 15/05/2020 - 5:29pm in

The leadership of the NTEU both at a national and state level have struck a deal with the Vice-Chancellors that accepts significant cuts to conditions and pay. There needs to be a strong no vote rejecting this in the national electronic ballot of members to be held on 25 May.

The deal is being sold as a lifebuoy for “the most vulnerable”
staff members, a so-called “Job Protection Framework” touted to save up to
12,000 jobs.

Staff are being told, “it takes solidarity to save
jobs”, but by solidarity the NTEU executive actually means a pay cut of between
5 and 15 per cent for many permanent staff members. Even by their own calculations, thousands
of jobs will still be lost with at least 21,000 full-time
equivalent jobs at threat. Giving up our pay and conditions is not an act of
solidarity, it merely accepts the logic that it should be workers who pay for
this crisis, not the government or the bosses.

The agreement offers only dubious promises of
consultation; there are no guarantees that jobs will be protected.

Alongside the pay cut, the framework cedes power to
Vice-Chancellors, heads of school and school managers. For example, section
21of the National Framework’s “Heads of Agreement” document suggests that if
management can show that an academic’s ability to perform research is impacted
by COVID-19, they can allocate them additional teaching duties. This is a recipe
for mass casual job losses.

Astonishingly, many university managements
(including at Sydney Uni, UTS and ACU) are saying that the NTEU framework
agreement goes too far in eroding staff jobs and conditions. In NSW even the CPSU, which represents some professional
staff, has said it will “vigorously oppose it at every turn”, noting that the pay
cuts would also apply to lower paid professional staff.

Even at universities where management has rejected
the NTEU framework, staff will still be asked to take part in the national vote.
A strong no vote nationally will be important, as any vote for the national
agreement will weaken the possibility of fighting specific agreement variations
on individual campuses subsequently. A successful variation anywhere will
encourage all university bosses to seek similar changes to cut staff wages and enforce
greater “flexibility”. 

Even some rich universities are already lining up
to take whatever they can get.

Every university has the ability to take
out low interest loans to see themselves through this period. Instead,
university managements are crying poor as they sack casual staff, vastly
increase the work load of permanent staff members and attempt to
slash our pay.

The University of Melbourne is already moving to
cut courses and load up permanent staff with additional teaching in order to
shed casual jobs. Yet the university has hundreds of millions of dollars in
cash reserves and an enormous portfolio of investments and other assets.

Melbourne University management has already
rejected the National Framework and indicated that they will seek their own
variations to the enterprise agreement. The last few weeks have seen an
onslaught of propaganda from the NTEU leadership encouraging members to
accept variations that enshrine concessions, in the context of their own
proposed framework. This has made it easier for university administrations to
push for even worse changes.

We would be much better placed to fight the
upcoming bosses’ variation at Melbourne University if instead the leadership
had been preparing members for the serious fight we have on our hands. 

Tragically, the NTEU executive is following in the
wake of most of the union movement and offering concessions to the employers,
rather than building an industrial and political fight. A more positive
response has come from the NSW Teachers Federation which is opposing the threat
by the state Liberal government to impose a wage freeze.

The NTEU should be mounting a campaign against the
Morrison government to demand full government funding of the tertiary sector.
The 21 May National Day of Action should be the first step in a concerted
campaign to tell the federal government and university management that
university workers will not pay for the latest crisis in tertiary education.
 

We have paid too much already. The tertiary sector
was already a victim of neo-liberalism, suffering constant job-killing corporate
restructures and rates of casualisation among the worst in the country.
Universities are now seeking ways to use the COVID-19 crisis to push through
even more drastic cuts and course restructuring.

The National Executive’s framework will make us
weaker, not stronger. A number of branches have already voted to reject this
approach of offering concessions including cuts to pay and conditions. We need to build on
that. A strong no vote is the way to build union organisation: approximately
4000 members have joined the NTEU since the COVID-19 crisis hit. A No vote
will send a strong message to the National Executive that members demand that
they back a fight for jobs and funding.

Let’s fight for pay, conditions and every job

The consistent beacon of hope is the resistance of
NTEU members to both management and the union leadership’s framework. In the
opening throes of the COVID-19 crisis 100 casuals at the University of
Melbourne rallied for pandemic leave and occupied the foyer outside the
university’s COVID-19 task force office. They won guaranteed sick leave and
isolation leave within a matter of days.

In the last few weeks, members’ meetings across the
country have passed motions opposing concessions on pay and conditions, and
calling for a fighting campaign for government funding. It is this kind of
insurgent confidence and a willingness to fight that can steer us through these
difficult times, not the national leadership’s framework.

Pressure from NTEU members forced the leadership to
call a National Day of Action on 21 May. In Sydney and Melbourne, thanks to
agitation from rank and file members, this will not be just another selfie
action. There will be socially distant and safe public protests including car
and bike convoys that all NTEU members should join if they are able.

The National Day of Action is an opportunity to
build pressure on the Liberals to properly fund the shortfall and open up
JobKeeper for university workers. And it is an opportunity to flex our muscles
and build confidence, networks and organisation for the battle we are facing
against our Vice-Chancellors and school managers.

We need to “Vote No” to the National Agreement and
convince our colleagues to do the same. But to make the VCs and the Liberals
pay for this crisis, we need to build broader and stronger mobilisations.

We are not powerless in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. Managements everywhere are relying on the goodwill of staff to carry the extra burden of online classes and everything that goes with them. University managements and the government are vulnerable to political and industrial action. That’s the campaign that we need to build. 

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

  1. Call branch meetings to carry resolutions opposing the National Executive’s framework agreement
  2. Form local action groups to campaign to “Vote No” in the national e-vote on 25 May
  3. Carry resolutions to call on staff members to refuse extra work usually done by casuals
  4. Join the 21 May National Day of Action
  5. Prepare “Vote No” campaigns against any moves to vary agreements at individual universities

The post Vote No to the NTEU national framework agreement—defend every condition, fight for every job appeared first on Solidarity Online.

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