In the last fortnight, the franchise industry has called for the scrapping of weekend and evening penalty rates. They have said that the COVID-19 pandemic can be used to “shift the paradigm” on industrial relations.
Also in the last fortnight, the High Court of Australia ruled against giving part time and shift workers sick leave based on the number of hours worked, versus the number of days worked. It means that workers working 8 hour days, and workers working 12 hour days, accrue the same amount of sick leave. Cadbury argued that a “normal day” was 7.6 hours, and every worker could accrue no more than 10 x 7.6 hour days in sick leave. This was a battle fought by Cadbury workers, represented by the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union. The AMWU won this fight in the Federal Court. But Cadbury took the fight higher. The new decision will save employers billions of dollars in our wages, and costs us billions of dollars in lost wages.
The bosses recognise that this is class war. But they don’t call it that. They call it, industrial reform.
They are stripping away many of the things that organised workers have fought for and won over decades. Penalty rates. Sick leave. Permanent work. Job security.
They are doing this because they have to. They have to, because the economy is in crisis. People are spending less, and profits are low. If they cannot make profits out of sales, then they have to make money another way. This other way is wages and conditions. The bosses know that this means fighting. So they attack first.
Now is the time for fighting. The economy is in crisis and someone must pay. There are only two possibilities. The bosses, or the workers. We must fight. If we don’t, we will lose.
But how to fight?
Do we fight on Facebook? Do we fight by signing petitions, by pressuring politicians? Do we fight in the courts?
History shows us that the only way to fight is by using our industrial strength, collectively, to hurt the bosses in the only language that they respond to – profits.
But we cannot do this if we are divided. And we cannot do this if we are not organised.
What does it mean to be organised? It is not just being a member of your union, though this ingredient is essential.
It also means having democratic discussions within workplaces, within industries and across industries. These discussions must focus on working out a plan together, and taking action together.
Some workers are in more strategic positions than others. These workers’ work has the potential to hold up, or cripple the entire economy. These workers include but are not limited to those in electricity and other energy supply, in Information Technology, in food and transport, as well as those in frontline health and essential services.
These workers must fight industrially. This could be striking, but it could be other actions too. Worktime reductions, working to rule, workplace occupations, black bans, go slows, just to name a few.
But workers that are not in strategic industries cannot just sit back and watch. The fight is for all of us. Fighting workers must be supported – morally and practically.
Workers taking industrial action will likely be punished for it. They will receive heavy fines, as will their unions. They might be locked out of their workplaces. They might get sacked.
We must support fighting workers with food for picket lines, donations so that they can keep paying their rent and their bills, and political support to defend them against media attacks. We must not be employed in their jobs if they get sacked.
We must never cross a picket line. We must support them with our bodies when their picket lines are attacked by the police.
For what reasons must we take industrial action?
We must demand safe work places. When workers get sick, they must have access to quality, free healthcare.
They must have access to pandemic leave or another easily obtained living income.
They must be able to quarantine or self-isolate safely, in housing that is adequate, safe and secure, without risk of eviction.
These are our demands. This is what we are fighting for.
A Living Income for all - Free Health Care for all - Secure Housing for all