Recent legislative changes in Queensland reveal with great clarity the class nature of the state.
The state encompasses those agencies, institutions and individuals whose job it is to obstruct, to restrict, to threaten and to oppress the working class and its allies in the interests of the minority who own and benefit from capitalist property relations.
In the uneven application of tactics against the workers, the state sometimes uses softer, at other times harder, methods.
In the current era, Queensland is at the forefront of state use of harder measures against the people.
Intimidation of union officials
In 2013 the State government amended the Industrial Relations Act.
The Act now requires the ten highest paid officials of a union to declare on a public register the assets held by themselves, their spouse and children and “any person who is totally or substantially dependent on the officer” such as a dependent parent.
The officials and their related persons must declare whether they have shares, investments, property, bank accounts and other assets. The assets extend to gifts, non-cash benefits and remuneration. It includes declarations of reimbursements for costs of travel and accommodation used in the course of the official’s union work.
It is highly intrusive and treats union officials as nothing better than criminals placed under a strict parole regime.
The clear intention is to scare people away from taking on leadership roles within unions.
Obstructing unions in their work
The changes also place restrictions on the ability of unions to campaign on behalf of their members.
Any amount in excess of $10,000 spent on a political purpose in any one financial year must be approved through a ballot.
The ballot will only authorise the expenditure if at least 50% of the union membership vote, and more than 50% of those voting support the spending.
For a union of a reasonable size with members spread across the State, such as the Queensland Teachers Union, this will mean weeks and weeks of dependency on the electoral commission and payment of costs of the ballot to the commission.
It may well take such a union $40-50,000 to conduct a ballot for the expenditure of $10,000.
A political purpose includes donations to a political party and “publication or distribution in any way, including through advertising, of material about a political matter” and even ascertaining “a person’s opinion about a political matter, including, for example, by opinion polling”.
Restricting unions in their work
Other amendments to the Industrial Relations Act restrict the scope of “allowable matters” in Enterprise Agreements. Employment security provisions and conversion of contract to permanency requirements must not be included. Anything that encourages or facilitates union membership such as payroll deductions or providing resources at the workplace for union activity must not be included. Any agreement around funding programs in the workplace must not be included. Anything that addresses union right of entry must not be included. Anything that restricts “flexible” work practices must not be included.
On the other hand, so-called “individual flexibility arrangements” must be included.
The amendments give the Minister for Industrial Relations power to terminate industrial action “if the Minister is satisfied that the action is threatening the safety and welfare of the community, or is threatening to damage the economy”.
Thus the window is effectively shut on what little there is in this country of the right to protected industrial action.
Oppressing the workers and their allies
Although these legislative changes are written with specific reference to unions and their officials, they are actually the iron fist of the ruling class around the throats of all working people.
We have no illusions about the trade unions and their non-revolutionary nature, of the fact that they are tied in a thousand and one ways to the continuation of the social system of capitalism.
Workers need unions.
The best of them actually do try to protect workers at work and win better wages from the employer.
That is why threatening, obstructing and restricting unions is central to the oppression of workers by the ruling class.
The workers of Queensland are the heirs of Barcaldine and the 1890 strikes, of the great Townsville Meat Workers’ Strike of 1919, of the struggles against Jackboot Joh, of the SEQEB dispute.
When push comes to shove, they will fight back, and hard!