The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and affiliated Unions are starting a "Job Security - Worth Fighting For" campaign narrative, coinciding with the lead up to the coming federal election.
Surveys conducted by the ACTU and many Unions show that job security is a highly important issue for workers across pretty much all industries and occupations. The stand downs, job losses and cuts to hours of work experienced by millions of workers during the Covid 19 pandemic of the last two years have taken the level of job insecurity to new heights.
What is "job insecurity"? It takes many forms. Casualization, labor hire, fixed short term contracts, sub contract work, insufficient hours of work, low wage jobs, so-called gig economy jobs are some of the most common forms of job insecurity.
However, under capitalism, even so-called secure jobs such as in the public service or large manufacturing businesses turn into insecure jobs without warning.
For example, outsourcing and/or privatizing of government jobs, trade wars leading to reduction in production and job losses or loss of regular overtime or even cutting back from three shifts to one day shift can see workers moving from relative job security to job insecurity within a very short space of time. The ACTU is hopeful that it has found an issue that the majority of workers (especially young workers, new migrant workers and women workers) feel strongly enough about and see as "worth fighting for"!
'Worth fighting for" has been included in the campaign narrative to try and replicate the success of the "Your Rights At Work, Worth Fighting For" campaign which succeeded in throwing out the reactionary Howard Government in 2007.
Job security in its many different forms is an issue that affects millions of workers far beyond the 9% union membership density of the private sector workforce in Australia.
It is a campaign narrative that is likely to win support from millions of workers, especially if linked to the insecurity for working people caused by the impact of climate change.
For young people secure jobs for the future is inseparably linked to the issue of environmental sustainability.
Within the leadership of the Secure Jobs Worth Fighting For campaign on the eve of a federal election, there will no doubt be an opportunist element who want to steer the campaign to a dead end if a Labor government is elected in the coming election.
The stated intention of the campaign is that it is a longer-term campaign to unite millions of workers to define in common struggle what an Australia with secure jobs will look like and what changes to the current set up need to be made.
The initiators of the campaign say that the extent of the changes needed for secure work for workers will depend on the development of the strength and power of the grass roots movement in workplaces and communities. This is encouraging to hear.
The ACTU formally represents far less than 50% of workers at any point in time due to the low union membership density. However, Unions in general have a fluid membership. Many workers not currently in a union may have been in one a year ago or may be in a workplace shortly where there are union members and union rank and file leaders.
The success of this latest ACTU campaign getting off the ground will largely depend on the level of involvement and leadership of active workers in their workplaces and communities and build from the ground up.
Any attempt to confine the activities of such a stated campaign to marginal Liberal or National Party electorates should be opposed as most workers, union members or not, know that to reverse the trend of insecure work will need a social movement that extends far beyond the establishment's three year election cycle.
The recently planned military budget increase by the Japanese government has little to do with their defence and security provision. Two related matters have to be considered to explain the significance of the military budget increase: it is yet another example of US-led regional foreign policy which includes their preparation for likely limited war with China in coming years; the budget increase also marks the successful completion of a Pentagon military plan initially implemented in the earliest part of the millennium, over two decades ago, composed of three distinct phases.
In mid-October Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced plans to double the existing military budget as part of an election platform to woo right-wing nationalists. (1)
The national election is scheduled for 31 October and the present $50 billion budget is now set to rise to $100 billion. (2) The planned budget will include the Japanese military gaining aircraft carriers, submarines, stealth-fighters, drones, amphibious landing vessels, missile defence systems and surveillance satellites. (3)
The move by the Kishida government is aimed at placing Japan nearer the top of the global list of countries by military expenditure: the US is currently head with $1981 billion, second is China with $252 billion, Japan is currently in ninth position. (4)
The move is also marked by being the culmination of a US military plan started in 2020 with an announcement Asia was in the forefront of Pentagon planning; it was stated at the official commencement of the plan that 'it is now a common assumption among national security thinkers that the area from Baghdad to Tokyo will be the main location of US military competition for the next several decades'. (5) The present US-led Cold War can be dated from the beginning of the military plan. The military plan also included the so-called 're-interpretation' of Japan's pacifist constitution. (6)
For the ensuing decade and a half, the US pushed Japan into a more pro-active role as the northern hub for regional 'US interests'. The second phase was formally announced by then President Obama in 2015 with the diplomatic statement that Japan would 'extend the reach of Japan's military – now limited to its own defence – allowing it to act when the US or countries US forces are defending are threatened'. (7) The second phase, subsequently included Japan's military taking an active role in US-led war-games with the 2018 Malabar exercise, around Guam, and other regional military exercises. The role of Japan was actively played down by US-led regional allies in fear of a public reaction, although it was eventually acknowledged that 'the co-operation is in line with a more muscular security policy … whereby it wants … to loosen the restraints of Japan's pacifist postwar constitution and dovetails with Washington's 'pivot' toward Asia'. (8)
The inevitable public reaction to Japan's return to its militaristic past and war-time atrocities, subsequently took the form of a protest by academics and others who accused the government of 'pushing to a put a gloss of Japan's war-time history'. (9) Japan's right-wing government, at that time, and the present Kishida administration, appear curiously blind and deaf to any opposition from those who oppose their return to militarism.
The initial military plan, which included a global transformation of defence and security, also involved the US stationing electronic warfare systems in strategic locations, the majority of which were in the Indo-Pacific. (10) It was not coincidental to note US military facilities on Diego Garcia and Guam, which swing on an arc from Pine Gap in central Australia, were updated as hubs for military operations in conjunction with Darwin Harbour in northern Australia as a support centre. (11)
The second phase, furthermore, included the US extending regional alliances and re-opening military facilities, often left dormant from the end of the Vietnam War four decades earlier. (12) In a flurry of high-level diplomatic activity, marked by President Obama touring the region, it was announced 'at every stop on his tour … Obama has emphasised the idea that the US government is committed to helping its allies in the face of external threats'. (13)
The notion of allies being confronted with 'external threats' was central to the decision taken by the Pentagon, at the time, to transform their Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) with an estimated 1,600 intelligence collectors in positions around the world specifically to establish 'a spy service focused on emerging threats and more closely aligned with the CIA'. (14)
The third and final phase, however, began in 2021 with the planned military budget increase in Japan; it has been marked with a rapid escalation of diplomatic tensions and preparation for a limited war with China. It has followed a line established in a US Congressional report which recommended 'in preparing for a potential conflict with China … further relying upon traditional allies, including Japan and Australia'. (15) And another recent study of the matter concluded the threat of a limited war now runs at 46 per cent for the next decade, making it very likely; while the threat of all-out war remained at only 12 per cent. (16) It is highly relevant to note commentary about the planned military budget increase included a statement that the advanced weaponry to be acquired by Japan's military 'was crucial to 21st century warfare'. (17) Elsewhere there are other references about the role of Australia:
We need an independent foreign policy!
1. Japanese to double defence spending, Australian, 15 October 2021. 2. Japan doubles its defence budget, Editorial, The Australian, 21 October 2021. 3. Australian, op.cit., 15 October 2021. 4. Wikipedia/Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, List of countries by military expenditures, 2020. 5. Asia moves to the forefront of Pentagon planning, The Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 1-7 June 2000. 6. Japan begins review of its pacifist constitution, The Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 27 January - 2 February 2000. 7. Japan to extend military reach beyond self-defence, The Age (Melbourne), 29 April 2015. 8. Tokyo eyes new South China Sea role, The Age (Melbourne), 12 March 2015. 9. Academic blast efforts to revise war history, The Age (Melbourne), 11 February 2015. 10. See: US seeks new Asia defences, The Wall Street Journal, 24-26 August 2012. 11. US intensifies military presence in Indo-Pacific, The Global Times (Beijing), 24 July 2018. 12. US eyes return to south-east Asian bases, The Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 29 June 2012, and; US signs defence deal in Asia, The Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 2 May 2014. 13. Guardian Weekly, op.cit., 2 May 2014. 14. Pentagon plays the spy game, The Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 7 December 2012. 15. Study: US no longer dominant power in the Pacific, Paul D. Shinkman, Information Clearing House, 22 August 2019. 16. Risk of all-out war between China and US 'as high as 12pc', Australian, 14 October 2021. 17. Editorial, Australian, op.cit., 21 October 2021.
WOUNDED COUNTRY. The Murray-Darling Basin A Contested History by Quentin Beresford (Newsouth Publications $35) is the third book about the Murray-Darling Basin to be published this year, following on from Dead in the Water and Sold Down the River. This is a good thing. There cannot be too much exposure of the destruction of a major section of Australia’s environment in the interests of mainly foreign-owned agribusiness operations, with the assistance of servile politicians, particularly from the National Party.
The author takes a broad historic view of the Basin, tracing its history from the explorations of Sturt and Mitchell, the dispossession and destruction of the Aboriginal inhabitants through small-pox and murder, to the spread of the squatters (and later the small selectors) who took over the Murray-Darling Basin area.
Beresford says that the Murray-Darling Basin has been over-exploited for 200 years. He describes the destruction of the native forest and grasses and the killing of millions of native animals and birds. He outlines the damage done to the soil by the introduction of sheep and destructive agricultural practices such as over-stocking and land clearing. The result was a reduction in rainfall, an increase in salinity, wide-spread soil erosion and the massive dust storms that engulfed the countryside and reached the capital cities.
When we read Beresford’s review of the history of the Murray-Darling Basin, we see that nothing has changed since the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Then as now, inept and corrupt politicians have served the vested interests that profit from the over-development of the Basin.
Beresford reserves special fire for the National Party. The National Party and its predecessor, the Country Party, have always opposed measures to control water use, stop soil erosion and prevent excessive land clearing. They are creatures of the big irrigators of northern New South Wales and Queensland, the water barons and foreign-owned agribusiness. They have done everything in their power to sabotage the Murray-Darling Basin Plan since its inception, in the interests of the parasites.
The losers in this whole sad saga are the small irrigators who are forced to pay high prices for water while big irrigators have plenty of water for their cotton and almonds. Many small irrigators have left farming, with the towns suffering as a result.
Also losers are the First Peoples, the indigenous inhabitants of the region. Before colonisation they lived in harmony with the land and the rivers for thousands of years. They fished and collected mussels from the rivers and lived and hunted on their banks. Today they are marginalised, with little access to land and water rights. The “experts” ignore the valuable knowledge and experience that the First Peoples can bring to managing the Murray-Darling Basin.
Read this book and be angry. Be angry at the exploiters who are destroying our environment. Be angry at their politician servants. Channel your anger into the struggle for National Independence and Socialism in Australia.
Written by: Study group contribution on October 2021
Part Two will follow after the COP26 Conference
The global warming crisis is confronting capitalism/imperialism with enormous difficulties in moving from fossil fuel sources of energy to clean, renewable sources of energy. There are just too many competing political and corporate interests to guarantee the transition is fast enough to achieve a significant reduction in global emissions, and this poses a grave threat to humanity.
The movement to renewable energy requires a massive injection in fixed capital in the form of new technologies and means of production. However, this will result in a relative decrease in the labour required to operate and maintain these new developments and an overall decrease in the unit cost of energy production. Competition within capitalism drives companies to achieve this outcome either through more productive, cheaper labour sources or new, more efficient technologies. In the case of moving to renewable energy, there are two positive outcomes in the longer term for the energy companies; cheaper costs associated with the production of energy and an increase in revenues at the expense of the rate of profit. This is already happening in a number of countries, including Sweden, Germany, Norway and Nicaragua.
Investment in renewable energy is consistent with the tendency within capitalism to adopt new technologies that provide a more efficient, relatively cheaper means of production. However, this is only a tendency and can be countered by a number of factors and it is necessary to understand some of these when addressing the issue of replacing non-renewable energy with renewable resources in Australia.
The adoption of new technologies has been analysed in depth in Marx’s Volume 3 of Capital. In Part III, Chapter XIII, “The Law of the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall”, he points out how the introduction of more efficient means of production through technological innovation causes a relative increase in fixed capital relative to variable capital (labour power) and this results in a relative decrease in the rate of profit. “The immediate result of this is that the rate of surplus-value, at the same, or even rising degree of labour exploitation, is represented by a continually falling general rate of profit.”
In relation to energy there are at least two competing factors within capitalism. The first is that energy is a cost to all industries, and while it is a cost to the energy industries, it is also the primary source of revenue. The second is that the energy industries are some of the largest companies in the world and exert extensive control internationally. The energy industries have significant investment in the production of non-renewable energy resources and any movement to replacing these will be constrained by the need to maximise the opportunities to realise profit on existing investments. From their point of view, the interests of the country are a very secondary consideration. They will attempt to make the people pay for any transition that does occur.
This brake on moving forward with renewable energy resources is further constrained within countries like Australia because of their particular economic nature and corresponding historical alliance with industries associated with the extraction and export of raw materials. The investment by the energy industries is very significant in Australia as is the extensive influence and control of the owners of the energy industries. A particularly glaring example of the willingness of Australian politicians to collude with these industries at any cost is the LNG export arrangements and taxes.
In an article in the Age by Melissa Clarke (9-Sep-2021 – “Resource sector lobbies hardest on climate change, while net zero backers 'disengaged'”), it is pointed out that a report by a UK-based think tank that maintains a global database of corporate and industry lobbying efforts on climate change found that: “Corporate support for government action on climate change is muted in Australia, with the most intense lobbying coming from resources and energy companies calling for more limited change. Corporations that back reaching net zero emissions by 2050 as well as other policies that broadly support the Paris Agreement do little or negligible lobbying to encourage federal and state governments to take stronger action on climate change.”
The lack of strategic thinking and subservience by politicians to these largely, American owned companies reflect the nature of Australian capitalism and our dependence on the extraction and export of raw materials. Clinton Fernandes (ARENA Quarterly, Sept 2021) argues that Australia is characterised as an economic growth rather than an economic development country. This simply means we are focussed on a limited number of exports and if economic development involves ‘only such changes in economic life as are not forced upon it from without but arise by its own initiative, from within’, then Australia’s is not well placed to initiate substantial change. In terms of economic complexity which relates to the level of diversification (manufacturing and number of products to export), Australia is an anomaly amongst advanced economies with the lowest level of all the OECD countries and in 2017 was ranked fifty-ninth in the world for economic complexity.
Further in his ARENA article Fernandes states that “Australia’s …. Critical Minerals Strategy isn’t concerned with nation-building or increasing economic complexity but with creating a benign environment for private investors to carve up our critical minerals”.
The role of the capitalist state
Currently in Australia there are a number of coal-fired power stations. Most were built by the various state governments using taxpayers’ money to provide reliable electricity for the manufacturing boom after World War Two. An important function of the capitalist state is to provide infrastructure, services and investment capital beyond the resources of individual capitalists. These power stations were sold off to corporate ownership during the wave of privatisations that swept Australia over the last two decades. Now they are owned and operated by corporations such as Origin Energy, Alinta, Energy Australia and others.
Similarly, the previously state-owned distribution grids of sub-stations and transmission wires were also privatised to different corporations, and so too the retail sectors servicing the customers.
Even though the generation, distribution and retail of electricity is owned by many separate companies, they are mutually dependent and combine to form a powerful bloc of interests. Collectively, they occupy a monopoly position in capitalist Australia, though having the appearance of competitors in the retail market. In particular, they use any and every excuse to “pass on costs to the consumer”.
The state governments continue to provide services to these powerful corporations in the form of access to land, tax concessions, and subsidies for new equipment and technology. The capitalist state organisation ensures the profitability of these corporations, giving them privileged access to government in acknowledgement of their leverage and the implied threat of “blackouts” and “loss of jobs”.
UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow(November 1-12)
The looming threat of devastating climate warming in excess of 2°C will be the focus of world attention at this international conference. Limiting warming to 1.5C will require a much faster rate of retiring fossil fuels than currently projected.
Various countries, and especially the industrialised countries, will be expected to detail what progress they have made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and what initiatives they have taken to introduce and support renewable technologies, and what efforts have been made to clean up and restore the natural environment as fossil fuels production phases out.
Political leaders seeking media attention will focus on what commitments they are prepared to make into the future, for example, net zero emissions by 2050, or 50% reduction by 2030. China has already signalled to meet net zero by 2060, but this may change when the conference meets. Undoubtedly there will be some positive movement and commitments made by many countries at this conference. Several factors are influencing the positions taken by governments around the world with many realising that some progress has to be made on this critical issue.
•Firstly, there is the massive wave of popular struggle and demands by people across the world, but especially young people concerned at the future humanity is facing.
•Secondly, there is the growing evidence of unstable, extreme climate events which are not only devastating livelihoods, but are also threatening established industries and corporate profits.
•Thirdly, there is an increasing investment risk for companies, banks, insurers, superannuation funds and shareholders to invest in fossil fuels which may become “stranded assets” in a relatively short time.
•Fourthly, there is the rapid expansion of renewable technologies and the growing attractiveness for investments in solar, wind, hydrogen, geothermal and batteries, with new opportunities to realise profits in emerging markets.
Morrison’s hot air
Prime Minister Morrison will travel to Glasgow immediately after the G20 meeting in Rome. The Australian government has a well-earned reputation as an apologist for the fossil fuel monopolies, led by a shallow individual whose promises and commitments mean little. In a government flush with climate change deniers and protectors of the coal and gas giants, Morrison waffles on about “modern farming technologies” and “avoided land clearing” and funding “carbon capture and storage”, but has not been able to demonstrate any practical pathway to significantly reduce emissions in Australia.
Under pressure from his AUKUS mates Biden and Johnson, Morrison has made some conditional commitment to meet a net zero by 2050 target to keep in step, but his credibility has been torpedoed.
Nor will Morrison make any commitment to cease the export of coal and gas to developing countries which adds to extreme weather events, dangerous levels of air pollution and the rising sea levels which threaten many island states and low-lying communities. The disastrous consequences of increasing global greenhouse gas emissions will inevitably lead to more mass migrations and regional conflicts.
The future of Coal
Apart from the emissions target, another key issue for the COP26 conference will be the future of coal, the most polluting and damaging of the fossil fuels. Leaders of countries will be under pressure to set closure deadlines on the mining, export and use of coal in power stations.
Immediate pressure will come from demonstrations of people from across the world demanding an end to the global coal industry, as well as many rallies, public meetings and actions in Glasgow prior to and during the conference. Further pressure will come from scientists and delegates to the conference who have studied the facts and reflect the concerns of the mass populations already experiencing changing and extreme weather patterns.
According to an article published in Nature, much of the world’s reserves of coal will have to remain untouched if a target of 1.5C is to be achieved by 2050. Globally that means 89 percent of reserves or 826 billion tonnes. For Australia, it translates to 95 percent of coal reserves or 80 billion tonnes. Nearly 60 percent of oil and gas reserves would also have to be left in the ground to limit global warming to 1.5C.
Given the weight of evidence for urgent action on limiting greenhouse gas emissions, the political/environmental demands of global populations and the risk to profits, it clearly means that thermal coal production in Australia is on borrowed time.
Companies such as BHP and AGL are re-structuring to protect their investments and winding back their involvement in coal production. AGL will close down its Liddell power station in NSW next year and may bring forward the projected dates for Bayswater in NSW (2035) and Loy Yang A in Victoria (2048). Energy Australia will close down Yallourn power station in Victoria 4 years early in 2028.
While coal is used to generate up to 70 percent of the power for east coast Australia, this could be replaced within a few years by large scale battery farms fed from wind and solar and other renewable technologies. This has been the experience in South Australia where 60 percent is currently supplied by renewables.
Thermal coal is becoming increasingly unviable as an investment. Coal-fired power stations in Australia will shut down sooner than current company projections as profits disappear in the face of competition by renewables. The export market for thermal coal will also contract as other countries step up their transition to other renewable sources for electricity generation.
Coking coal exports for steel making will continue to be Australia’s major contribution to (global) emissions in other countries. However, the days of selling iron ore and importing it back as steel may also be under threat. There are plans by Fortescue Mining to develop a “green steel” manufacturing industry using hydrogen made from renewables, doing away with the need for coking coal and its export overseas, and perhaps providing jobs for displaced mine workers.
The Morrison government will continue to underwrite the coal industry in Australia using every trick to frustrate and delay the final years. Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor has been sprouting a “capacity mechanism” which would provide rapid energy generation when “the sun isn’t shining and the wind blowing” using pumped hydro, gas, batteries and coal-fired power stations. The implication is that renewables are not reliable and that coal needs to stay in the mix. In return, Morrison and Co. hope to be re-elected on the back of coal miners’ votes in Queensland and New South wales.
At the same time, the federal government has refused to properly fund schools, hospitals, public housing, pensions and social benefits to meet the needs of the people.
Although the production and use of LNG causes less pollution than oil or coal, it in fact releases methane into the Earth’s atmosphere at a rate that significantly contributes to climate change and global warming. Coal seam gas production and use, in addition to releasing methane, also pollutes waterways and degrades farmland.
Australia is now the largest exporter of LNG, overtaking Qatar in the last couple of years. LNG exports are primarily to Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore where it is used for heating, power generation, cooking and transport.
The multinational corporations that control the export of Australian LNG are Chevron, Shell Energy, Woodside, Santos, INPEX and Origin Energy.
As stated in Vanguard ( Feb 2019), “Because of a tax system that is completely in the service of imperialism, the multinational companies that control Australia’s oil and gas industry are subject to only one tax – the Petroleum Resources Rent Tax (PRRT).
“The PRRT is a tax on profits generated from the sale of all petroleum products created from onshore and off-shore oil and gas projects in Australia. But aggressive tax avoidance schemes and the off-shoring of profits by the multinationals means Australians are effectively being robbed blind. In 2018, Australia received just $946 million from the PRRT. That’s from both oil and gas. In comparison, Qatar is estimated to receive $26.6 billion from its gas royalties alone.”
The production and use of LNG is promoted by the Morrison government as a “transition fuel”. No mention is ever made of the fact that it can already be replaced for heating and cooking by cheaper renewable electricity such as hydrogen, solar and wind and also for transport in electric vehicles.
Gas fired power generation is still viable for investment finance because Australia has large reserves of LNG, gas fired power stations have a shorter start up time compared with other fossil fuel power stations and they are Australian government backed and promoted. As with all centralised power production, gas use promotes consumer dependency and with government-assisted pricing and tax incentives, extremely high profits. Corporations exporting LNG will resist any moves to limit their operations and will promote their “clean image”. Morrison and Co. will push for gas-fired power stations to replace the aging coal-fired ones.
The strategic importance of Oil
The position taken by the largest energy and mining companies in Australia is focused on extracting the maximum benefit they can out of their investments with little regard to the longer-term interests of the country.
As discussed earlier, it is important to acknowledge the overall strategies of such companies and their application (or non-application) in relation to particular areas of investment and countries. Financial market monitor, Bloomberg Professional Terminal, sees US-based investors as owning more than two-thirds of BHP, two-thirds of Rio Tinto and two-thirds of Woodside. All of these companies are major operators in Australia.
Woodside is Australia’s largest independent producer of oil, producing the equivalent of 900,000 barrels a day. Woodside’s stated policy on climate change includes, “We support the Paris Agreement and its goal to limit the rise in global temperature to well below 2 degrees from preindustrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees.” It goes on to focus on gas and new technologies.
According to Melissa Clarke, Woodside together with Santos, Origin Energy and AGL have been the most engaged in lobbying climate policy in Australia with the focus on limiting expectations and change.
Oil production is even more essential for capitalism/imperialism – for the generation of profits, for political-economic domination of countries, for military equipment and weaponry, for petrol, diesel fuel, bunker oil, aviation fuel, lubricants, plastics, medicines, etc. State power in USA and Australia now operates in the interests of this section of the (international) ruling class. Therefore we cannot rely on capitalism closing down fossil fuel production fast enough to prevent < 2.0 degrees global warming, let alone 1.5 degrees which is now recognised as practicable by the year 2050.
Nuclear Power bandwagon
With the exception of one nuclear power reactor at Lucas Heights (used for the production of nuclear medicine) Australia has no nuclear capability, no nuclear power stations, enrichment plants or reprocessing facilities. Such facilities are specifically prohibited by Commonwealth law (Environment Protection & Biodiversity Act 1999).
With the Morrison government’s recent commitment to the AUKUS “treaty” and the future acquisition of American nuclear-powered submarines, the pro-nuclear energy lobby has loudly called for a review of the current ban on domestic nuclear energy, under the guise of presenting a “clean” alternative to fossil fuel energy production.
The promotion of a nuclear power industry will increase. It is attractive to capitalism as it presents a new investment opportunity for foreign multinational corporations like General Electric and it centralises the production of electricity and therefore dictates and controls the cost of power to the Australian people.
We will be asked to forget or ignore the prospect of Three Mile Island or Fukushima disasters and the insurmountable problems of waste “disposal” and storage and weapons proliferation.
Fundamental change is needed
This decade will be critical in reducing greenhouse gas emissions to prevent dangerous climate warming from having disastrous effects in Australia and across the world. The global monopoly capitalist/imperialist economic system may indeed be able to adjust to the replacement of coal with renewable sources of power.
But even this will require the need for intense struggles by the people to force federal and state governments to cease guaranteeing the coal industry and to guarantee the futures of the workers and communities as coal production winds down. Many, but not all, may be able to transition into new jobs in the renewable industries. Others who cannot must not be abandoned by governments and certainly not by the organised working class.
Gas and oil corporations are at the centre of the global monopoly capitalist/imperialist system. They exercise direct and indirect power and influence over governments, providing crucial resources for manufacturing and land, sea and air transport. They will not surrender their power and profits without a fight.
Companies such as ExxonMobil, Chevron, Woodside, Shell, INPEX, Origin Energy and Santos control the production, refining and export of gas and oil in Australia. They rely on a network of international banks and investment financiers to support the continuing profitability of fossil fuels, and at the same time, finance their diversification into renewable energy projects. The gas and oil companies have great influence through the Business Council of Australia and the Minerals Council. Their executives, both in Australia and internationally, form part of the ruling class of imperialism which dominates Australia’s economic and political existence. Prime Minister Morrison promotes their influence through his “gas-led recovery” and calling for new gas-fired power stations to replace the older coal-fired ones and continuing support for coal seam gas fracking.
Waiting for their turn to oversee capitalism, the Labor Party leadership never challenges this ruling class domination of Australia. They also have with no program for winding back emissions, and actively support fossil fuel exports and coal seam gas extraction.
Breaking the hold of these companies and rolling back their substantial contribution to global climate warming means radical and far-reaching change in Australia’s ownership and control of resources.
Not only do the old polluting technologies have to be replaced, but the anarchic capitalist system of private ownership which sustains and protects them also needs to be replaced. Socialism, based on collective ownership and participatory democracy, can rebuild the harmony between nature and humanity, and do it more efficiently and effectively.
It calls for determined struggle to expel imperialist domination of the economy, the military, politics and culture. Only widespread mass struggle of the people can force the necessary changes, not waiting and hoping for a ‘progressive’ parliament.
It calls for the ownership and control of Australia’ critical infrastructure and resources to transfer to a revolutionary state of the working people which will lead the people in building a socialist society.
Socialism must ensure decentralised systems of participatory democracy where communities, townships, workplaces, etc. can have meaningful input into the policies and services that affect their lives; a real democracy not only monitoring the implementation of agreed policies but also participating in their delivery. This must involve the intensive rehabilitation of degraded lands, forests, and marine and river systems as well as the continual development and expansion of clean, renewable energy with both large-scale and community battery storage systems.
It’s a while since a union leader was exposed for being on the take.
My union’s previous state and national secretary was a big wheel in the ACTU, a Vice-President, and was at one time President of the ALP. He was caught, not with his fingers in the till, but up to his armpits into union coffers.
Eventually he admitted to creaming off $5 million over his 20-year career. And that was what he admitted to.
In his later years, around 2012, he was on a ‘wage’ of $350,000, with another $150,000 or so in payments for board and other appointments he got as a result of his position. The job came with a car, petrol, and phone supplied. His expense account notoriously included long lunches on Thursdays and Fridays with some hangers-on and ‘political’ connections. First class interstate trips and accommodation were par for the course. He had a deal with a supplier to pay his kids top private school fees, and regularly hand over paper bags of cash. He was made a partner in another supplier’s business which meant he pocketed another couple of hundred thousand a year from inflated contract pricing.
The union covers various workers including labourers and clerks paid basic rates, under $1,000 a week. The secretary was officially being paid ten times that,
with a phone, car and petrol supplied, and huge kickbacks on the side. Along with all that financial corruption, his reign sapped and undermined the strength of the union by his approach to securing his position.
The main weakness came from isolating members into site branches with very little connection with workers or delegates from other workplaces, even of the one employer. In a state union of 30,000 members, around 300 or so delegates got together once a year at a powerless union conference, a consultative body not even mentioned in the union rules. Only one delegate from a workplace was allowed to attend so where I worked with 1,000 members one delegate went. The conferences were held for two or three days during a working week. They were lavish events with accommodation, dinners, drink, entertainment and giveaways laid on. Talking heads and set piece reports from officials dominated with very limited time for delegates to share experiences and get to know each other.
There was a tendency for active members to share attendance around. The lavishness also tended to draw out some who were self-important, greedy and grasping. Some delegates elbowed their way to ‘win the prize’. They were open to becoming mercenaries on the gravy train.
Union elections were a joke. Members weren’t notified of them. They were advertised in the public notices in a national daily newspaper, the Australian, which is read by a few upper-class characters and politicians. The Secretary could rely on virtually no union members seeing the ad, all by the rules. There was no ad in the union journal, no notice to members sent out and no notice on the union’s website.
The Secretary would get his cronies on the Union Council, the Committee of Management, and national bodies to sign nominations forms anytime up to 6 or 8 months before elections each 5 years were due. Elections were run by the Electoral Commission. He put nominations in and sometimes officials found nominations closed without their name being put forward. They were out. Organisers who knew elections were coming were told to keep it to themselves until nominations closed. Voting happened only twice in about 20 years and one of those as a result of a merger and rivalry from the minor players in the merger. At the same time there was reliance on connections with government bureaucrats, leading Labor Party politicians and corporate leaders to ‘manage’ wage deals of the bulk of members. While the early deals sustained wage levels, they involved efficiency agreements. That involved productivity-increase trade-offs in the 1990s and early 21st century opening the door to positions being eliminated and workloads increased in restructures without any job or wage upgrades. It became an endless tide of restructures, job losses and increased workloads, with the union effectively folding its arms in the face of no further claims clauses and who knows what deals.
Some of us found ways to turn this around but that just focussed the union leaderships’ attention on militants. They took more steps to isolate militants who were having some success fighting the restructuring corporatisation tide. Some were offered union positions worth a couple of times their wage packet. Some succumbed and were removed from their connection with the old workplaces, completely reliant on the grace and favour of the leadership.
Others found that organisers were warned about ‘troublemakers’ in workplaces and issued strict orders to keep an eye on specific members and report back any activity they were involved in. Some organisers took no notice and a few let militants know when they recognised militants’ commitment to the workers and leadership in the workplace. In some cases, the Secretary tried to get bureaucrats to sack ‘troublemakers’ for the same reason, fortunately with no success that I am aware of.
This work to isolate militants, and keep members in each workplace separate from members in other workplaces, had two consequences.
Firstly, it staved off challenges to the Secretary’s rule over the union.
Secondly, it systematically weakened the union, kept workers from working together across the industry, across multiple employers, getting organised in a strong compact unit lined up in opposition to the front of employers exploiting the members. It also weakened the union in most individual workplaces, given union officials became the bosses’ collaborators in restructuring and corporatisation, job losses and increasing workloads, and in isolating workplaces.
This weakness was exacerbated when the Secretary’s corruption was exposed, and the state of the union’s finances became clear. The union was just on broke. The Secretary had sucked it almost dry. As others took the reins in a weak alliance of militants and hangovers from the previous regime, some strength was restored, but it was limited. Financial strength was easily restored when a million dollar Secretary with his rake-offs was replaced with a Secretary paid a fraction of that, suppliers were replaced, corrupt contracts were cancelled and governance was tightened.
However systematic mechanisms for changing the situation were limited. New election rules mean members are notified by email and in the union journal, but other restraints remain. Delegate meetings and campaign gatherings have increased but Covid has meant people to people isolation and further isolation of workplace from workplace. The Secretary is top dog, with some officials tending to act as the Secretary’s cronies with members secondary.
A big question over how did he last 20 years remains.
A number of militants tried to get organised to get the union to get rid of him. The range of workplaces brought into that proved to be limited. It was virtually impossible to shift him until a rival appeared and exposed some of his financial corruption. Mind you the rival was out to replace him, desperate to grab the position, not to clean up the union and get it organised for the members.
As one militant graphically put it, the Secretary and his rival were two rats fighting over a knob a cheese.
The Point of Unions
The point of unions is to muster workers’ strength through organising them into a united resolute group standing up to their immediate bosses and to corporate bosses as a class.
In the workplace, tendencies of workers to unite against their boss conflict with tendencies for workers to compete for position. Casual and precarious contract jobs strengthen the tendencies for workers to compete against each other, for shifts, hours, overtime, temporary upgrades, for the manager’s favour. Permanent jobs and shifts tend to reduce competition between workers and are more favourable to bringing workers together. Of course, these tendencies can become stronger or weaker depending on pressures in the workplace.
Unions get organised through the clashes of individual workers with individual bosses, workers at one site or in one company with the corporate boss who manages their direct exploitation. As struggle grow from one workplace to many similar workplaces, workers across an industry become engaged in conflict with corporate bosses in the industry. Bosses and government strive to keep workplaces separated, isolated from other workers facing the same conditions.
EBA’s very existence was based on consolidating the separation of workplaces from one another in facing the boss. They are used to keep workers separated from others in the industry, keeping workers and union weak. The CFMEU construction division in NSW has presented the same demands to multiple employers in an effort to break out of the strictures. We are yet to see how they’ll go but it’s a great task they have set themselves. Where the separation of workplaces from each other is overcome, workers across an industry face a combined front of their corporate bosses, a union of corporations. Facing that bosses’ united front creates a natural response of solidarity and breeds consciousness of workers as a class confronting corporate bosses as a class.
The working class when becoming more organised, united, active and identifying itself as a separate class experiences two tendencies.
Firstly, spontaneity promotes acceptance of the continuation of capitalism and capital's rule over society, of workers accepting an interdependent relation with capital involving exploitation and oppression. At best it limits its aims to struggle for corporate capital to concede a bigger share to workers while leaving exploitation and dominance over workers intact. This trade union politics allows capital, especially when under pressure from worker's struggle, to reorganise and consolidate its economic strength, and to organise and strengthen its police, armed forces, judicial, administrative, financial and other government organs to suppress workers action to restrict capital's exploitation and oppression.
The other tendency is to spread understanding of workers’ interests as a class ranged against their exploiters’ capital, combining across industries and communities providing a platform for the class to understand and adopt its own interests as a class, to free itself from the millstone of its exploiter and oppressor, capital.
That doesn't happen spontaneously with the organisation of workers as a class. It requires going deeper into the nature of the capitalist system and its hold over the working class, basically through workers’ thinking being liberated from the limitations of trade union politics. It needs the politics of liberating workers from capital completely, the revolutionary thinking of Marxism-Leninism, being propagated and providing a lead. Not being a spontaneous response to the symptoms of capitalist exploitation and oppression, the Marxist-Leninist system of ideas needs people bringing it into the workers’ movement. Like a novice at the pool, without being shown how to swim, and how to breathe when dipping their head into the water, they are a candidate for drowning. They can refuse to go in beyond waist level and try to avoid getting their head underwater but that's hardly 'liberating' them to enjoy a swim. Spontaneously they are limited and lack understanding and ideas to swim with any confidence and safety. With identification of the dangers being faced, the skills involved and practice, they can come to be free in the water. Without Marxism-Leninism and a party that propagates it in organised worker circles, the working class flounders about. Trade Union politics is the politics of workers without knowledge of the dangers, the skills and the practice, that provide the capacity to liberate themselves as a class. Marxism-Leninism provides the ideas required for working class liberation.
Vital to union strength in defending and extending the rights and interests of workers is the formation of compact methodical organised bodies of class conscious workers to face their corporate bosses. Some union leaders fear strong compact organised bodies of their members. It can pose a challenge, or threaten to become a challenge to their position as top dogs. Among union leaders some suffer from a tendency to work against their members or delegates coming together across multiple workplaces, getting to know each other and becoming capable of drawing up plans to overcome the combinations of corporate bosses confronting them.
Leaders often keep workers and delegate separated, other than their small faction of supporters, often based on employed officials who rely on the grace and favour of the leadership. They dominate despite democratic forms of elections etc. They stack governance bodies with their hangers-on. The spread of information across the union is ‘managed’ using compliant organisers, all communication through the office, few if any delegates meetings, campaigns run from head-office, no bodies covering multiple workplaces like area committees or the like. Separating and keeping workers in the dark tends hinders challenges to the top dog being mounted outside of the ranks of officials dominated by hangers-on.
All this directly conflicts with the fundamental necessities for building strong unions, mustering workers in struggles across multiple workplaces getting together to confront corporate bosses across multiple workplaces, the basis of strong, resolute united organisation of workers gaining consciousness of themselves as a class confronting the class of corporate owners.
Unfortunately, this tendency has strength among Australian unions. It is not anywhere near the whole story, witness the fury directed at the maritime and construction divisions of the CFMEU, where workers are mustered in strength, loads of delegates meet regularly, and their leaders take pride in the strength of the organisation.
In many unions there is a mix of the two tendencies, including within the CFMEU. The tendency to draw workers together, to struggle to break out of the shackles of the EBA system and unite workplaces across industries to confront the union of corporate bosses, to act for the working class is pitted against officials’ interests in keeping their positions, some measure of separating workers, isolating some workers or workplaces which, to strengthen workers’ organisation, might challenge leaders.
Militant workers have the task of making sure that building strong workers’ organisation lined up against corporate bosses is the focus of the internal workings of their union. The struggle against careerism is vital for the rebuilding of strong organisations of workers busting out of the strictures of the (Un) Fairwork Act in this country, and building the front of workers organising themselves to break corporate class rule.