How the Labor Party Betrayed the Working Class
For decades the liberal-bourgeois Australian Labor Party (ALP) have portrayed themselves as a party fighting for workers' rights, but nothing could be further from the truth. With every small immediate gain the Labor Party have granted to the proletariat, they have also introduced measures and reforms which have effectively cut off the legs of Australia's trade unions.
One of the most destructive reforms the Australian Labor Party introduced into Australia's labour laws was the 'Prices and Incomes Accord' under the Bob Hawke Labor government. The Prices and Incomes Accord was introduced to cap union pay rise demands, however it was sold to the Australian Council of Trade Unions on the premise that it would secure pay rises for all workers, increase unemployment and pension benefits, introduce Medicare, introduce targeted tax cuts for low and middle income workers, and introduce a National Occupational Health and Safety Commission.
“The pacification of the union movement continued with the Paul Keating Labor government's introduction of Enterprise Bargaining”
For nearly all unions the gains offered in this agreement were attractive enough to vote in favour of Labor's Prices and Incomes Accord, with only one union voting against it: the New South Wales Nurses Federation. However these gains were not the only reason why unions looked on the Accord favourably. The Australian Labor Party had managed to convince the Australian Council of Trade Unions that if pay rises were not capped the economy would crash under the weight of workers’ wage increases. In the first year of the Accord a 4.3% pay rise was granted to all workers, and the nation saw a drop in unemployment from 10% to 8%. In the following years the pay rises began to drop, with workers seeing a pay rise of 4.1% in 1984, then a 3.8% pay rise in 1985, and a 2.6% pay rise in 1986.
After workers saw their pay rises drop harshly under the accord it's hardly surprising that union membership began to fall into a downward spiral from 1990 onwards. Unions were unable to win their members pay rises, and if they violated any of the Accord's extremely strict conditions they were heavily punished. This ultimately made unions weak, which only added to the general dissatisfaction of their membership and its gradual decline. The pacification of the union movement continued with the Paul Keating Labor government's introduction of 'Enterprise Bargaining' in the 1993 Industrial Relations Reform Act, limiting 'protected' legal strikes to very limited situations such as collective enterprise bargaining. No longer would industry wide bargaining and centralised wage fixing be a thing, now unions would negotiate deals with individual employers. This considerably weakened the union movement even further, forcing unions to focus on specific businesses rather than entire industries, and severely limiting industrial action.
“The ALP’s actions in upholding draconian, anti-worker labour laws and hobbling the union movement speak louder than its official rhetoric on issues of wealth and social inequality”
In 1996 John Howard was elected as Prime Minister and under his Liberal Party government he introduced 'Work Choices' which ended the Labor Prices and Incomes Accord, and ultimately ended government set wage increases. Under Work Choices, even stricter conditions were imposed on unions, making industrial action even more difficult to legally undertake. When Kevin Rudd of the Australian Labor Party was eventually elected as Prime Minister in 2007 many thought that he would undo the incredibly strict conditions imposed on unions under John Howard's Work Choices. Labor did restore government set wage increases however it left Australia's industrial action laws relatively intact. These industrial action laws made it illegal to strike under many circumstances, including striking for political reasons. These laws have remained relatively the same since, and have been heavily criticized as they violate international law. It’s unsurprising that national union membership has dropped by over 1 million members since 1990. Union membership continues to plummet, largely due to the state of Australia’s union movement which itself is the result of Australia’s harsh industrial action laws. These laws make it all too clear that the proletariat are not free, but instead are wage slaves, unable to legally withdraw its collective labour.
The ALP’s actions in upholding draconian, anti-worker labour laws and hobbling the union movement speak louder than its official rhetoric on issues of wealth and social inequality. The Labor Prices and Incomes Accord revealsed all too clearly how class collaboration between the proletariat and the petty bourgeoisie will undermines the class struggle of the proletariat, effectively undoing the significant gains achieved in the struggle for the liberation of the working class.