I’d like to wish all members, staff and officers of the Maritime Union of Australia and the International Transport Workers’ Federation a peaceful and happy season of renewal over the coming weeks.
This pause for reflection comes at a time and in an environment of increasing dysfunction in both Australia and the world more generally. Gripped by a continuing lack of confidence in the national and international economy, many employers and governments have reverted to policies of attrition and blame against communities and labour organisations. In Australia particularly, the failure to manage the economy by the Abbott government has been matched with the failure to realise national prosperity that can only be secured by building functional and sympathetic relationships with the working women and men and their families hardest hit by the continuing economic mismanagement. As is the case worldwide, certain employer groups have mounted a concerted and aggressive campaign against labour rights in this country, accentuated by a wasteful and ideological use of blunt instruments like the Royal Commission into Trade Unions and other similar parliamentary and legislative abuses to damage the union movement rather than bring to account the small number of abuses. This subjective use of government has gone arm-in-arm with the wholesale attack on Australian manufacturing and related services including coastal shipping, the embracing of mechanisms to introduce guest labour at greatly reduced standards of employment through migration visas, parliamentary abuses and the continuing proliferation of 457 visas which are expected to greatly increase following new Free Trade Agreements with Korea and China securing greater right for access to Australian job sites in some cases than for Australian workers.
Similarly the Trans Pacific and Trans Atlantic Trade Partnerships have built on the matrix of trade mechanisms to avoid labour standards, accountability and engagement. This fervour for deregulation and dilution of protections for workers has not been balanced, however, by any concerted successes in curbing executive greed and largesse and tax avoidance in the world’s largest corporations including companies like Chevron. The international financial system, having chronically failed to provide the investment required to build communities rather than the individual wealth of entrenched elites, continues to pursue short-term speculation enhanced by regulatory and auditory avoidance. Corporate governance in many instances is blind to the growing environmental catastrophe facing the world in generations to come, and prefers on too many occasions to build wealth on the deprivation of the standards of work and entitlements that go with that work - including the right to collectively bargain, the right to join trade unions unmolested and the right to withdraw labour to secure agreement on those standards in the last instance. These inalienable rights are now under savage and determined attack. Much of the wealth available for investment today comes from the negotiations by trade unions for financial independence in retirement and is sourced from profit back to the Members’ Pension and Superannuation Funds, an area of continuing engagement and activity which seeks long-term sustainable growth and investment, particularly in community infrastructure and sustainable living.
Oxfam has calculated that the world’s richest 85 individuals have the same wealth as half the world’s poorest, approximately 3.5 billion people. This is an inevitable consequence of the polarisation of power in the workplace and subsequently, working communities of the world. This is an outrage that cannot be either justified or sustained and must be countered with courage and continual determination to reclaim our financial and other political institutions. These spectacular policy failures and malignant distortions have defensively and consequently enhanced the continuing savaging of labour rights through civil as well as industrial legal avenues and the active and slavish adherence to a form of class warfare by some employers against their workforce, particularly trade union activists and delegates.
Australia, like many of the wealthiest countries in the world, has a relatively small population and should have been politically managed into a bipartisan accountability on jobs, working entitlements, social support in aged, sickness and unemployment benefits and the many other characteristics of a forward-thinking and functional society that has attracted the admiration of the rest of the world in both peacetime and war over many generations. At the core of this development has been the delivery of social equity, workplace fairness and the promotion of job growth, housing, education and equal opportunity for all. The MUA is proud to have been at the forefront of that delivery for over 140 years and together with the ITF and our worldwide network of affiliates and members, we intend to remain there regardless of political and industrial bullying and harassment by self-serving actions and policy initiatives by both government and business, particularly against maritime and transport workers.
At a time of continuing political unrest, which tips over regularly into gut-wrenching and inexcusable violence, terrorism and large swathes of the world facing the anvil of grinding poverty and the hammer of sectarian violence and war, it is incumbent on all of us to remain active and courageous in the face of political cynicism and opportunism. Our right to work and our rights at work define our society and have always been central to the building of peace and prosperity for the many and not just the few. It is the basis of self and mutual respect and sustainability in Australia and internationally. The realisation of those values and what it means for working men and women is central to our renewal and the optimism we must nurture through our collective will and actions as trade unionists and human and civil rights activists.
Again on behalf of the ITF and MUA, I wish all the space and time for the reflection required for that renewal and the hope that brings to us all.