We are winning the debate over industrial liberties

President's perspective

The ACTU Congress next month will decide the trade union movement's strategy leading up to Australia's next state and federal elections and beyond. This month we feature ACTU secretary Greg Combet's address to the National Press Club of 13 September, made on the occasion of the release of the movement's policy discussion paper, A Fair Go At Work, which is to be debated at the Congress. At the beginning of his press club address, Combet ventures the view 'that we are winning the debate over these laws'. His judgement was validated within days of the address, when media reports surfaced suggesting that the government is already planning some token retreats from its draconian industrial relations regime. Greg Combet's speech is essential reading for anyone who wishes to keep abreat of developments.


The Evatt Foundation will continue to contribute to the defence of Australia's industrial and civil liberties. Our site now has a comprehensive coverage that shows the deep bias of the Howard government toward big business. Two of the most important papers are those by Braham Dabscheck and Bradon Ellem.


Braham Dabcheck's essay describes the development of "The Contract Regulation Club", the group of employer interests, political players and their ground troops who give practical reality to the government's vision for an industrial relation nirvana; a place where workers fully understand and willingly embrace the leadership and decisions of management. Dabscheck gives a useful description of the systemic capture of industrial relations by the Contract Regulation Club.


I would only add that in 1982, Ian Viner, the then minister for industrial relations, declared at a meeting of the United States Chamber of Commerce in Australia that he would introduce legislation to establish US type industrial relations in this country. Although the then prime minister, Malcolm Fraser, panicked and quickly transferred Viner out of industrial relations, this highlighted the way that the industrial relations component of what we call 'economic rationalism' is a product of American capital:


Few trends could so thoroughly undermine the very foundations of our free society as the acceptance by corporate officials of a social responsibility other than to make as much money for their shareholders as possible.

- Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom (1962)


In his article, 'Beyond Industrial Relations, WorkChoices and the reshaping of labour, class and Commonwealth', from the journal of Labour History,