My first two articles dealing with attempts to organise defence base workers in Australia attempted to highlight the problems with on the ground organising, union arguments over which unions should cover these workers, the workers’ battle for jobs and redundancy payment and most important of all, the horrorible effect of contracting out of services has on the wages and conditions of those workers concerned.
I can report that there has been some movement on a couple of these issues. Defence workers in the Northern Territory formerly employed by Serco/Sodexo (SSDS), through their unions, have defeated an attempt by these two ruthless transnational companies to rob them of their redundancy entitlements.
The Fair Work Commission (Australia's Labour Court) dismissed SSDS application to renege on workers’ redundancy entitlements. Also, on the issue of competing trade unions, United Voice and the National Union of Workers have met and agreed to join forces to attempt to develop unionism in this sector.
So far it all looks great...from a distance.
Where I am close to the ground it appears more like a “Shotgun” marriage. Everyone is nodding their respective heads on one hand but undermining agreement with the other. I was appalled at some of the comments I heard after the meeting.
Working-class people in Australia have been horribly let down by the Labor Party and by most but not all of the major unions. The sheer timidity of most unions’ leadership in taking on companies that are horribly exploiting workers is sickening.
I had a middle-aged woman break down and cry because of the stress of the spectre of unemployment hanging over her head. She cried “who will want to give me a start, Bob?” I could only offer a shoulder to lean on and a hankie for the tears.
Townsville has the fourth highest unemployment rate in Australia. The outlook for any worker with limited skills is poor. For a woman in her 50s or 60s, many carrying injuries from a lifetime of toil the employment outlook is non-existent.
The fight goes on but until real comradely, fighting trade union unity and strong anti wage-and-conditions legislation is enacted, the race to the bottom in wages and conditions for these and other workers will continue.
It seems the call for a society based on human need not human greed has become quieter than a deaf church mouse. It is up to us, somehow, to make the voice for those who have nothing much louder if we are to help build something better than this capitalistic planet we call home.