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Issue 574, 5 October 2007 - All unions should back the Greens

All unions should back the Greens

Enough is enough. That is the message coming from thousands of working people across the country about WorkChoices. There is no doubt that Howard is spooked by the overwhelmingly mood against him. Tragically Labor is so concerned to keep big business onside that it has promised to keep important parts of the legislation.

These include the ban on the right to strike and the right of unions to enter workplaces

All unions should back the GreensThis is ridiculous-how can unions survive, let alone prosper, if they cannot enter workplaces to talk to members?

Rather than cosy up to the bosses, Labor should listen to the findings of a new report co-funded by Unions NSW and a grant from the government's Australian Research Council.

The [email protected] report is based on a survey of 8343 people. It found that 16 months into the WorkChoices legislation, low-skilled workers on AWA individual contracts earn on average $100 less than workers on collective agreements.

"Employees in [low-skill] occupations, for example, labourers and sales assistants, are receiving worse outcomes, in terms of pay and hours, under AWAs," according to report co-author Brigid Van Wanrooy.

"It appears that AWAs are being used as a tool for reducing employees' conditions to the statutory minima."

And WorkChoices is hurting all workers-not just the 6 per cent on AWAs. A recent report from the Workplace Research Centre in Sydney showed that since its introduction, Saturday penalty rates were abolished in 76 per cent of collective agreements, Sunday penalties in 71 per cent, overtime rates in 68 per cent and public holiday rates in 60 per cent of agreements.

WorkChoices is the sharp end of neo-liberal globalisation, a process that has been undermining our jobs and conditions for years. According to the [email protected] report, a quarter of us work over 50 hours a week-one of the highest levels among developed nations.

Over half surveyed agreed that "more and more is expected of me for the same pay". The level of unpaid overtime is massive. The percentage of workers who report working over 50 hours is more than double the percentage who report being paid for these hours. This is having an especially bad effect on working women with children.

More and more people want unions to offer some protection. Although the anti-union onslaught from the bosses, the government and the media has driven union density down to 22 per cent of the workforce, a further one in ten workers want to be in a union.

That's another 820,000 workers or a further 10 per cent potential density. A further 550,000 workers are "unsure" about joining a union-in other words, they are unconvinced, but not hostile. The report also found that on average union members earn higher wages.

Predictably, the Liberals ridiculed the report's authors. But it is far more worrying that Kevin Rudd seems to share the Liberals' passionate hatred of unions. Back in June he told union leaders unhappy with his policies to "go jump in a lake".

Captive to the lure of big business, he can't bring himself to acknowledge the blindingly obvious-that the union movement's response to WorkChoices (the Your Rights at Work campaign) has driven Labor to brink of an election victory.

We need to vote out the Howard government-but we can and must send a powerful message of protest to the Labor Party.

Vote Green

The best way to do this is to vote 1 Greens, 2 Labor. The Greens have the best IR policy by a long way. The Greens are committed to collective bargaining, to restoring the right of entry and the right to strike, to scrapping AWAs in their entirety as well as abolishing the anti-union Building Industry Commission (ABCC).

Preferencing Labor means we will help get rid of the Howard government. But voting Green first sends a clear message that we don't trust Labor.

The Greens have so far received some support for their policies from the Electrical Trades Union, the Firefighters Union, Independent Teachers Union and the Finance Sector Union.

Mostly this has meant pledging support for the Senate campaign in the hope that the Greens can capture the balance of power in the upper house.

But we have to go much further than this. All unions should support the Greens across the board-in the lower house as well as the upper house.

The more union support the Greens get at this election, the stronger the union movement and the progressive left will be when the election campaign is over.