emails flood into Crikey on the government’s industrial relations
reforms. Not. I’ve had two since Friday – a media release from a Labor
backbencher and an “Onya!” to the prime minister. Is industrial
relations reform the final stage in the restructuring of the Australian
economy that was launched by the Hawke government – or will it be the
sleeper that destroys the current Howard administration?

Unions are an irrelevance in Australia today. Outside the public sector, nobody seems to belong to them.

Carr has privately declared he is willing to hand over his state’s
industrial relations powers to John Howard, contradicting his Labor
counterparts who are considering a High Court challenge to the federal
government’s planned new laws,” The Australian reports today. Glenn Milne
details the softly-softly approach ACTU hard heads are pushing for in
the same paper today. “Unions will concentrate on local constituencies,
trying to convince voters at a grass roots level that these changes are
bad for their families and their communities,” he writes.

was dismal in Parliament last week. Caucus members know they failed
politically on tax cuts and morally on mandatory detention. IR reform
gives them perhaps the ultimate rally-round-the-flag issue – but if
no-one else salutes the flag nowadays what’s the point, even if it
gives a big boost to caucus morale? It only further marginalises the
ALP and shows their irrelevance to political discourse.

various state Labour councils are already distancing themselves from
the political wing of the labour movement, branding themselves “Unions
NSW” or whatever. Most Australians don’t belong to unions and are
paying little attention to the current noise over IR reforms. In the
long term, however, the proposals have the potential to make their jobs
less secure, their conditions harsher and leave them with less in their

But is the labour movement – its organisation or
political wings – going to be able to convince them of this before the
next election? The union movement seems to understand the difficulties
it currently faces – and the opportunities they could also bring as
wobbly workers decide to get with the strength and rejoin. Do their
brothers on the benches in the parliament?