The Senate committee investigating the Howard Government’s proposed IR
changes heard a remarkable outburst yesterday from New South Wales
industrial relations minister and Labor fixer John Della Bosca, who not
only described the legislation as “fascist” but, according to AAP, “told the senators ‘to do some very serious thinking’ about recent events in France.”

“Della Bosca warned … that the changes would create a working
underclass and eventually workers could revolt in the form of riots,
the way they had in France.”

Now there are perfectly respectable arguments against the IR laws, but
this isn’t one of them. The rioters in France don’t belong to a
“working underclass,” but an unemployed one. French unemployment is
about 10%, double Australia’s rate, and among immigrant youth in the
suburbs it is said to reach 40%. IR changes might make workers poorer,
but they won’t increase unemployment; by lowering labour costs, they
should reduce it further.

To accuse France, which has one of the most tightly regulated labour
markets in the western world, of sharing the same policy objectives as
the Howard government is nothing short of bizarre. Regulated labour
markets improve the position of those who have jobs, particularly in
the unionised sector, at some cost in unemployment; there is a
trade-off between “working poverty” and greater unemployment.

It can certainly be argued that the Howard government is going too far
in one direction, but France offers a clear case of going too far the
other way. It would make more sense for the government’s supporters to
use the French riots to bolster their case, not their opponents.