The ongoing government advertising campaign about the Labor Party’s union links and labelling its former union officials as anti-business is highly questionable as a political tactic and might even be backfiring.
If unions are automatically anti-business (which they are not, but which the campaign asks us to assume) then surely the obverse is equally tenable – that is, that business is anti-union and therefore anti-worker.
Given that most Australians are workers, even if not union members, does this not invite a different response in the mind of the voter than the one intended by government?
Business is not exactly flavour of the month, especially given the disgrace of the Howard-endorsed “good bloke” Dick Pratt and his outrageous swindle on the entire nation and the ongoing gouging at the petrol pump of which every motorist is keenly aware, not to mention the ever avaricious banks, the supermarkets, the milk suppliers and so on.
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The average Australian’s distrust of the boss is etched deeply into the national psyche; it is Howard’s profound miscalculation to disregard this with his WorkChoices folly. (One might well ask, in this regard, what Australia has Howard lived in if he does not know this).
The authoritative Australian Election Survey shows Australians far warier of business interests than they are of unions.
This is the critical perspective to the issue which the government has chosen to overlook or ignore in its efforts to play the union bogeyman card.
For example, in 2004, a wide-reaching survey asked whether unions and big business had too much power. In regard to unions, 15.5 per cent agreed strongly and a further 25.7 per cent agreed – making a total of 41.2 per cent.
As regards big business, 27.1 per cent strongly agreed and a further 44.5 per cent agreed – making a whopping 71.6 per cent of people wary of the influence and power of business.
So who is the perceived bad guy in all of this? Not, apparently, the elected union official whom the government likes to call a “boss” (unlike the unelected employer or manager).
It might make an interesting counter to the government campaign and its claims of 70 per cent of the Labor front bench being anti-business to run a list of the government front bench and identifying the bosses’ lackeys – all 100 per cent of them.
Of course, the whole thing is ridiculous (as is much of the campaign), but at least a counter offensive might be more in keeping with public opinion than the tired old anti-union line being trotted out.
Declaration: The author is a member of a trade union.