Nov 2, 2011

Delegitimising unions in the great game of labour v capital

As voters become more estranged from corporations and economic reform, neither labour nor capital is responding effectively to the sentiment.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

It may not look it, but there are strong links between the Occupy protests here and overseas, and more formal political debate and public discourse, which naturally has been dominated by the Qantas dispute. And not just in the vague sense that both deal with the economy, or capitalism, or markets.

Let’s be clear about the long-term business agenda in Australia regarding industrial relations. It’s an agenda aimed not at improving productivity — as I and others have incessantly showed, the last round of IR reform led to a drop in labour productivity — but a more self-interested one aimed at reducing labour costs and neutering unions.

Free Trial

Proudly annoying those in power since 2000.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

135 thoughts on “Delegitimising unions in the great game of labour v capital

  1. GeeWizz


    [“The Australian Federal Police are looking into an act of alleged sabotage involving a Qantas plane.

    The plane was undergoing maintenance in Brisbane when the alleged incident occurred last week, before Qantas grounded its entire fleet on Saturday during an industrial dispute.

    It is understood that after engineers returned from a lunch break, they noticed several wires had been cut on an in-flight entertainment system, The West Australian reported this morning.

    Read more:

    Looks like Qantas are vindicated as grounding all aircraft as a safety measure after announcing the lock-out.

    The unions are a safety and security risk.

  2. Mel Campbell

    Wow, a single alleged incident that’s still under investigation is enough to brand unions, generally, “a safety and security risk”?

    Probably better to view ‘safety’ as a canard that both sides of the dispute are attempting to harness, as clearly nobody wants planes dropping out of the sky.

    What I liked about Bernard’s story was that it pulls back to examine the bigger picture.

  3. fredex

    Excellent article Bernard.

  4. Jimmy

    Geewizz – “Looks like Qantas are vindicated as grounding all aircraft as a safety measure after announcing the lock-out.” Do you know who cut the wires? And the cut wires were to in flight entertainment, hardly a safety risk. Also remember that it was the engineers who reported the damaged wires to Qantas.

    The one point I will make is that Australia, unlike the US still has had real wage growth over the past 30 years, in no small part due to union representation.

  5. SonofMogh

    Is it just me or does Geewiz sound just like Truthie.

  6. CTar1

    The problems with the 767’s entertainment wiring could have been done by anyone – just like the Alan Joyce ‘death threats’.

    What are ‘the Combination Acts’ ? (A spell check ‘problem’ on the Harvester case?)

  7. ace ventura

    if julia gillard didn’t cut the wires herself i bet she knows who did or even ordered it. even if thats not the case she should have done something to stop it happening in the first place just another labor stuff up!

  8. R T

    I am new to Crikey but I am guessing that Geewizz is a troll so – enough said.

    This is an excellent piece Bernard. Thank you and I agree that the unions are not engaging well enough the ‘collective’ view and voice and thus allowing corporations to do what they do well, lobby the individual. Divided we fall and they know it!

    Ruth Townsend

  9. Jimmy

    RT – If we look at Australia’ recent history (last 30 years or so) in IR we will see that in the late 70’s early 80’s unions probably had too much power and during the Hawke and Keating years the balance was moved more towards the middle. More recently Howard and big business tried to move the power too much towards the corporations and the unions were able to get this over turned and the power is now back towards the middle. Over this time we have had a sustained period of continuos economic growth, a sustained period of low unemployment, a sustained period of low inflation, real wages growth and an improvemtn in the GINI coefficient (that measures wealth distribution) to a point where we a among the best in the world.

    If you compare this with the US where Reagan smashed the Unions in the early 80’s and the now have about 8% representation you will see that we appear to have a good balance of union and corporate power benefitting everyone.

    Plus we need those corporations to make money to fund our super.

  10. Michael


    Man you’re unbelievable. 2011 and still fighting the revolution. Guess that’s what gives dryed up baby boomers like you some meaning to the last years of your miserable, hash riddled lives. So uncool. So passė. So predictable.
    By the way, is Crikey a union workshop? But you it’s not, Beecher is way too competent for that. So how do you negotiate your coin or are you paid by barter?

Leave a comment

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details