Union leaders will be tempted to vote for Abbott

Unions are in desperate need of another pick-me-up like John Howard’s WorkChoices. But imagine if Kevin Rudd won… he’d give a decisive prod to the unions’ steady decline.

Australia’s union leaders should vote for the Coalition at this election, not that they would of course.

Right-wing government is good for union membership, especially if an attack is mounted on workers’ rights.

On the other hand, a Labor government led by Kevin Rudd and Chris Bowen would wind back union control of the ALP, so that not only would the unions lose members, they would lose power as well.

The Workplace Relations Amendment Act 2005, otherwise known as WorkChoices, was the best thing to happen to the unions in years.

Up to that piece of over-reach by John Howard and Peter Reith, life was miserable for the unions: membership was declining and they were having to lay off staff.

Then suddenly they were rescued from relevance deprivation by WorkChoices. In 2005 they raised money for a TV ad campaign which put them back on the map, they were in the streets roaring happily into megaphones every second day and, best of all, union membership began to rise again.

It was Australia’s last great burst of union activism, since when it’s been downhill all the way, especially when it comes to membership.

WorkChoices was also a key reason Labor won the 2007 election, possibly the main reason, apart from John Howard refusing to retire.

In 2008, new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd repealed the legislation and declared it dead, and then in 2010 Rudd himself was repealed ­ by the union-led factions within the ALP, because he opposed them and wanted to reduce union control of the party (he was also crazy, which is the other reason he was sacked).

Julia Gillard was installed by the union factions, led by the AWU, and in her three years as prime minister has lavished many favors upon the unions including guaranteeing them a place at all workplace negotiations, abolition of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, the crackdown on 457 visas, and the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal.

Naturally union membership resumed its steady decline ­after all; with unions in charge of both the legislature and the workplace, no one needs to be a member any more.

Meanwhile, sacking Rudd and replacing him with Gillard turned out to be one of the greatest blunders in political history, partly because Rudd is, indeed, crazy and wouldn’t accept the decision.

He worked tirelessly to undermine Julia Gillard until he got his job back and one of his first decisions was to announce that ALP Parliamentary leaders would be elected by a college, 50 per cent of which would come from Caucus and 50 per cent from rank and file ALP members, thus reducing factional control of the leadership. What’s more, a spill would need at least a 75 per cent vote of Caucus, making it virtually impossible to change leaders, except after elections.

This was an idea first put forward by Treasurer Chris Bowen in his book ‘Hearts & Minds: A Blueprint for Modern Labor’, published earlier this year. It was the first of seven proposals by Bowen to modernise the ALP, most of which are designed to roll back union influence over the party.

Bowen’s book also proposes removing the union membership requirement for membership of the ALP, and to open up ALP affiliation to other organisations than just trade unions.

You can bet Bowen and Rudd are in full agreement on all these matters.

Imagine if Rudd actually managed to win the election? Not only would he and Chris Bowen set about turning the ALP into a proper social democratic left-of-centre party, instead of the ‘political wing of the trade union
movement’ as it’s still called, but he couldn’t be sacked this time! Oh, the horror, the horror.

Far better for the unions if Tony Abbott wins and goes after them like John Howard did. Membership would rise and they could boot out Kevin Rudd immediately and install former AWU boss Bill Shorten as leader.

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