Corporate Australia has a problem: the demise of the anti-communist unions

Corporate Australia has a problem: the demise of the anti-communist unions. By Ken Phillips.

From WWII until recently:

We can start with Australia’s immediate post-second world war political–corporate relationship, which was dominated by one big issue: the fear of communism. To some today this might sound simplistic, but this was the reality for several decades. …

After the war, a major Australian political obsession was the containment of domestic communism. …

The Menzies government attempted to outlaw communism but failed in the referendum of 1951. Brewing largely outside the public eye, however, was a massive power struggle within the Australian union movement and the Australian Labor Party between communist and anti-communist forces. …

What happened as a consequence was the corporate funding of the anti-communist forces. This occurred overtly with corporations directly funding the conservative/liberal political parties and movements.

What occurred covertly was corporate funding of the anti-communist unions. … The corporate funding took place through corporations ‘encouraging’ staff to be members of anti-communist unions. This was particularly the case in the retail sector. Few union members knew or understood the politics at play. But this union membership — which was endorsed and often paid for by the corporates — meant that the anti-communist unions were very well-funded and politically powerful.

This anti-communist effort established a bonded, symbiotic working relationship between corporations and anti-communist unions. These unions delivered workable industrial relations arrangements for the corporates which enabled their businesses to function, and even thrive. …

In effect, there was a subterranean political coalition of anti-communist Liberal, National and Labor parliamentary representatives who, through coordinated action, sought to deny power to the communist forces within the Labor Party and the unions.

But now, the communist left is overtaking industrial relations in Australia:

Union private-sector membership continued to ‘fall off a cliff’, landing at just 8 per cent today.

This ‘failure’ of the Rudd/Gillard law induced panic in the union movement. For the hard Left in the Labor Party and the unions the Rudd/Gillard laws have ‘proven’ that if unions seek to work with corporations, the corporations will simply screw over the unions.

This has resulted in a massive shift in the balance of power between hard Left and ‘middle Right’ unions. It’s fair to say that the Right within Labor is a shadow of its former self. The old, staunchly anti-communist forces within the ALP have pretty much dissolved. The Left’s unions and ideologues are in a position of dominant power never before seen in Australia. The consequence is a crashing of the union-corporate ‘working relationships’. …

The ‘out-of-the-public-eye’ corporate-union deal-making that had been the primary hidden feature of Australia’s industrial relations system had washed out. But the extent to which this had happened did not become apparent until the Albanese Labor government introduced its first phase of industrial relations laws in late 2022.

Covid aside:

Further, however, Covid interfered. What Covid did was demonstrate that, in Australia, when push comes to shove, the old colonial-style powers of the ruling institutions politically reasserted themselves over the people and the plain wording of the Constitution.

This was demonstrated most starkly in the defeated Palmer application to the High Court where Clive Palmer had sought to prove that it was unconstitutional to close the borders between the states. The High Court was asked to rule that because section 92 of the constitution required that ‘trade, commerce and intercourse’ between the states shall be ‘absolutely free’ that the Covid border closures were unconstitutional. The High Court ruled against the Palmer application, effectively saying that the words ‘absolutely free’ do not mean ‘absolutely free’. …

If there was a message for Australia’s corporates from Covid and the High Court it is this. The law does not really matter. Politics is everything!

Now mere support for woke won’t save the corporates:

This accumulation of historical events has now brought corporate Australia to the point where the old (secret) industrial relations deal-making that has served them well has collapsed….

It certainly looks as though corporations have, in desperation, jumped on to overtly political bandwagons where those bandwagons seem to be in the ascendancy. They are searching for the new deal-making rules. It’s not just industrial relations that is causing a problem for corporations. The Green Agenda and others have corporates in a spin. But industrial relations is and arguably remains the biggest elephant stomping around the room.

It’s only an observation, but probably a reasonable observation, that the corporate hope was that, in courting political favour on non-industrial relations issues, industrial relations deals as part of broader deal-making could still be secured. This hope, however, has been thoroughly blown apart.

Corporate Australia has surely misread the power shift in the Australian union movement, the Labor Party and the Labor movement. The anti-communist forces are defeated. The Left is strongly in the ascendant. And corporate Australia has been caught flat-footed! The proof is in the new industrial relations legislation.

The Albanese government’s first wave of industrial relations changes in December 2022 shocked corporate Australia. That first wave entirely reflects the ascendancy of the Left inside Labor. It reflects an Australian home-grown Marxist agenda. There’s no deal-making with corporations. It’s now a ‘do as we command’ legislative, structural and political environment.

There’s now a second wave of industrial relations changes mooted by the Albanese government. The Bill presented to parliament on 4 September is a corporation’s nightmare. … The legislation is a Leftist’s dream.

We should remember that old-style Marxism called for the dismantling of the private sector and that the means of production should be owned by the state. Australian, home-grown, ‘modern’ Marxism (or whatever Left ‘ism’ applies) is smarter. It’s not necessary for the institution of the state to own the means of production. What they can do instead is micro-manage the corporate managers. That’s what the Albanese government’s first and now second wave of industrial relations changes seeks to do and will do. It’s the effective neutering of the capacity of managers to manage.

With the collapse of some six decades-plus of comfortable corporate–union deal-making, Australian corporations have turned in desperation to supporting social and related political issues to secure deals. Qantas, of course, is the most visible example of this. That has blown up in spectacular fashion. What do Australian corporations do now? They must be worried!

Australia will now begin sliding down the international rankings, as productivity dives. Eventually all Australians will be poorer.