Friday, May 09, 2008

Who runs Australia?

Michael Egan has a cogent argument in The Australian regarding the need for the Labor Party to stand up to the unions. My arguments have centred on macroeconomic policy concerns and the need to avoid a wages explosion that will damage the economy and force a recession.

Egan's argument is more pragmatic. Labor will be unelectable federally and in any Australian state if it is perceived by the community to having its policies dictated by narrow trade union interests. He then argues that the Prime Minister and the Labor Premiers will understand this and therefore will not allow themselves to be dictated to by the unions. They will need to assert themselves to assert autonomy in order to survive.

There is not a gram of principle in this approach but it does bring joy to my heart. If Egan is right then Rudd and the Labor Premiers will stand up to the unions and limit the riole of the unions. This is certainly the appropriate policy. But if he is wrong and the Labor leaderships do not assert themselves then they will be replaced by an opposition who identify their cowardice in the face of the union bullies. Thus any pain that the community experiences as a consequence of Labor rule will be transitional - there is light at the end of the tunnel or, dare I say, at the top of the hill.

7 comments:

Spiros said...

All governments are subject to the pressures of special interest groups, all of the time.

Why single out unions for particular mention? There are plenty of other examples.

As has been very well documented by Guy Pearse and others, the Howard government was captured by groups, aka The Greenhouse Mafia, whose interest was in resisting any moves to do anything about climate change.

And there are any number of other examples - the forestry industry dictating forestry policy; the AMA dictating workforce planning in the health sector; the housing industry lobbyists convincing Howard to double the first home owners' grant when the GST was introduced; and so on.

Harry, by all means warn against government capture by special interests, but if you think unions are the only source of it, then your ideological slip is showing.

Will said...

I don't understand why it is presumed from the get-go that Rudd won't resist unions at all.

The fact that union contributions helped sustain his original campaign to office says little about the exact calculus of who was using who the most in that equation, and most importantly, it says nothing about what will keep him there - which is the only thing relevant to how he governs now that he is in office. The automatic assumption that he will pander to the unions just distorts and simplifys the varied and hedged reasons why a moribund union movement might support a neo-liberal type like Rudd, as the lesser evil than Howard and the WorkChoices legislation, and attempts to turn their support into some kind of uncomplicated utopian ideal for their movement, which is based on a definite quid pro quo and hidden preferences.

But that is a ridiculous picture. It robs the political alliance of any of its nuances and realities, and tries to steal from Rudd any kind of agency to be able to resist or reform union ties to the Labor Party. In other words, it tries to make him a puppet by sheer decry. Such an assumption is unable to explain in any meaningful sense why Rudd must govern from indebtedness to an outlier political constituency, rather than from middle where he enjoys continuing popular support, as they offer no compelling account of how the union movement sustains Rudd in power. It simply takes the example of union ad campaigns and declares that this makes the government a legal trustee for the union movement in perpetuity.

In reality, I'd say it's about the opposite: the union movement owes Rudd everything, because he stopped them being completely eradicated, rather than merely being sidelined. In the modern political context, Rudd has an unparalleled opportunity to resist and reform their relationship with the ALP.

So, for the assumption to make sense, you need to do more than simply point to the presence of vocal unions, and ad campaigns which had the affect of helping Rudd.

You need to actually establish that Rudd's survival in Canberra is contingent on giving in to massive wage-claim breakouts. You need to show that his is a pro-union mentality, beyond just rejecting the particular balance struck by workchoices, which after all, did not have public support. You need to show that his economic views are in the mould of pre-1980s centralised wage fixing, and that there is a good reason to believe that he would not enjoy the support of a broad base of the population without the unions, which makes him actively indebted to them in the way he governs. You also need to address the glaringly counter-intuitive aspects of this kind of scaremongering, which are both politically naive and historically ignorant, such as the fact that the modern Labor Party, in the post-Hawke era, neo-liberal views on the economy are fairly orthodox, and are certainly well represented in the majority right faction's control, and that after just having ended over a decade of political wilderness, you know, perhaps they might be just a tad terrified of wearing any kind of economic albatross.

NPOV said...

Further, why shouldn't we assume that the Rudd/Swan government will try what Hawke & Keating did, sit down with the unions and explain why their demands are problematic, and work out a solution that's acceptable to all.
That's surely a far more reasonable approach than Howard's.

conrad said...

That's a really odd though -- surely the main issue in electability now is how will the Liberals ever get back in, not how Labor will be voted out in all states as well as at the Federal Level. The only way this is going to happen is due to absolute incompetence (like Iemma), and perhaps not even that.

teajay said...

Are you really giving up blogging? I quite enjoy your posts so I hope you reconsider.

jc said...

Spiros mentions Guy Pearse as a voice of authority from the conservative side. This is a guy who worked for the Clinton campaign and couldn't get a green card to stay.

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