WITH A RECESSION looming for the first time in decades — and with it, if it comes to pass, hardship of the kind few under 40 have experienced or can envisage — Australia’s unions are doing their bit to fuel recessionary pressures, demonstrating their real economic value in the process: their propaganda and rhetoric simply don’t add up, but their greedy, job-destroying, economic vandalism is tangible, and its likely consequences all too clear.
Everywhere you look in Australia today, the pointers to a recession are unmistakable, and whilst a cynic might suggest Labor and the unions are only too happy to see a vicious economic contraction materialise and engulf their hated Abbott government in a political backlash that sweeps it from office, such a prospect amounts to a classic case of being careful what one wishes for.
I think — or at least, I’d like to think — that even a movement as utterly devoid of ethics and morals as Australia’s unions has enough invested in the avoidance of a recession that such a scenario ought to be left unsaid, and that to even contemplate the possibility the union movement would actively foment economic malaise should be able to discarded as baseless musings.
Yet the catalogue of unions’ recent economically destructive antics is thickening, and about the most generous conclusion a reasonable individual could draw from them is that at the very minimum, the unions simply couldn’t care whether their handiwork stokes recessionary forces or not.
Taken in concert with the unmistakable criminality being uncovered in the most militant unions in the country and involving some of their most malevolent and brutal mouthpieces, it is difficult to ascribe any value — economic, industrial, social or otherwise — to the union movement in Australia more broadly at all.
And that — notwithstanding the fact I detest unions — is a slap in the face to those who really do depend on them on account of their inability to represent themselves.
Following my article on Thursday — arguing that those elected to their Canberra sinecures have an obligation, in the face of perhaps imminent recession, to grow up and behave with some modicum of responsibility — I’ve been reading a piece in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning from respected economics writer Jessica Irvine; Irvine — who spent two years in a detour through News Corp until late last year — is a voice of astute judgement and common sense within the moribund Fairfax monolith, and I am featuring her article today because for once Uncle Fairfax has nailed the point.
There is an atmosphere around the small-medium business community at present that is reminiscent of the gloom that descended on Australia in 2009 as the Global Financial Crisis bit locally, only this time it is much more intense; it has been particularly noticeable to those of us who work in sales and marketing in the advertising/media space (which in turn provides one of the indicators of economic activity that is scrutinised for signs of movement in the economy) for much of calendar 2015.
And as one of the senior economists Irvine interviewed for her piece today — Laminar Capital chief economist Stephen Roberts — observed, there is a lag between the onset of actual recession and the time it ultimately shows up in GDP numbers, and by then of course, it’s too late to avoid it.
It needs to be remembered that even economists charged with assessing key indicators try to avoid talking the country’s economic prospects down, which is one of the reasons Irvine’s article asserts that “no-one’s using the ‘R’ word just yet:” and for the same reasons, I don’t want to be seen to unduly talking them down either.
Yet by the same token, the markers pointing in the wrong direction are simply becoming too numerous and pronounced to ignore, which is why I am beginning to think a recession is likely, probably imminent, and quite plausibly devastating.
And this is why I think it’s responsible — especially for those of us not directly involved in processes of governance — to talk about an increasingly likely recession now, rather than waiting until it’s already engulfed Australia before any consideration of how to deal with it is deemed an acceptable subject for public discourse.
In some respects, the forces that fuel boom and bust cycles in Australia are beyond local influence: the heavy recessions in Europe and the USA in the early 1980s and 1990s, for example, that took us with them, or the series of oil shocks in the 1970s that ultimately plunged the West into a slump.
External factors have insulated Australia, too, in recent times; the record boom in commodity investment and exports that was a direct result of unprecedented growth and demand from China is a case in point.
And closer to home, the debt-free, robust state in which the local economy was left by the Howard government not only helped fend off the “great recession” that followed the GFC, but provided unrivalled tools for government and the Reserve Bank to use in attempts to ensure the contraction didn’t take this country backwards (although that doesn’t change the fact the Rudd government’s so-called stimuli were poorly targeted, wasteful, and unacceptably expensive, or that the prospect of a downturn back then continues to be used by the ALP to this day as a fig leaf to explain away its abysmal mismanagement of the federal budget and the hundreds of billions of dollars of debt inexcusably racked up on its watch).
But today I want to highlight some of the recent activities of Australia’s unions, and how — if a recession in Australia comes to pass late this year or at some time next — that execrable movement will wear direct responsibility for at least a portion of the causative damage.
It is rare that Australia has ever seen an entity that is simultaneously as consumed with utter self-interest, hellbent on destroying a government at any cost and able to exercise economic muscle as the current incarnation of Australia’s unions, but this behemoth — which spruiks its “responsibility” and a “legitimate” role in the affairs of the nation — has chosen to exercise that muscle to cause trouble at an already parlous time, and it seems to have forgotten that its mischief in the states (including Labor states) all feeds into the overall national economic outcome.
I raise the states because the Rail, Tram and Bus Union has over the past month been taking steps to wreak public transport chaos in metropolitan Melbourne; to date the disruption has been minimal — although any disruption through union militancy is too much — and revisiting the scenario of the early 1990s when the Cain-Kirner government lost control of public transport unions in Melbourne altogether, as the CBD ground to a halt with trams clogging city streets from one end to another, has already been raised.
This is relevant because at a time of marginal economic conditions, every impost on economic activity counts; I don’t have figures on how much a transport strike costs in lost productivity and absenteeism caused through ordinary people being unable to get to their places of work, but it adds up.
And what is the outburst of militancy in Melbourne about? A refusal to accept a proposed pay rise of 17% over four years, which is 17% more than some employees will ever see; it is simply not good enough to justify this sort of adventurism through bald assertions that union membership delivers members more money: there is always a price, and in this case those who pay it are those responsible for generating the pie in the first place that greedy unions want more of than conditions warrant.
The RTBU has been parading what it clearly sees is its secret public relations weapon in the form of its stunning, beautiful 30-year-old secretary, Luba Grigorovitch, who is walking proof of the dangers of judging a book by its cover; a pretty face and an appealing voice she may have, but Grigorovitch exudes every sign of maturing into a nasty, conceited extremist in the worst traditions of the excesses of the trade union movement.
And proof of it came yesterday at a rally for striking train workers, when — sharing a podium at Trades Hall in Carlton with Grigorovitch — notorious CFMEU chief John Setka ranted that the looming AFL finals series offered a “wonderful time” for a train strike; Grigorovitch (either egged on by the company she was keeping or perhaps attempting to look as brazenly “tough” in his eyes) claimed she would have no hesitation calling on a public transport strike that wreaked havoc on the AFL finals, Melbourne’s eight-week Spring Racing carnival, and the Royal Melbourne Show.
What Setka was even doing addressing a rally for train drivers is anyone’s guess; they don’t fall within the remit of his own thuggish union.
But Victoria, like Queensland, is effectively a CFMEU-run state, courtesy of the money and might the union expended in getting the ALP elected; Setka clearly sees Melbourne as his fiefdom, and arrogates to himself the freedom to operate wherever, whenever, however, and roughshod over whomever he sees fit.
It is telling he described figures in the Victorian government as “morons:” it isn’t as if the Andrews government hasn’t bent Victoria over on the behalf of unions since it was elected.
But in a sinister warning for anyone contemplating voting Labor everywhere in Australia, this CFMEU involvement in a dispute involving another union brutally demonstrates that unless it gets 100% of any ransom list of demands it cares to name, all hell will break loose — even if it’s a Labor government that gets caught in the crossfire.
Again, it speaks to the anachronistic irrelevance of unions in modern Australia, and the extent to which they have departed their historic mission of simply advocating with an employer on behalf of their members.
Crippling Melbourne doesn’t fit that historic brief.
And for those who think I’m off on a tangent, I would point out that Melbourne’s calendar of Spring events is the pinnacle of the sporting calendar in this country; it generates billions of dollars in economic activity, and keeps thousands of people employed in tourism, retail, hospitality and accommodation, and spills into the wider economy nationally. Right now, trashing it in the name of petty and unreasonable union demands is a price Victoria — and the country — simply can’t afford.
Anyone swayed by what Grigorovitch looks like should put their eyes back in their head, and use their brains.
But what is going on in Melbourne (and we haven’t touched on the thousands of construction jobs that have been lost as a result of the union/Labor campaign against the former Napthine government’s East-West Link and the vast economic benefits it would have generated) pales in comparison to federal Labor’s reprehensible attempts to torpedo the free trade agreement Trade minister Andrew Robb has painstakingly negotiated between Australia and China.
This praiseworthy (if imperfect) deal will, if ratified, ensure open access for the export of goods and services to a market comprising hundreds of millions of Chinese consumers; to date the federal Coalition, the Liberal and National parties federally, all of the state Labor Premiers and the business community all support the deal, which only a fool would deny offers the ability to generate Australian jobs and economic activity.
Headed into a recession, it’s a significant consideration.
But lined up against it are federal Labor “leader” Bill Shorten — justifying, yet again, the moniker of “Billy Bullshit” his policy vapidity has come to earn him — and (surprise, surprise) the more militant of the country’s unions, including the CFMEU, which claims (despite the safeguard that Chinese workers who come to Australia under the agreement must be paid at local Australian rates) that the FTA would flood Australia with cheap Chinese labour working for a fraction of the conditions mandated by law, and creating millions of new Australian unemployed.
“Bullshit” doesn’t even come close to describing it.
The CFMEU, for what it is worth, has been running — paid for from the membership dues of its members — a series of xenophobic television commercials in metropolitan markets against the FTA which are almost completely devoid of any fact, and which border on racist, but never mind that. Torpedoing the FTA will hand the Abbott government an international humiliation and rob it of a potential plank for firing up the economy. The potential for damaging the hated conservatives is irresistible to the CFMEU. The cost in jobs, productivity and benefits to the country are irrelevant to it.
And in a pathetic effort to add “credibility” to an already lacklustre and deceptive argument, the unions have seen fit to co-opt “the head of the global trade union movement” — general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation and business-hating former ACTU head, Sharan Burrow — to provide a few contemptible soundbites to add support to the union/Shorten position where there is none: and there are good reasons none exists otherwise.
To be sure, Burrow adds no “global” credibility or imprimatur whatsoever.
Like Shorten himself, Burrow is just another washed up union hack who has spent a lifetime working to destroy Coalition governments, and to shaft businesses in the name of “workers’ rights,” and should be ignored. Hers is not a voice worth paying attention to.
In the end, we’ve looked at just a couple of examples of “the union way” today but they are important, because they speak to the general modus operandi of the movement as a whole.
We have a Royal Commission that is uncovering evidence of widespread fraud, extortion, blackmail and embezzlement; evidence of systemic and institutionalised violence in the way some unions conduct their business; evidence of unions fattening the exchequer through shady (and potentially illegal) side deals with employers, whilst the pay of their members is slashed; and we have unions which, with complete disregard for anything and anyone other than the gathering and exercising of power, are prepared to bring the country to a halt to achieve their objectives: the kind of thing that should have died out in the 1970s.
Australia faces real challenges in the next couple of years. A recession is probable. A lot of people will involuntarily experience real hardship, and many will go bankrupt. Some will kill themselves to escape the stress. We know all of this because it’s what happened in the early 1990s, and the early 1980s, and every other time there has been a recession in this country.
A responsible union movement — like a responsible ALP — would be rising to the challenge of behaving in the national interest rather than its own.
But just as Labor under Shorten is obsessed with the destruction of the Abbott government for no better reason than to get the arses of its henchmen back into the gravy, so too is the union movement hellbent on demonstrating who’s boss: and in their eyes, it is nobody other than the “class” carrying a union ticket.
Aside from the obvious threat of prosecution, it’s another reason the unions are so hellbent on shutting down the Heydon inquiry: nobody tells them what they can and can’t do; not the law of the land, and certainly not a distinguished former High Court judge. To delusional unions and the sacks of shit who run them, Trades Hall sits at the very apex of society and governance in this country when in fact — representing just one employee in seven — it is little better than irrelevant.
Nobody denies the unions have much to be proud of over their history, or that they can rightly claim a proactive role in helping to shape modern Australia. In many respects, their willingness to work soberly and constructively with the Hawke government represented the zenith of their influence, prestige and credibility.
But from the infamous day in 1996 that ACTU thugs picketed a meeting at Parliament House between then-Prime Minister John Howard and their own leaders onwards, it has been downhill ever since.
Now, it has reached the point where union involvement in virtually anything runs counter to every conceivable interest but their own — except, of course, where the electoral fortunes of their stooges at the ALP are concerned. Even that is aimed purely at the concentration and extension of union power.
There is a recession coming. The unions will be central to the economic turbulence fast heading Australia’s way. But will an ounce of positive resolution emanate from Trades Hall when it hits?
Don’t count on it for a moment.
AND ANOTHER THING: Post-publication of this article, I’ve seen one of my favourite columnists — Piers Akerman at Sydney’s Daily Telegraph — has today also published on the subject of the unions, the CFMEU particularly, its campaign against the FTA with China, and the weasel words of Billy Bullshit in seeking to prosecute that campaign: framed in the context of the by-election for the Western Australian electorate of Canning, it’s well worth a read.