12 June 2019

The Centre for Future Work’s Alison Pennington: “A labor movement that primarily fights over distribution is in a weak position to assert a dignified collective control over its broader destiny. … Today the proliferation of low-margin, low productivity firms — in part due to the rise of new business models that slice up the supply chain and obfuscate who is in charge of employing workers — makes the organizing challenge even harder. It’s unclear from where or whom workers can win their cut of the profit. … The task of Australian socialists should be to arm the workers’ movement with the ideas and politics that can increase our control over all aspects of our lives.” What struck me about Pennington’s piece is how many of her concrete proposals were part of the union movement’s (failed) campaign — bargaining beyond the enterprise level, allowing more issues to be covered by collective agreements, revitalising education and training. But the ‘Change the Rules’ slogan made these technical issues the goal, rather than presenting a vision of what the new rules could achieve for people. It was a campaign that would persuade union bureaucrats, but nobody else.