Since the 1980s, Australian unions have subordinated everything to getting Labor elected. It’s a failed strategy that has diminished union power, leading to declining wages and conditions for workers.
Owen Bennett is the founding president of the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union. He is currently writing a book for Interventions on trade unions and unemployment in Australia.
Australia’s unemployment benefit is one of the lowest in the OECD. This isn’t just a by-product of austerity politics — it’s designed to force the unemployed into low-paid, casual work, undermining wages and conditions across the board.
Faced with the unemployment crisis of 1890, jobless workers in Melbourne formed a union to fight for relief. But the Australian labor movement remained indifferent to their struggle — and soon paid the price. Those self-defeating attitudes are still alive in unions today.
Australia’s mean and punitive benefits system is a key tool for disciplining workers while amassing profits for private firms. The labor movement needs to join with the unemployed to overhaul it entirely.