What does the union and community win at Webb Dock mean

Editorial from The Pen

It is obvious that the outcome of the dispute at Webb Dock is important. It means that the worker who had been denied employment is back at work and for the other working at the dock, wages and conditions of employment have been preserved.

As important as this is for those whose livelihood is tied up with Webb Dock, there is more to what has been achieved.

A battle at had been building up that had all the makings of a watershed show down between the union movement one side and a big section of corporate Australia and the government on the other. There is good reason to believe that this section of corporate Australia and the government were using this dispute, as a stepping stone, towards big cuts to wages and conditions, through a major expansion in the casualisation of work. To do this, unions have to be pushed out of the way.

Over some years a formidable arsenal of industrial legislation has been put in place, and has tilted the advantage much further away from the unions. An estimation had been made that this was a big enough arsenal to win the day against them at Webb Dock.

The estimation turned out to be wrong. The rise of the community assembly, got in the way.

Community assemblies are a natural outcome of the laws that have put a break on the ability of unions to represent their members. Contrary to the claims by some, union officials have little wiggle room and even lack the legal right to visit their members in the workplace. Union members are part of the wider community, where government cuts and harder times overall is creating a situation, where sympathy for the position of unions and their members is bound to be stronger.

The key at Webb Dock is that the community was gathering and the pace of it was increasing by the day, giving rise to an expectation that this could end up on the scale of the Patricks battler of 1998, where the employer and government side got a beating, as tens on thousands turned up at the same dock and more descended on port facilities around Australia.

In 2017, the Supreme Court found itself helpless, because industrial law has no jurisdiction over community actions and the conditions were not there for the government to use other law to deal with the situation.

The lesson is that community action is powerful.

No doubt, this is being taken account of by all parties concerned. The Turnbull government and its allies will be considering their strategy. So will unions and community groups.

For those who value community empowerment as the road to building a truly democratic society, the rise in community action brings new possibilities.


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