Thursday, 4 June 2009

A dangerous game of bluff

Kevin Rudd was no doubt pleased this morning with the headlines that resulted from his deputy Julia Gillard paying a visit to the ACTU Congress: Gillard booed at ACTU meeting - Adelaide Advertiser; Gillard refuses to bow to union anger - Sydney Morning Herald; Union fury as Gillard talks tough - Melbourne Age; Unions threaten Labor on IR laws - The Australian; Unions demand to know where MPs stand over Queensland assets sale - Brisbane Courier Mail. All the papers conveyed the message that Labor has decided best suits its electoral chances - we are no longer a party beholden to trade union bosses.
The thinking behind this strategy is easy enough to see. The best place to win a government majority is by occupying whatever is the middle ground on any issue - to place yourself in the median position of public opinion. With their declining membership and hence relevance to a majority of even working people, trade unions are well out of the mainstream. Having unions criticise you is thus probably a vote winner but there is one major proviso.
The assumption of the Prime Minister's advisers is that the union movement when it finally comes to a crunch at election time have nowhere else to go but to support Labor. While Minister Gillard is refusing to make all the decisions the ACTU would like, a Coalition Government would be far more anti-union but only if it could get its way with the Senate. Which is where that proviso lies. Ensuring that the Greens have a majority in the Senate - and, even better, that they have a few members in the House of Representatives as well - is every bit s good an insurance policy for the union movement as having Labor in government.
In the campaign which the Rudd-Gillard team won in 1987 it was the union movement that provided a major part of the funds. Next time around, spending even a quarter or 20% of that amount on a campaign for the Greens should be enough to ensure that whether it is Labor or the Coalition with a majority in the House of Representatives it is the Greens with the balance of power in the Senate.
The Prime Minister is playing a dangerous game of bluff.
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