UPDATE – Shortly after I published this article – within an hour or so – the BTUC released their response to Government. Nonetheless, I think the thrust of this article remains relevant, especially my reading of the divide and conquer tactics being employed by the Government. I’m going to review the BTUC’s statement and plan to post a new article concerning it shortly.
Since the Premier and the Minister of Finance’s press conference yesterday, largely reversing the understood resolution to the crisis announced by the BTUC the night before, there’s been no public response by the BTUC to date.
While there’s likely a reasonable explanation for this – I imagine they’re furious and meeting in private to work out the best reaction – their lack of response so far would appear to be to their detriment.
By not responding – even to say something along the lines of ‘we’re disappointed at the apparent reversal of the situation from what we were led to have been a satisfactory conclusion to the problem, and we’re meeting to discuss our next steps, we’ll be holding a press conference at X time/date where we’ll give a more detailed comment’ – they’ve let Government dominate the discourse.
Additionally, by failing to release their own proposals (remember they said they came up with savings of $65-85m), they’ve given the opportunity to the Government to selectively highlight some of the ‘agreed’ cost-saving measures without providing context or the union’s perspective on them.
We quite simply don’t know if some of these proposals were something the unions agreed to reluctantly and why – or if they got additional concessions in some form of horse-trading. For all we know, looking at the cap on financial assistance for example, perhaps the Government proposed a much more drastic cap and the unions realised they couldn’t prevent ‘a’ cap but instead negotiated the least draconian cap they could. We just don’t know, and we’re left guessing.
Which I can’t help feeling is the Government’s intention in releasing these selective proposals without full context. I get the impression that the Government is trying to sow division by pitting different sections of the working class against each other.
Focus the unemployed reserve army of labour – the ‘lumpenproletariat’ to use a close Marxist term – at the throats of their union brothers and sisters. Alienate whole sections of the public with the loss of the carnival of the Annual Exhibition/Ag Show. Mention the hot potato topic of consolidating schools without clear context (are we talking moving pre-schools out of rented private sector properties and consolidating the staff and students at nearby under-capacity publicly-owned pre-school properties or something else?) and try to turn parents against the unions?
Divided we fall is the union mantra. And what better way to respond to unprecedented displays of workers solidarity and union unity than trying to subtly (well, perhaps not so subtly) divide and conquer?
As it stands right now, it’s not clear that the three days of unprecedented labour action actually won anything concrete from Government. The press conference last night was a pretty much veiled threat of ‘accept furloughs or we’ll force an equivalent on you’.
This is pretty much an echoing the letter from the Minister of Finance from last week that if the unions didn’t agree to an extension of furloughs then Government would unilaterally force the equivalent through ‘the reduction of salaries of Government Employees equal to the savings achieved in the current financial year by the furlough’.
So, yes, the Government can’t force furloughs on the workers. But they can get the equivalent pound of flesh through unilateral action.
The longer the BTUC takes to respond and rebut the Government, the longer its members will be left confused and the greater will be the anti-union sentiment among the wider community.
So, where’s the BTUC?
Acting cautiously is something to be commended, and it’s wise to ‘be watchful always’, but don’t leave it too long to respond and give your side of the story.