Halcyon Days? The Amalgamated Metal Workers’ Union and the Accord

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The Far Left in Australia since 1945, 2019, pp. 231 - 248
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We are in the midst of the 30th anniversary of the period of the Accord social contract between the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), which lasted from 1983 to 1996. The Accord was a national agreement on economic policy that profoundly reshaped the Australian political economy during the Hawke and Keating governments. The parties involved nowadays commonly view the Accord era as the high point of relations between the ALP and ACTU, and as being beneficial to workers in a period marked by the anti-worker policies of the New Right overseas. For many in theALP and the trade unions these remain halcyon days, awash with electoral successes only dreamed of in a contemporary era of low ALP primary votes, declining party and union membership, and the consolidation of a political challenger to the left of Labor in the form of the Australian Greens. Yet it was also an era where a Labour government, with the direct collaboration of the union movement, introduced a full suite of neoliberal economic reforms while workers acceded to a systematic,government-led program of real wage cuts–a process which bureaucratised, weakened and hollowed out previously powerful and militant union organisation.In recent years there have been calls for a new social contract between theunions and government from members of the ALP and the labour movement.These calls turn attention to the strategy of the Accord in the 1980s and 1990s, and of the role of far-left unions in backing or fighting it. Support for the Accord on the far left was not universal with a small number of union state branches opposing it, and small numbers of workers and activist organisations publicly campaigning against it.1 However, dissent was among a minority of workers who were largely disconnected from each other, and unable to alter the direction of the union movement away from supporting the social contract.
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