(The following Editorial was published in "The Guardian", newspaper
of the Communist Party of Australia in its issue of Wednesday,
February 25th, 1998. Contact address: 65 Campbell Street, Surry Hills.
Sydney. 2010 Australia. Fax: (612) 9281 5795.
Subscription rates on request)
The truth of this statement was never more apparent than in the
sacking of 270 mine-workers at the Cobar copper mine in the mid-
west of NSW and a similar event at the Abattoirs in Grafton on
the north coast of NSW. At Grafton, 250 workers were thrown on
the scrap heap.
In each case the company closed its operations owing workers
millions of dollars in wages, holiday pay, severance pay, long
service leave and other entitlements. In the case of Cobar a
figure of $10-12 million has been mentioned and at Grafton $3
The management of the two companies must have known precisely
what they were doing but calculated that they would get away with
it by relying on company law which does not give priority
protection to workers in the case of bankruptcy. No doubt the
company managements have already had their chop.
Furthermore, by registering under different company names the
parent company pass responsibility to its offshoot and make
recovery and legal action against the parent company very
difficult. The ACTU took up this point in a submission to PM
Howard calling for the introduction of legislation which would
ensure that the establishment of separate corporations cannot be
used to avoid obligations to workers.
Over the years there have been many bankruptcies, so why hasn't
this matter been cleared up? The reason is obvious. The laws are
made by parliaments which are under the thumb of the corporations
and they do not see anything economically or morally wrong with
robbing workers if you can get away with it.
Even if the workers get their entitlements it does not alter the
fact that they face a grim future in the isolated town of Cobar
and in the country town of Grafton. There is little if any
alternative work. It will be virtually impossible to sell the
family house, move and make a fresh start somewhere else. Other
townspeople who depended on the workers spending their wages
-- shopkeepers, tradespeople, doctors, etc -- will also feel the
effects of the economic blizzard.
Unfortunately, none of the trade union spokespersons or the Carr
Labor Government have raised the obvious alternative of the
workers taking over these enterprises and running them as co-
operatives or as publicly-owned enterprises.
The Cobar copper mine is, according to all reports, a very rich
mine. Copper will continue to be needed into the future.
Abattoirs will also continue to be needed as consumers will not
stop eating meat.
The State Government has the power to nationalise an enterprise
and to set up publicly-owned industries. The first objective in
the Program of the ALP calls for the "democratic socialisation of
industry, production, distribution and exchange, to the extent
necessary to eliminate exploitation and other anti-social
features..." Why do the leaders of the Labor Party assiduously
remain deathly silent about this policy principle? What has to
happen before Labor leaders recognise "exploitation and anti-
If the state is going to pay out millions of dollars to bail out
the workers who have been sacked (and they should) why not spend
this money on taking over the two industries and putting the
workers back to work?
Private enterprises have been bailed out in this way -- even the
super-rich BHP was paid millions to subsidise its steel industry
by the Hawke Government only to find that, having absorbed these
millions, the BHP is virtually closing its steel making division
In the early period of its existence the Labor Party not only
raised the objective of nationalisation but it did something
about it. A number of publicly-owned enterprises were set up --
banks, a shipping line, airlines, postal services and
telecommunications -- to mention only a few.
This is all being given away -- including the policy. Workers
will have to take the demand for their unpaid wages and
entitlements into their own hands and eventually the demand for
public ownership if they are not to be left high and dry.
Communists have not forgotten and are not afraid to speak up for
the socialist objectives of the labour movement.
The workers at Cobar and Grafton will not be the last to face
the disgusting immorality of capitalism.