Workers withhold support for Labor
By BEN SCHNEIDERS
VICTORIAN unions have done little or no work in federal marginal seats to support Labor, senior officials say, in contrast to the huge resources used before the 2007 poll.
Victorian Trades Hall Council secretary Brian Boyd said campaigning by unions should be in full swing and that dissatisfaction with Labor's workplace regime was to blame for the apparent union apathy.
''The mood and the contribution that trade unions and organised labour made in the lead-up to 2007 to see John Howard off is not there leading up to the 2010 election,'' he said. ''We've got two or three marginal seats to protect [in Victoria] and work to protect them should have started well before now and it hasn't.''
At the last election, the union movement's Your Rights at Work campaign was credited as a key factor in the defeat of the Howard government and the end of its WorkChoices laws. In 2007-08, the ACTU spent $15.8 million on political expenditure but this time there is a smaller effort.
Since Tony Abbott's election as Opposition Leader, the ACTU has launched advertising warning he would bring back WorkChoices and has also appointed campaign co-ordinators.
Other union sources said that while there was dissatisfaction with elements of Labor's laws - in particular the failure to abolish the Australian Building and Construction Commission - once the election campaign got closer, ''pragmatism will take over''.
''A lot of unions have been pretty taken aback [at] how bad the polls are going for Labor,'' one source said. ''We don't want Tony Abbott. Despite what he says, he is more radical than Howard on industrial relations.''
While views are mixed among unions about the Fair Work laws, opposition to them appears strongest among left-wing Victorian unions.
Mr Boyd, who is also on the ACTU executive, said the laws ''contain too much of the original WorkChoices legislation''.
Restrictions on the right to strike and bargaining rights had carried over from the Howard government's laws, he said.
In Victoria, blue-collar unions have moved against the ALP, with the building commission a big issue. The construction arm of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union recently said it would back the Greens in the Senate.