The incredible emptiness of Paul Howes

Paul Howes

Right-wing union official Paul Howes posing for the Australian Financial Revew’s “Power” issue.

“You won’t find anyone in the Labour Movement who is more pro-resources and pro-mining than me.

“Well, bar Martin Ferguson …

“I’m a dig it up, chop it down sort of guy.”

– Paul Howes’ May 22 National Press Club address

Election pundit Peter “Mumble’ Brent has accurately summed up Paul Howes as “not so much a person as an ever-evolving script”. He became chief of the right-wing run Australian Workers Union five years ago but clearly has much higher political ambitions.

Howes displays a knack (and insatiable appetite) for getting mainstream media attention and is uscrupul0us about how he gets that attention. His infamous scurry to present himself in the media as a Labor party faction head with the bloodiest hands on the night of the political coup against former PM Kevin Rudd in 2010, was a prime example of this.

However, in the latest evolution of the Howes script, delivered at a National Press Club on May 22 Howes sought to present himself as an inclusive and visionary “custodian of the labour movement”, who even wants to welcome back into the Labor fold previously spat out former ALP leaders like Mark Latham and Kevin Rudd. This wild aside (look at me, I can whack former PMs AND say “sorry mate” — how powerful is that?) was bait for the MSM, an aside which tapped MSM’s overblown projection of Howes’ power.

But the core of Howes’ speech was potentially more powerful because it tapped growing public unease about who is benefitting from the much celebrated biggest Australian mining boom ever, and who is not. The subsequent relevation that mining empire heiress Gina Rinehart had become the richest woman in the world (after her wealth grew by $18.87 billion to $29.17 billion in a single year) has increased that unease. As has the Gillard Labor government’s decision to offer her the right to bring in 1700 temporary 457 visa migrant workers to toil in her mine and its decision to keep desperate refugees locked up indefinitely without trial while rich migrants (with $5 million or more) get to “jump the queue”.

Howes understands there is this deep unease particularly among the 98% of the workforce that is not employed by the mining industry and who live with increasing job insecurity (only 62.4% of workers now have permanent jobs), the real cost of living is rising and many working class families are drowning in debt because housing prices increased by 147%, while incomes rose by just 57% in the last 10 years.

In his NPC speech Howes called for more government intervention to compel banks to completely pass on all Reserve bank interest rate reductions and to bring back  “industry planning”. He hinted that he favoured a return to something like the Button car industry plan of the 1980s. Workers in the industry hoped that it would save their jobs but instead it delivered fat subsidies and greater monopolisation to Ford, GMH and Toyota and destroyed tens of thousands of jobs — just as the ALP’s steel industry plan did.

His subsequent interview in ABC Lateline revealed that these suggestions were more posture and soundbite than serious proposals. Howes wasn’t proposing anything radical and he made clear that he supports the mining frenzy and the Australian corporate dream of getting rich by selling stuff to rapidly industrialising China. Yet he was ticked off in an Australian Financial Review editorial for supposedly rejecting the neoliberal agenda of the Hawke-Keating era.

(In fact Howes was so excited by the celebration of that era through the keynote speeches of Paul Keating and former ACTU chief Bill Kelty at the $100-head ACTU conference dinner that he tweeted: “If it wasn’t inappropriate I’d dry hump Kelty right now”!)

Union leaders should reject that agenda championed by Hawke, Keating and Kelty because it has obscenely distorted society to make the super rich even richer. It is destroying the environment and the trade union movement in the process. Paul Howes isn’t rejecting that course. However, even vaguest suggestion of some regulation of capitalism is totally unacceptable to the rich — even if it is just another empty display of media tartism by the likes of Paul Howes.

This is how bad things have got to.

Green Left Weekly makes the case that our common future requires complete reversal of the corporate-first agenda embraced by both the ALP and the Liberal-Nationals. We say it is pointless begging the banks to pass on interest rate cuts, trying to “pick winners”  by bribing giant corporations with billions of dollars of subsidies. BHP Billiton chairperson (and former Ford CEO) Jac Nasser made it plain that the corporate rich want everything! Corporate subsidies as well as deregulation and more. They demand lower wages, weaker unions and abundant energy and water for next to nothing. The banks and the big corporations need to be nationalised and run democratically by society in our collective interest.

If the empty words of unscrupulous union officials and wannabe ALP poiticians like Paul Howes don’t sucker you, then chip in online to the Green Left Weekly fighting fund today where we are serious about rejecting the poisonous legacy of the Hawke-Keating era.

Direct deposits can also be made to Greenleft, Commonwealth Bank, BSB 062-006, Account No. 00901992. Otherwise, you can send a cheque or money order to PO Box 515, Broadway NSW 2007 or donate on the toll-free line at 1800 634 206 (within Australia).

[ I got to meet Paul Howes in his “teenage socialist days” in Resistance and the Democratic Socialist Party, which is now incorporated into his media script. Loud, pushy and personally ambitious even then, he failed to impressed anyone of integrity in that organisation and soon departed in disgrace to surface later as a grubby right-wing trade union hack.]

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