The Multinational Monitor



Cliff Dolan

An interview with the President of Australia's 1.7 million-strong union council

Cliff Dolan is president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU). The Council coordinates the activities of some 150 unions representing over half of unionized \'Workers in Australia, a nation in which 55 percent of the work force is unionized.

Once a year delegates from all member unions meet in a conference to decide broad policy, which the president is charged with putting into practice.

Dolan was elected to the presidency only last year, after the previous leader Bob Hawke stepped down in order to stand for election to the federal parliament. Hawke had led the ACTU for 10o years, and had become probably the most well-known and popular political figure in the country. He won a seat in Parliament in the fall, and many insiders expect he will be elected leader of the parliamentary Labor Party, in place of current chief William Hayden. Whoever leads the Party in parliament becomes Prime Minister if the Party wins the next election (set for 1983), and Hawke is widely considered the man most likely to lead his party to victory.

Cliff Dolan is committed to a no-mining, no nuclear power or nuclear weapons policy. Ted Wheelwright interviewed Dolan for the Multinational Monitor last month in Sydney.

MONITOR: In what respects are multinational corporations different from Australian-controlled companies in their effects on the trade unions?

DOLAN: There are plenty of Australian companies which are bad employers from the union point of view, but the multinationals create a particular problem: they can simply transfer production from their Australian-based industrial sectors to that of another country and deny Australian workers employment.

For example, Philips Electronics has taken over a number of companies in Australia over the last five or six years and simply closed these companies down. The production of electrical goods has been transferred to Japan, South Korea, and Malaysia.

MONITOR: Are multinationals more anti-union than other corporations?

DOLAN: They at first ,resisted unionization in general, but after some time they were forced to accept normal Australian industrial relations practices. An exception is the famous (or infamous) Lincoln Electric Co. They still run an anti-union shop.

MONITOR: What about IBM?

DOLAN: This computer area is not yet well organized, but we haven't had the experience of IBM being anti-union; the employees in IBM don't know what unionism is all about and are not interested. They think they all are junior executives.

MONITOR: The ACTU policy statement on multinationals says unions should oppose the involvement of multinationals in domestic politics. How have multinationals been involved in Australian politics?

DOLAN: An example is General Motors Holden and the pressure it placed on the government in regard to the world car concept. GMH continues putting pressure on the government to adopt policies on imports to preserve GMH's interest in Australia. And of course there have been threats by Ford and GMH to retire their investment in Australia and take it somewhere else.

MONITOR: Have you any evidence of multinationals contributing to political parties? There have been such allegations concerning the oil companies.

DOLAN: There is no doubt in my mind that some companies, especially the oil companies, are substantial helpers of anti-labor governments.

In an oil dispute in 1972,* for example, a certain executive of one oil company practically admitted to me that the government told the oil companies to cause a strike. There was no doubt then-Prime Minister McMahon told the oil firms to concentrate the dispute in Sydney, where the government had to maintain seats to stay in power. As a result, there was no shortage of petrol in Victoria, but Sydney became completely dry. This was anti-Labor collaboration between government and the corporations. (Editor's note: Prime Minister McMahon's ploy failed; the Labor Party won the 1972 election.)

MONITOR: Do you know of methods corporations use to try to put pressure on unions, say by setting up the Uranium Producers Forum, which is a kind of media lobby?

DOLAN: Only in that they continually say mining is an employment opportunity, employing thousands of people, in a time of recession. They regularly send me material from their experts, saying there are no problems with uranium, that even Harrisburg was nothing to worry about; nobody suffered from that accident, it was one of these things that could have happened in a conventional power station.

MONITOR: The ACTU has been outspoken on the issue of uranium mining. Could you discuss your union's policy on this issue?

DOLAN: The ACTU policy is one of complete opposition to the mining, processing and export of uranium in Australia. That decision was made for a number of reasons, including the problem of waste disposal and the danger of proliferation of nuclear weapons.

MONITOR: How would you assess the ACTU's efforts to put a halt to uranium mining?

DOLAN: Unfortunately, we have not been successful in stopping mining in Australia. This is because our own affiliates do not all accept the policy. The ACTU is not an authoritarian body; while it represents all the affiliates, and determines policy, the affiliates are not bound to that policy. So because a number of unions won't accept ACTU policy, mining has continued.

The difficulty is one of communication with the membership generally. I visited a uranium site in the Northern Territory in September last year and had meetings with the people who work there, particularly at the Ranger site, and I found they had no concept of the problems of uranium; to them it is just another job. The real problem is educating union members to the dangers associated with uranium mining.

MONITOR: How do you go about pressuring companies to stop mining?

DOLAN: If we can harass the companies in various ways - by court stoppings, delays of supplies, etc. - a number of projects will become economically unfeasible and companies will have second thoughts about developing particular sites. Only last week we had before us the decision of the Australian Railways Union (ARU) to ban supplies to uranium mines starting March 1. Cooperation was promised to the ARU (see uranium article, p. 15). And some unions are taking the attitude that even if other unions are going to mine, they will not involve themselves in the processing of the product for export, or in forwarding supplies to the mines.

MONITOR: Do you seethe ACTU's efforts as specific to Australia, or do you consider your campaign to be more a part of an international drive to halt uranium mining and nuclear weapons?

DOLAN: There are people who say if Australia does not mine uranium, other countries will, and the Japanese who need fairly big quantities will get them from South Africa. That may be so, but I believe there needs to be a start in every campaign. We in Australia could stop the supply of Australian uranium. World opinion would take notice. Even if there were not the complete cessation of nuclear power, it would be a move in that direction.

MONITOR: What do you think the ACTU could do for the Aboriginal people, who are obviously much affected by uranium mining?

DOLAN: We are prepared to assist Aboriginals by industrial action if that is necessary like at Noonkanbah* particularly. We went to great lengths industrially to try and stop that. We are certainly prepared to assist them if they indicate to us they need help.

*Oil delivery drivers struck over wage and work-hour disputes.

ACTU Aims to Restrict Foreign Firms

The ACTU's governing Congress issued a series of "declarations" last year concerning multinational corporations, among them:

  • ...Capital inflow and outflow should be monitored closely and subject to strict controls [with] union representation and involvement in the determination. process...

  • ...foreign capital inflow and transfer of technology [should be] on the basis of loan capital rather than direct investment funds.

  • ...Unions should develop closer contacts between unions in various plants of the same company, both nationally and internationally.

  • Unions should oppose the involvement of multinationals in domestic politics.

  • Unions should seek to establish through bargaining industrial democracy and enforceable planning agreements with existing multinationals, including the negotiation of workers' investment funds and their control by workers.

  • The United Nations should be encouraged to:
    • Establish guidelines and machinery for effective control over international corporations.
    • Promote coordinated national legislation.
    • Adopt international conventions imposing enforceable standards and rules on companies.
    • Keep under constant review the impact of multinationals on industrial structures and social and economic development in all countries.

  • The Prices Justification Tribunal, Taxation Commission and State Pricing Authorities should monitor transfer prices, royalty and franchise arrangements involved between ,parent and subsidiary companies.

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