Australia’s working people face the toughest attack since our forebears put an end to convictism. The latest bout of IR laws is not intended to contain unions. Nor is the aim to smash just one group of militants. The objective is to put an end to all forms of collective bargaining. Unions might be tolerated as social clubs - providing they operate off-site.

Hence, this battle is many times more important than the struggle against Penal Powers in the 1960s. We face far far worse than the de-registration of the BLF in 1974 and again in 1986. The 1998 attack on the Maritime Union was but a tactical try-out for this strategic onslaught.

If we lose this battle, we are back to 1834. In that year, agricultural labourers in Dorset - the Tolpuddle Martyrs - were transported because they conspired to resist a cut in their wages. Unions were then illegal. The IR attacks render union activity illegal whenever it is likely to be effective.

Because the struggle is crucial, we need to be clear about where the attack is coming from, and why. For a successful fight-back, we must identify the sources of the attack. Several misconceptions have to be swept away.

The attack is not happening because Howard is a nasty person. Howard is viciously anti-working class. But his personality is not the reason for the Workchoices Legislation. (Its use of “choices” does fit with his pathology of lying.) If he dropped of his twig tomorrow, every Coalition member would volunteer to push on with the offensive.

So we must name our enemy: Big Business – Multi-National Corporations - global capital. Driving the attack are the Top 100 corporations in the Business Council of Australia. They are backed to the hilt by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The Coalition serves as their political agents.

Some pundits prattle about the laws being “ideological”. The attack is no academic crusade. True, every part of life has an ideological component. But the war against the workers is not intended to satisfy some intellectual fancy. Mass Murdoch cannot live off the lies peddalled through his media. Such propaganda is part of the armoury arrayed on behalf of all capitalists to grab more of what workers produce.

The Coalition and the Business Council recognise that the history wars are not some academic dispute over Post-Modernism. From the 1980s, Hugh Morgan at Western Mining knew that corporate profits depended on blocking land rights. Howard told the Quadrant crew at their 50th anniversary dinner how much he resented the class struggle being part of Australian history courses. The call for its erasure coincides with the stepping up of the class struggle.

Of course, we need to fight back in the realm of ideology. First, we must call the new laws what they are – an attack, an onslaught. Don’t let the bosses get away with throwing phrases such as “IR reform” or “IR changes” in our eyes.

The prime source of ideas is daily life. The government spent $60m to sell its laws. That package of falsehoods failed to shift public opinion. Why? Because its spin bears no relation to what we have experienced at work in the past thirty years. “Choice” lets bosses choose to do what they must do to profit. “Flexibility” helps them to make us work whenever they will profit most from our capacities.

Moreover, we need to be ready for diversionary attacks on the ideological front. The failure to sell the IR attack means that the Coalition must fight the 2007 elections on other issues. The next “Tampa” has already sailed into sight – Howard’s abuse of Muslims. The anti-Terror Laws are aimed at Australian workers just as much as is the campaign of workplace terror. Just look at the police-state powers of the Construction Industry wallopers.

The error in blaming Howard is like the mistake of seeing the attack as merely “ideological”. Both flow from confusion about capitalism. Thirty years ago, the Left knew why there could never be a “fair day’s pay” under capitalism. Capitalists must expropriate the surplus value that we wage-slaves produce. Even the most highly paid electrician is exploited in this way. Indeed, the rate of exploitation is likely to be greatest for those on the highest wages.

That paradox is one reason why the IR onslaught is not primarily about reducing the rates of pay. The point is to discipline labour times. The clock is to the corporation was the whip was to the convict overseer. To maximize profit, the capitalist strives to pay only for the minutes when we are adding value. That necessity imposes broken shifts, casualisation and piece rates.

To impose that discipline over labour time, the bosses need to tryannise the workplace. They can brook no resistance about when workers start and stop. The employers must have the power to set the hours for which we get paid. In addition, they have to be able to impose speedups. Only then can they discipline workers into adding the maximum value per split second.

The presence of an organised workforce impedes that achievement. The expansion of capital must first replace collective agreements with AWAs. The final solution is to abolish all agreements. “Do what you are told when you are told.” That is the endpoint of the IR onslaught.

That despotism is what they’re after. What do we want?

It is nowhere near good enough to go back to the IR laws as they were in 2005. Nor is it enough to go back to the law before 1996. Australian workers have always lived under laws that reinforced the reign of capital. Two hundred years of struggle blunted its worst features. In the short to medium terms, we have to defend as many of those protections as we can.

Yes, the IR laws are repressive in the extreme. But we must not beat up on ourselves by focusing on being victims. Workers are scoring victories. Hence, the IR laws have not blocked successful industrial action outside “protected” periods.

A prime example was at AMCOR in the Melbourne suburb of Preston during August. The 100 workers resisted the sacking of their union delegates. The rank-and-file knew that once they lost their delegates, the game was up. Unionists at AMCOR plants around the country came out in sympathy. At first, the corporation tried to bully the pickets. Their unity, with support from the community-based Union Solidarity, got the delegates reinstated. The company dropped all threats of fines and injunctions. A few days later, Toyota workers won a similar result.

The focus on electing the ex-Labor Party is another way of making sure that union members do not become active in their own defence. If they do, they might get ideas about running their unions. Why do some union leaders seem more frightened of their rank-and-file than of the IR attack?

We dare not wait till elections late in 2007. Should the ALP fluke a win, we will need to campaign to keep those bastards honest. If the ALP collapses again as it reaches the finish line, we will need to confront the IR Laws head-on. Hosing down struggles now will make it much harder to gear up after the elections. Athletes win by keeping fit. Workers need tactical experience to wage the class war.

Do not think for one moment that the 2005-6 laws are the end of the onslaught. The BCA has always demanded more. Look at the powers given to the Inspectors in the construction industry. They are the template for the next round. The next pounding will be dished up either through a Coalition government or by the ex-Labor Party.

Were the ALP ever to win, and were whoever was then leader still prepared to tear up the new laws, what would happen next? None of the pressures on capital to expand can be abolished by changing the law. Competition between capitals compels each firm to intensify its discipline over us as its wage-slaves. That necessity will outlast even Howard’s prime ministership. Workers need an analysis and a strategy to carry us through the long haul.

Without a vision of a world without exploitation, we are less able to win on tactics. Throughout these skirmishes, we should look towards a strategy which counters the grand narrative of the expansion of capital. We should promote a society that move towards social equality across generations.

One starting place is to build on the principle of fair-go. What would it mean to extend that value into the fundamentals of capitalism? The unfairness of that system is not grounded in the level of wages. Its injustice is not confined to the discipline over labour times. The taproot of those inequalities is that the vast majority of us have to sell our human capacities to the corporations that control the resources of production.

What insights can we carry forward from recognising that the current IR attack is a necessity for capital? What forms of organization can we build out of opposing its latest onslaught? If we take up those questions we won’t be sitting ducks for the next attack.