Unions can tap into worries about flat wages and inequality to win votes ahead of the next election, Labor's new national president says.
Wayne Swan will be at the Australian Council of Trade Unions national congress this week, where he will be talking about rising inequality.
"There's no question it cuts through in the community," the federal MP told AAP on Sunday.
"The unfair outcomes we're seeing now in industrial relations and in wages produce not only greater inequality but also lower growth."
Labor had strong success with its anti-Workchoices campaign at the 2007 election, and the ACTU is pushing a "change the rules" effort this time.
Mr Swan said the Abbott and Turnbull governments had attacked workers' rights just like the Howard government did.
"They've come at it a different way," he said.
Mr Swan pointed to the trade union royal commission and the decision not to reverse penalty rate cuts as an example of the coalition's push to flatten wage growth.
"At every turn they've attempted to put labour in chains," he said.
"When you crush the voice of labour you get higher profits and lower wages."
Mr Swan was elected to the national presidency role after campaigning on a platform of reducing inequality and rebuilding a prosperous middle class.
He said Australia has to guard against attempts to build a United States-style system.
"Do we want to go down the American road of the rich getting richer, a hollowed out middle class and vast armies of working poor?" he said.
"Or do we want to take the best of what Australia has done over many years of having a fairer distribution of income and wealth in our society?"
The ACTU national congress will be held in Brisbane on Tuesday and Wednesday.