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Issue No. 123 21 December 2001  

The Unmaking of History
The new millennium has got off to an ominous start. The fireworks, circuses and self-congratulation of 2000 were a thing of the past and we were left with the task of redefining ourselves in a new era.


Interview: Braveheart
Labor Council secretary John Robertson looks back on a turbulent year and forward to a dynamic 2002.

International: Global Year in Review
Labourstart's Eric Lee gives his take on a year where the world changed forever.

Unions: A Year at the Barricades
2001 was a year when workers were forced to fight for what they once took for granted.

Technology: Unions Online 2001
Social Change Online's Mark McGrath looks at the advances unions made in web development in 2001.

Republic: Terror Australis
ARM national director James Terrie asks where to now for the Republic?

Economics: 2001: Annus Horribilis
Frank Stilwell looks back at a troubled year and looks forward to the challenges for the labour movement.

Campaign Diary: Melanie and Me
Strewth's Steve Cannane went into the viper's nest on election night and emerged with an ordinary feeling.

Politics: Tony Moore's Final Word
Wide boys, spivs, spin doctors and hereditary idiots have hijacked a once great Australian institution.

Review: You Are the Weakest Program
Cultural theoritician Mark Morey deconstructs the televisual subplots of our collective consciousness.

Legal: The New McCarthyism
The �war on terrorism� declared in the wake of the American events of September 11 dramatically threatens Australian democratic life.


 Unions Take Lead in Refugee Rethink

 Workers Christmas Wish List

 Sparkie Snares Organiser of the Year Title

 Bosswatch Gets International Attention

 Bank Workers Get Serious in 2002

 Qantas's Warfare Agenda Exposed

 Cabin Crew Stand Up for Themselves

 Win for Medibank Workers

 City Council's Tactics Rival Worst in the World

 Dynamic New Start for Musos

 Unions in the Mosh Pit

 Scholarship Opportunity


The Soapbox
Into the Crystal Ball
What will happen in 2002? We asked some of the players in the world of industrial relations to look into the crystal ball.

The Locker Room
The 2002 Workers Online Sports Awards
There may have been no Olympics, but there were some stellar performances in 2001, from madass bad boys to terminated talents, these are the big ones.

Trades Hall
Neale Towart's Labour (Year in) Review
Sporting a Costa crew-cut, a new look Neale looks back on some issues of 2001 that look likely to the centres of debate for unions in 2002.

Tool Shed
Tool of the Year? You're Standing In It
After a year when Australians brought out the worst in themselves, we all stand condemned for a stint in the Tool Shed.

 A Fair Go For All
 The First Bastion
 Tom Collins' Christmas Wish
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Interview with Peter Lewis

Labor Council secretary John Robertson looks back on a turbulent year and forward to a dynamic 2002.

John Robertson

Let's start by talking about the high points for 2001.

Obviously the highlight for me was becoming Secretary of the Labor Council. It is probably one of the greatest honours you can have in terms of achievements.

I think there were some other high points at the end of the year - which is that we had a very successful planning session moving towards next year, setting up a campaign unit and getting people committed to moving the Council on to a campaign footing.

Some of the other highlights were obviously particular campaigns we were involved in: the Finance Sector Union campaign; the launch of Bosswatch; IT Workers Alliance, call centre campaigns. These are all new and innovative things.

Do you feel the union movement is unified in NSW at the end of the year?

My view is that the union movement has a real commonality of purpose now, in NSW. If you go and talk to people I think the Workers Compensation Campaign has united the union movement in NSW to a point that I don't think anyone has ever seen. I don't take all the credit for that, but I think the campaign itself and the way the campaign was run has done a lot to unify the unions.

What do you think is the single greatest challenge for the union movement is in 2002?

I think the single greatest challenge is to become strategic in the way we campaign.

We need to move away from this idea that industrial action is the only weapon that the trade union movement has available to it. I think we have started to lay the foundations to move away but that is not ruling out industrial action as a weapon. It is just a question of it not being the only weapon we can use to influence outcomes.

I think Bosswatch is a step in the right direction. Some of the research that we commissioned through ACIRRT - particularly breaking up the heartlands, the midlands and lowlands of union density - is also going to place us in a very strong position. The research that we are going to conduct next year to build on that puts us in a very strong position to go out and campaign far more effectively.

What was your take on the Federal Election defeat?

I think we lost the Federal Election for a number of reasons. I don't think any of those necessarily relate to Kim Beazley. Beazley did a good job in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. The foundations for the loss probably occurred about twelve months ago when we didn't commence releasing policies.

There was a view that they should be a small target and I think when the Tampa issue arose and the ALP adopted particular views and then tried to focus on a more domestic agenda, some people saw that as a diversion rather than being issues of substance. Some people thought that the Labor Party was weak on the stance that they had taken on Tampa. That was the same stance that Howard had taken.

I think the reality is that Labor has got to go out and engage in the debate. It is a view that I have had for some time. That is going to be the key to winning people back. It is going out and being prepared to listen to people, engage them in the debate on a whole range of issues. If we engage people and don't talk down to them and look like we have got all the solutions that will be the key to coming back into the future.

You are on the reference committee for the Wran Review into the election in NSW. What will you be telling them?

I will be listening more than telling them initially. I see my role on the committee being more about listening to what branch members, unions and anyone else who wants to make a submission has got to say, and then trying to formulate that in conjunction with the other people on the committee, into something that is a vehicle to move the Party forward so that we can recapture what has been Labor's heartland.

Some of the preliminary material that is coming out already is about what Labor has considered to be its core constituency - there were greater swings in those areas than there were in some of the other, less strong areas of the electorate. I think there are some real challenges there.

You had the first meeting this week. Is it your impression that it is merely going to be a debate about the 60/40 rule?

No, in fact, I think it is going to be more about policy. It is going to be about Party structure and it is going to be about asking people what they see as being part of the solution for moving forward.

Neville started off the meeting by saying this is not about what happened yesterday, it is about what we do tomorrow, and I think what is going to be the crucial thing for this committee is actually looking at how we move forward.

There are issues that we have got to address, but we shouldn't dwell on them. I think what we have got to do is learn from those, and then move forward and work out what we do - and I think Neville is the right person to do that. He is certainly someone I think will be able to pull a fairly diverse group of people together for a common outcome in the end.

A lot has been said about the interests of the ALP in having a union influence. What about the other side of the coin? What do you think the benefits are to the union movement in remaining involved in the ALP?

I still believe that there are benefits for the union movement. If you are going to influence anything, you have got to be part of it - and I also say that to people who aren't in unions that complain that unions don't do this and don't do that. The fact is that you have got to be in it so that you can influence it.

The benefits for the unions are that even though we have some conflict with the Labor Party, there are issues that we do get addressed. It doesn't always give us everything that we want, and sometimes there are people that ask questions about the value of our ties, but I think the value is still there. It does strengthen your ability to influence outcomes within the Party, and my view is that most unions who are in, will continue to be affiliated with the Party.

You are this week sending out letters to ALP branches and MPs on behalf of Labor for Refugees. Why is this an issue for unions?

It is an issue for unions because unions are part of the community - they play a role in influencing attitudes within the community. It is a role that in the last 20 or so years has been let slip a bit. It is important for us if we are to re-establish ourselves as a group that can actually influence outcomes, we have to take a leadership stance on a whole range of issues.

The whole issue of refugees in the lead up to the election was just appalling. I think both parties ought to be ashamed of the way they, and we, all performed during that time - and I think it appropriate for us to take the debate out.

I am not interested in having a debate that says you can't have a contrary view to the one that I might hold. I think the issue here is - and it goes back to my point earlier - we have got to go out and engage people. And part of this is about engaging in a debate and encouraging a debate so that it is open and all the issues can be put on the table, even those who have issues with refugees coming to the country. We have got to engage those people; take the debate out to them; talk to them; and explain to them why this is an important issue.

The fact is that this is a country that is based on a fair go. The trade union movement is all about ensuring that workers get a fair go, and this is just maintaining that principle.

The other issue is that people have an expectation that we will take a leadership role on a whole range of issues that impact on the community. This is one that impacts on our community as a whole in Australia and also globally, and I think it is up to us to go out and lead and be on the front foot.

What happens though if the bulk of the membership send back a message and attitude on this issue that the union leadership doesn't like?

Well, we have got to take that on board. But I think it is more a question of how we have the debate. My view is that being strong leaders is about being prepared to listen to what people say, but again engage them in the debate. Don't tell them they are wrong, but go out and explain why we have this particular view and engage them in that discussion.

My view is that most Australians do have a level of compassion. It is one of the strengths of the Australian population - and the problem to date has been that people have been able to dehumanise the refugees. It isn't just a particular person or individual, or a child or a man or a woman. It has been Muslims, Afghans, 'illegals' - it's totally dehumanized. We have got to go back out and actually put a human face to that - and I think that is the real challenge.

How would you characterize relations between unions and the Carr Government right now?

The relations are tense, but I don't think they are beyond repair. I drew the analogy throughout the workers comp campaign that the relationship between the labour movement and the Labor Party is always a bit like a family. There are tensions. At the end of the day the water passes under the bridge and over time the tensions are removed; the relationships are re-established and you get on with it.

But this is more like a DV this time, isn't it?

Well, it probably is, but I still think that in the coming months you will see that people will get over what happened and accept that when you are in government you have got certain responsibilities. The fact is that I don't believe the workers comp issue was managed that well. But everybody is entitled to a mistake, and I think we have just got to get on with it. The fact is, that if you look at the alternatives, we are far better off with a Labor Government than we are with the conservatives, particularly if you look at the agendas that they are running federally.

What concrete steps need to take place before the next State election to rebuild those bridges though?

I think there needs to be a demonstration of goodwill on the part of government. That doesn't mean that we go up there and ask for something and we automatically get it, but I think there has got to be a preparedness to accept that some of the things we put forward are legitimate. They are reasonable positions to be put.

The Government has got to be prepared to go out and argue on the front foot on some of these issues, rather than to say if the employers jump up and down, sorry we can't accept or proceed with that. The fact is that Hawke, in his first election campaign, when the conservatives were out there attacking unions, was out there on the front foot, defending unions, he said they play a vital role, and won that election.

I don't believe that we are baggage. I actually think we are a strength to the Party, and if they are prepared to listen to us, we can actually add value to what they do and how they do it.

Finally, your Christmas wish?

My Christmas wish is: I can go away, relax and have a surf. The other wish that I have is that next year we can actually grow the movement again - at least in real numbers. I believe that we can do that. It is a real challenge.

We have seen some data that suggests that we have got to have economic growth of about four per cent before you will see real numbers grow, but I would like to see a number of unions moving forward in an organizing framework - and I don't say that as a preacher - but I certainly believe that our future is in organizing. It is being strategic and I would like to see us just move forward in that direction.


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