||Issue No. 124||15 February 2002|
Chickens Come Home
Unions: Winning the Heartland
Interview: Swan's Song
Corporate: Lessons from Enron
Politics: What We Did Last Summer
History: Solidarity in Song
International: A Tale of Two Cities
Poetry: Nobody Told Me
Review: Labor and the Rings
Satire: Rafter Named Bermudan Of The Year For Tax Purposes
The Locker Room
Week in Review
'International Labour's Year in Review' - A Re-View
Collins Gets Cryptic
Winning the Heartland
John Robertson unveils new research on attitudes to refugees and argues it's time for unions to mount their own propaganda war.
Firstly, I would like to welcome you all to today's conference.
Our goal is to develop strategies to increase racial and cultural harmony in the workplace.
It is important work that goes to the heart of trade union values.
It will be difficult work because it is about bringing out the best instincts of people, who are currently insular and insecure.
And as the research that I will present in a few minutes shows, it will be challenging work.
But it is a job that we, as a movement, can not shirk.
While the current debates around asylum seekers, refugees and immigration have been thrust on us by external political events, they are issues that we must confront as a movement.
The Tampa issue and now mandatory detention are being used as a weapon to split Australia down the middle and it is our responsibility, as the representatives of working people, to meet it head on.
I've taken a leadership role in both the union movement and the ALP because I believe these are issues that go to the heart of unionism
· Racism seeks to divide the community and the workplace. If workers are divided it's the boss who will benefit.
· The push to blind Australians to the notion of a fair go is as much a threat to unionism as it is an attack on the victims of repression who have become political pawns.
We must switch the debate on refugees to one that is underlined by a position of goodwill. Not fear and ignorance.
It is fear and ignorance that the Conservative parties are exploiting so skilfully.
Our challenge is to take the oxygen out of their campaign by spreading understanding across the workplace on a broader front because understanding is the necessary first step towards a more compassionate position.
We must look at ways of using our networks of delegates and activists to counter these cheap attacks on those less fortunate.
We also need to remember not to put those with a different view in a box as racists or being xenophobic. We must engage people in the debate on this issue because it is engagement that will over time turn the tide on racism.
Today we will deal with two fundamental questions in promoting understanding and compassion:
· What is our message?
· How do we get it out?
To put our challenge into some kind of context, Labor Council commissioned a private polling into the attitudes of both unionists and non-unionists.
The results are enlightening to say the least:
* There is overwhelming support across the community for the Howard Government's stance on Tampa - with majority support over all demographics.
* The support is slightly weaker among union members, but it is still overwhelming - some 58 per cent of members. In fact the most significant variable was income - the higher a household income the less likely they were to support Howard's stand. This shows that it is the union heartland that has been most susceptible to the Howard wedge.
* Even in the most affluent group, more than 50 per cent support the Howard line. But income - and education - are identified as the variable most linked to a more compassionate position on the issue.
The survey also dealt with responses to a series of propositions - and it is here that we can take some heart.
Where the proposition is worded in an emotive manner, the vast majority of respondents accept it -
· For example: about 80 per cent agreed with the proposition "If people want to come to Australia because they are fearful of being persecuted in their own country, they should go through the proper channels of face mandatory detention".
The gap between union and non-union was not great.
· Nearly as many - a massive 77 per cent - concurred with the alarmist proposition "any softening of Australia's current policy would lead to a massive influx of illegal immigrants and would be unfair to those who are waiting their rightful turn in the queue"
Again, the gap between union and non-union was not great.
· But when a more compassionate proposition was put, the majority of people came around.
More than 50 per cent accepted the statement that "seeking asylum in Australia or a country other than one's own is NOT illegal, nor is it queue jumping. It is a fundamental right of any person experiencing persecution in their country of origin.
Interestingly, in this case union members were far more receptive to the proposition.
What this says is that most people have a hard-line position on asylum seekers when the propaganda rhetoric is used, but they are open to being brought around.
As Bob McMullan noted during the election campaign: the electorate's first instinct is always inward-looking and self-centred.
It's second instinct is a more compassionate one.
The challenge of leaders is to bring people from their first instinct to their second one.
The simple reality is that we are losing the propaganda war - or rather the Howard Government has played it masterfully.
The Ten Commandments
In preparing for today's seminar, I stumbled across a document on propaganda, developed by the US Institute for Propaganda analysis in 1937.
It sets out the 'Ten Commandments for Propaganda':
1. Divide and Conquer
2. Tell the People What they Want
3. The Bigger the Lie, the More People Will Believe It
4. Always Appeal to the Lowest Common Denominator
5. Generalise As Much as Possible
6. Use 'Expert' testimonial
7. Always Refer to the 'Authority' of your Office
8. Stack the Cards with Information
9. A Confused People Are Easily Led
10. Get the 'Plain Folks' on the Bandwagon.
And remember: when all else fails, use FEAR
You can see how this is almost a textbook for the approach of the Conservative forces.
Our challenge as a union movement is to create our own Ten Commandments of Enlightenment - not just for this campaign, but for taking a leadership role in unifying workplaces generally.
They might run as follows:
1. Set out to Unify our Constituency
2. Be prepared to argue an unpopular viewpoint
3. Trust people with the truth
4. Appeal to the better instincts in our membership
5. Embrace the complexity of issues
6. Focus on real people and their stories, not the easy stereotypes
7. Take the debate out into the workplace
8. Take the time to explain the issue
9. Be patient, persistent and respectful of other views
10. Lead the debate, but make sure we bring our members with you
And when all else fails, preach compassion.
If any of our leaders had adopted these commandments, I wonder how different the research would be.
Let's use today as the first step to creating a campaign consistent with these themes are winning back our people from the scurge of Howard's wedge.
This is an edited version of a speech presented to Labor Council's Workplace Harmony conference on February 14
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