||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
What We Did Last Summer
Burning Question Smoulders
While the state's volunteer firefighters were deservedly feted for their heroic role during the Christmas bushfires, the crisis again highlighted the mad administration of fire-fighting in NSW.
While the Weekend Warriors were putting their lives on the line, professional fire-fighters who wanted to weigh in were told to stay on holidays because the overtime would blow the budget.
At the heart of the problem is the political power of the volunteer service and the personal empire volunteer fire chief Phil Koperburg has created against the high cost of managing a professional fire-fighting service. The obvious solution would be to merge the two services, but then the pros would calls the shots.
The sensitivity was obvious when Fire Brigade Employees Union state secretary Chris Read raised the issue during the blazes, he was cut down in pointedly personal attacks by both the Premier and Koperburg. Unperturbed, Read is wearing the attack as his own personal medal.
US president George Bush indicated his country would make the most of its status as the world's sole superpower. Having crushed the Taliban and Afghanistan-based Al Queda network, he put Iran, Iraq and North Korea on notice and told the rest of the world - like it or lump it.
Bush evoked echoes of the Second World War, labeling his new targets an "axis of evil" without describing what their axis (common, or fixed line) might be.
Specifically, Dubya lashed their capacity to produce and use "weapons of mass destruction". Interesting, given that his own country is by far the largest producer of such hardware and supplied, at a price, many of the ingredients in Saddam Hussein's chemical kitchen.
By way of turning up the heat, Bush presented Congress with a demand for a $US 48 million increase on what is already, far-and-away, the world's largest military budget.
Flying High to Crash Landing?
Wouldn't it have been fantastic if the Howard Government had put as much energy, money and commitment into saving the 16,000 jobs threatened by Ansett's collapse as they did into keeping 400 or so Afghan refugees out of the country?
While the Government has sat on its hands it has been left to the union movement to try and salvage jobs and protect entitlements.
Now the end game is near and with smart use of corporations law, solid on-the-ground activism and workplace commitment Ansett workers and their unions - against the odds - have given the administrators a chance to pull off what four months ago looked an unlikely sale.
Saving jobs still hinges on the Tesna sale but at the very least Ansett employees will get what they are entitled to.
Million Person Crawl
The ACTU released figures showing that more than 1.4 million Australians took real pay cuts in the preceding 12 months as award increases lagged behind inflation.
The study, using data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, revealed that 80 percent of all award workers suffered real wage cuts and that the low paid, those earning less than $13 an hour, were worst affected.
ACTU secretary Greg Combet said the figures proved award workers needed a substantial pay boost from this year's living wage case to maintain living standards.
Further questions on the political whereabouts of Mark Latham were raised by a scathing attack on Labor Party members seeking a more compassionate stance on asylum seekers. Not only did Latham endorse John Howard-Phillip Ruddock immigration policy but he echoed their tone.
The Member for Werriwa linked illegal immigration with welfare fraud and juvenile crime, and described Woomera protests as "atrocities". He accused activists seeking a policy review of betraying Labor principles and supporting an "elitist charter".
Latham's comments came in a letter to NSW Labor Council secretary, John Robertson, who had urged a "more humanitarian and compassionate approach by the ALP".
The UN agency responsible for labour standards, the ILO, proved it had teeth when luxury lingerie manufacturer, Triumph, pulled the pin on its Burmese manufacturing operation.
Triumph was the first company targeted by ILO sanctions after labour and Burmese activists claimed it exploited child labour, and supported that country's military dictatorship.
Triumph ceased Australian operations, last year, after human rights abuses were targeted in a bra-burning demonstrating outside Sydney department store David Jones.
European activists stepped up their campaign, using the slogan "Support Breasts, Not Dictators". Triumph announced in January that it would cease bra production in Burma "within four months".
Indonesian labour activist, Dita Sari, turned down a $50,000 grant from sporting apparel giant Reebok in protest against meagre wages paid by the company.
"Their factories do not pay a living wage. The pay packet cannot cover basic needs," she told Associated Press.
Sari, who visited Australian unionists in 1999, said it would have been hypocritical to have accepted the Reebok award although her campaign for better wages and conditions could have done with the financial boost.
Sari, jailed by the regime of former president Suharto, has been organising rallies and protests on behalf of the low paid since her 1998 release.
Reebok factories in Indonesia, China and Vietnam pay labourers less than $2 an hour and analysts estimate the labour content of a $70 pair of Reeboks, produced in that area of the world, at less than $1.
Mayor Goes Troppo
And just to prove that, eventually, the summer heat got to everyone, Brisbane's Labor mayor, Jim Soorley, went right off the deep end during a bus drivers' dispute in the city.
Soorley labeled RTBU secretary, Owen Doogan, a "foreign import union official" and linked Brisbane City Council bus drivers, acting in defence of a colleague, with "terrorists".
Stunned Queensland Council of Unions secretary, Grace Grace, was obviously operating from cooler climes when she said Soorley's comments had gone "beyond the bounds of normal behaviour".
"The comments made by Mr Soorley are unprecedented by any Lord Mayor of Brisbane. Citizens and workers deserve better behaviour from a Labor Lord Mayor," she added.
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