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Issue No. 124 15 February 2002  

Chickens Come Home
For anyone who believes in karma, the events of the summer show how bad Australia's is right now.


Unions: 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.

Interview: Swan's Song
Federal ALP front-bencher Wayne Swan expands on his ideas for rebuilding the Party in the wake of the Tampa election.

Corporate: Lessons from Enron
Jim Marr looks at the shock-waves the collapse of a US corporate heavy-weight are having around the globe.

Politics: What We Did Last Summer
We look back over a summer when it all went pear-shaped. Some events, at home and abroad, look set to have ongoing ramifications.

History: Solidarity in Song
Mark Gregory looks back on the annals of labour songs and offers some hints for those planning a tilt at the Labor Council's worker anthem comp.

International: A Tale of Two Cities
New York and Port Alegre are poles apart – but they both played host to important conferences on the future of globalisation over the summer.

Poetry: Nobody Told Me
Labour academic David Peetz commits the Prime Minister's current woes to verse.

Review: Labor and the Rings
Tolkien’s epic tale provides a timely reminder that that there are forces of good and evil in the world – and that they are not necessarily where we expect to find them, writes Michael Gadiel.

Satire: Rafter Named Bermudan Of The Year For Tax Purposes
Australian of the Year Pat Rafter was last night also named Bermudan of the Year, in a simple ceremony held in Bermuda's Parliament.


 Unions' Commit to Battle for Hearts

 Carr on Notice - Expectations Up

 Mad Monk Sides With Angels … Briefly

 Maritime Union Acts on Spy Scandal

 May Day Play-Off for Workers' Anthem

 Burmese Links Shroud Winter Olympics

 New Phone Venture One.Tel In Drag

 Two Million Face Rights Downgrade

 Enron Collapse Hits Share-Owner Agenda

 Corrrigan Snaps Up Rail Bargain

 Kinko Clowns With Workers' Rights

 MPs Face Security Checks

 Telstra's Tragic Delays Of Its Own Making

 Burrow Puts Case to World Economic Forum

 Shangri La Protests Hit Melbourne

 Activists Notebook


The Soapbox
Chinks in the Armour
The ACTU's Michael Crosby argues that Mark Latham's attack on the Labor for Refugees movement is the betrayal of Party values.

The Locker Room
Off-side in Korea?
With the World Cup set to kick off in a matter of months, South Korea's treatment of unions is under the microscope.

Week in Review
Cloak and Dagger
In the first of what will be a regular column, we place the week's labour news into a nutshell.

 In Whose Interests?
 'International Labour's Year in Review' - A Re-View
 Belly's Broad-Side
 Collins Gets Cryptic
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Solidarity in Song

Mark Gregory looks back on the annals of labour songs and offers some hints for those planning a tilt at the Labor Council's worker anthem comp.

The Solidarity Choir


One of the earliest May Day marches in the world took place in Barcaldine in Queensland in 1891, during the famous Shearers Strike. Henry Lawson wrote

'Freedom on the Wallaby' for the occasion, with the lines:

So we must fly a rebel flag as others did before us/ And we must sing a rebel song and join in rebel chorus

Banjo Paterson, too, was moved by the shearers' strike and many people see his song 'Waltzing Matilda' as taking the side of the unionist workers, the swagman, in their battle against the squatter station owners and the police troupers and soldiers drafted in to help break the strike.

Up came the squatter mounted on his thoroughbred/Up came the troupers one two three

Of course long before Paterson and Lawson, poets had lent their support to the workers cause. The convict 'Frank The Poet' was poking fun at the rulers and those who benefited from slave labour half a century before while the Scottish poet Robert Burns had immortalised the notion of equality for all, before any transport ships came to the 'Fatal Shores' of Australia, in his 'A Manıs A Man For A' That'

Since Lawson, generations of Australian poets and songwriters have added to our store of union songs. Tex Morton recorded 'Sergeant Small' and had the record banned, Helen Palmer wrote 'The Ballad of 1891', Dorothy Hewett wrote 'Weevils in the Flower' and 'Clancy and Dooley and Don McLeod', Clem Parkinson wrote 'The Judge and the Shipowner', Glen Tomassetti wrote 'Don't Be Too Polite Girls', Don Henderson wrote 'Isa', Denis Kevans wrote 'The Roar of the Crowd'. Many of these songs began to appear on vinyl records in the 1960s onwards and appear in union songbooks.

Unions have international links across the world and many took up the cause of peace during the Vietnam War. Unions took up the anti-apartheid cause in support of workers in South Africa, supported the resistance against Indonesian invasion if East Timor, and have a long history of active support of unionists in other countries.

This aspect of union work has been reflected in songs, the protest songs of the 1960s, Rock Against Racism in the 1970s, the exchange of union songs themselves. On a Sydney May Day March you would be likely hear the Chilean song 'The People United Will Never Be Defeated', or a South African freedom song, or 'There Is Power In A Union' from Billy Bragg in London. In the era of 'Globalisation of capitalism' international links are as vital as ever.

In the last 10 years unions, singers and songwriters have collaborated on CDs such as 'Jumping Fences', 'Union is Strength' and 'Trains of Treasure'. The MUA and RTBU have held regular annual song writing competitions. This year the NSW Labor Council is launching a song writing competition with a handsome $5000 prize (or about 2 months, average, union fought for, wages!). Well worth taking a week or two off to write.

We have an interesting and living tradition of songs about the struggle for union rights, for Aboriginal rights, for womenıs rights and for human rights. Todayıs songwriters and singers write as powerfully as ever before. Think of Midnight Oil, Kev Carmody, Paul Kelly as popular examples. Our song writing tradition is so strong that, during the 1998 wharf lockout, I collected over 30 songs and poems in one month of that historic struggle of unions against the illegal tactics of the employer in conspiracy with the Howard government.

How do you write a union song? I donıt think anyone knows the answer to that but it hasn't stopped them from having a go. Woody Guthrie wrote, 'Maybe you got a new song. You have, if you said what you really had to say about how the old world looks to you, or how it ought to be fixed'. Why are they written? Some say it's just preaching to the converted. I think that's actually an important task in itself. Songs that change the world usually do so by strengthening the conviction of those already converted to the cause. And the cause hasn't changed. Look at the increasing attempts by large employers to leave workers without jobs, without superannuation, without their legal entitlements. The same 'legalised theft' the employers always resort to.

We live in a country of great natural resources with a highly skilled population yet the rewards are being creamed off before our eyes by a class that ruthlessly demands ever more profit. Unions are faced by a class-war government intent on making laws that deprive workers of rights fought for and won long ago. We find ourselves being pushed backwards just as the convicts were, just as those shearers were in 1891. One way we can motivate our resistance is through our culture of resistance. Thatıs why we have to write more songs.


Mark Gregory is a folklorist with a particular interest in songs of the labour movement. He sings, plays the banjo and works as a web designer. Heis an active unionist and member of the CPSU. Visit his 'Union Songs' web site at: for a growing collection of songs and poems from around the world.


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