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Issue No. 128 15 March 2002  

Why I'm Marching
If you haven’t guessed already, I'm no Labor apparatchik. In fact my entry into politics was through the old Nuclear Disarmament Party.


Interview: The Wedge Buster
Labor's immigration spokeswoman Julia Gillard talks about her job of developing policy to blunt Howard's wedge.

History: Fighting for Peace
Was the first Palm Sunday parade a celebration or a protest, asks Neale Towart.

Unions: Rattling the Gates
When Pacific Power workers traveled from Newcastle to Macquarie Street this week life-long loyalties were on the line, as Jim Marr reports.

International: Facing Retribution
Serious fears are growing for the safety of Zimbabwean trade unionists after the tainted election defeat of their former leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Technology: How Korean Workers Used The Web
Electrical power industry workers in Korea are relying on the internet, and mobile phones, to successfully organise a militant nation-wide anti-privatisation strike.

Industrial: Working Futures
Can an assortment of economists, lawyers, historians, industrial relations specialists, unionists, journalists, sociologists and psychologists help us develop a decent future for work and social relations in Australia?

Review: Rumble, Young Man, Rumble
To compress the full and exhilarating life of The Greatest to film-length is no easy task but Ali makes a reasonable fist of the job writes Noel Hester.

Satire: GG Survival Doomed: Fox-Lew In Charge Of Rescue Bid
The hopes of embattled Governor-General Dr Peter Hollingworth took a battering last night, after he learnt that the rescue bid for his survival is being headed up by Lindsay Fox and Solomon Lew.

Poetry: PSST
From Sue Robinson to Michael Kirby, some things in politics are constant...only the names have been changed to defame the innocent.


 Girl's Maiming Sparks Entry Plea

 More Time Off for Babies

 Workers Break Bank Cartel

 State Law Push For Virgin Sites

 Outrage at Privatisation by Decree

 Woomera - Flames, Razors, Rope and Despair

 Bus Drivers Block ALP Funds

 Crean Gets on Front Foot

 Nurses, Teachers On The Money

 Asset-Stripping Sparks Walk-Out

 Opposition Grows Over Howard's Freedom Attack

 Heffernan Prompts ‘Right of Reply’ Demands

 Della Dumps Dunny Blues

 Smith Flies Into Turbulence

 Guards Force Drinks Break

 Levy Struck to Support Rockhampton Meatworkers

 ACTU Assists former Ansett Staff

 Activist News


The Soapbox
The War on Terror - Impunity for Abuses?
Federal Labor MP Duncan Kerr argues that governments are using the fears of the post-Septmeber 11 environment for thier own ends.

The Locker Room
Oh, The Humanity!
So, sports people are human after all. Now there’s a headline.

Week in Review
Tomorrow, The World
Jim Marr picks over the entrails of a week in which world domination, or at least hegemony over that part of it in which the principal operates, is a recurring theme.

 Carr and the Fire Fighters
 On Inequality
 Harmony Day
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Working Futures

By Neale Towart

Can an assortment of economists, lawyers, historians, industrial relations specialists, unionists, journalists, sociologists and psychologists help us develop a decent future for work and social relations in Australia?


We are often told that the nature of work and industrial relations is changing. Manifestations of this are the increase in casual and part employment and a corresponding decline in permanent secure work, the decline of lifetime careers as people in some areas find themselves able to switch from sector to sector, and employers change the nature of jobs, which acts against the steady career path. The nature of the contract of employment at the workplace has changed, with the award system seen by some as unable to cope with the flexibility required, and even enterprise agreements being pressured by the legislative provision of individual agreements.

Unions appear to be big losers in this change, with membership levels having declined drastically since 1980, and many saying that the collective approach to the employment relationship is finished.

Structural change perhaps means that the historic social contract which can be traced back to the Harvester judgement of 1907 and also to the commitment to full employment put in place following World War II has been wiped forever.

This collection of research and commentary looks at likely future directions for work, employment, industrial relations and social relations.

A healthy corrective to the talk about all change being new comes from Greg Patmore. He shows that many changes hailed as new and transformative are in fact recycling of old ideas. A lack of historical perspective leads to a blindness to what has gone before and mistakes are repeated, experiences forgotten, This is exaggerated too by the waves of redundancy and outsourcing, which further rob organisations of institutional memory. Also historical studies of ongoing workplace issues such as the fight for equal pay, local area employment, green bans show that not only the traditional players (unions, employers, government) are affected and affect workplace issues. Other groups such as women's groups, conservation groups and local communities can impact significantly even if only temporarily on the world of work. This is crucial for unions to remember as they fight to maintain and reinvent their role in society.

Unions have been developing new forms of workplace activism and taking innovative approaches to industrial laws, in response to the dramatic rewrite of industrial laws undertaken by the Coalition government. Ron McCallum says that some of the changes reflect increasing concerns about safety in the workplace, and also the growing individualism of recent decades, which he claims has displaced collectivism. He feels that crafting labour laws to protect the increasing number of individual contractors performing employee-like functions is imperative (given his role in drafting NSW and Qld IR laws he should have been able to put into effect some of these ideas). Suzanne Jamieson comments on McCallums views, which seem to give undue weight to the idea of an equal of negotiation power in these contract situations. She says that mutual social obligation is giving way to increased one-on-one subordination. Ethics and human rights issues inform her commentary, as she all too briefly comments on the withdrawal of the state, and the failure of laws to deal with many discrimination and OHS issues.

Michael Crosby presents the case for the organising approach to revitalising unions, based on a huge amount of practical experience and studies in Australia and the USA. He acknowledges, quoting a New Zealand unionist, that "unions don't have a god-given right to exist". They are have been declining and need to reinvent themselves.

He argues that increased social inequality will be the result if unionism dies. Already as it has declined we have seen the gap between rich and poor widening, and workers in casual jobs and in non-unionised sectors fall further behind in pay and conditions.

So society pays dearly for the decline in unionism, one of the fundamentals of our democracy, part of the social contract. He says that a new style of unionism based around active workplace delegates and large rank and file committees is essential.

This new form of organising and activism does not come cheap. It is based on a US model, but unfortunately for Australian unions, it doesn't come cheap. US unions might have a low percentage membership, but raw numbers mean that union coffers are a bit fuller over there.

Crosby emphasises the need for union leadership to take the debate to members, to get them involved in the changing culture. Workers do not want to be in perpetual argument with their employers. Unions do not see a constant industrial war as the way to renewal. Rather they want workers to enjoy their work and empowering them in their own workplaces in a relationship of equals with employers is the vision.

Commenting on Crosby's paper Rae Cooper acknowledges the value of the workplace activists approach, but questions the extent to which unions (so far at least) have been able to enthuse and involve their membership in the transformation required (Cooper has recently published in the Journal of Industrial relations a case study of a NSW union examining just this issue). Cooper sees members being sceptical of union organising and empowerment, partly because they have been constantly sold short by their bosses in claims for more participation in decision making at work. Cooper feels that the organising model is too much top down and not enough consultation with members about the process of change. Members realise the need for change but feel left out of the process of deciding what it is to be.

Stephen Long echoes this view. Shifting responsibility to delegates and a union membership fee increase to pay for new approaches may not be popular with members. Members may feel they are paying the union officials but are then told that they can do lots of the bargaining and union work at their workplaces. They see the fees as payment for service, even if they agree that activism is required.

Despite this, Long says that the organising approach is probably the best way of re-inventing unions, with a combination of service, organising and social movement activism, with strategic use of arbitration. Some see a quasi-religious tone to the appeals of those pushing the organising model. Long sees this as appropriate and inevitable, as it is needed to maintain optimism about the future of unions.

Other contributors to this rich collection include Bettina Cass, Ed Davis and Alison Morehead on work and family practices, Mark Wooden, John Burgess and Joe Isaac on the changing labour market.

Ron Callus and Russell Lansbury summarising major changes in work and employment in Australia an globally. They conclude that unless changes are made to the status of workers, regulation or working time and the pooling of risks and responsibilities in regard to employment, there is likely to be a further deterioration in the quality of jobs and relations of work.

WORKING FUTURES: The changing nature of work and employment relations in Australia. edited by Ron Callus and Russell D Lansbury (Annandale: Federation Press, 2002)


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