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Issue No. 131 12 April 2002  

Cry Freedom
If there's a common thread running through this week's issue, it's the continuing crisis faced by workers around the globe confronting the practical reality of Free Trade.


Interview: Cross Wires
Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance chief Chris Warren surveys the fluid state of the Australian media.

International: Two Tribes
As the Middle East burns, Andrew Casey shines a light into one of the world's darkest corners.

Activists: Beneath the Veil
A young Afghani woman has travelled to Australia to put a human face on the suffering of her people - and her gender.

Unions: Terror Australis
When push comes to shove, it appears the Howard Government is more scared of the Maritime Union than Osama Bin Laden, Jim Marr reports.

History: A Labor Footnote To The Royal Funeral
Stephen Holt reports that an intriguing Australian connection has been overlooked amidst the supposedly blanket media coverage of the end of the Bowes Lyon era.

Economics: Private Affluence, Public Rip-Off
New Labour's enthusiasm for business is matched only by its lack of business sense, as the private finance fiasco shows.

Review: The Great Hall of the People
In an extract from the latest issue of Labor Essays, the ARM's Richard Fidler looks at the symbolism behind the Republican debate.

Poetry: Waiting for the Living Wage
The Living Wage Case was heard this week. The workers� voices in this poem have been adapted from the evidence presented by low wage earners to the living wage case.

Satire: Israel Recruits NAB To Close West Bank
Israeli security forces have successfully enlisted the expert help of the National Australia Bank to close down the West Bank.


 Baby Company Punts Netball Mum

 Dairy Workers Win Global Breakthrough

 Treasury Modelling Backs ACTU Claim

 Bank Nabs Huge Sales Targets

 Come Clean � Insurance Giants Challenged

 May Day Jam and Toast

 Job Security Win For Cabin Crew

 Workers Gear-up For Pollution Fight

 Shuffling The Deck On The Yarra

 New Push On Workplace Crime

 Super Child Care Win

 Doubts Over Ettalong Wharf Funding

 The Sane Monk Stands Down

 Fabians Debate Refugees

 Activists Notebook


The Soapbox
Unions and the Web � Where to Now?
Peter Lewis argues the time has come to revisit how trade unions interact with workers and how the Web could be the catalyst for such a change.

The Locker Room
Free To Where?
Parents with kiddies who play a bit of sport will have noticed the escalating costs associated with their kids being involved in sport.

Week in Review
The Joys of the Chop
Workers come and workers go, right? Well, it�s the way of the world but while some get stiffed, others are stuffed with obscene amounts �

 Labor and Unions - What About the Workers?
 A Voice for the Shareholders
 Noses in the Trough
 Bugger Off
 Memo: Carmen Lawrence
 Police: Make the Boss a Woman
 Baby Faced Brogden
 Workers Online - Aoteroa
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Cry Freedom

If there's a common thread running through this week's issue, it's the continuing crisis faced by workers around the globe confronting the practical reality of Free Trade.

While the departure of textile and manufacturing sectors to lower wage nations is old news, the new victims are workers who provide services that were once considered tied to a particular geographical center.

Mariners fighting Ships of Shame off the Australian coast, cabin crew imploring Qantas to keep an Aussie face, NAB workers facing the axe to make up for a disastrous US investment - all are participants on a new battlefield.

Even media workers, employed to present the world to their people, are squeezed by share prices as the masters play on a broader stage.

These are not your old-style employee-employer stoushes over wages, conditions and who shares the profits but a far more complex beast; Australian companies and workers attempting to survive in a world without economic borders.

Under this new orthodoxy workers are told to take pain - either lower wages and conditions or loss of jobs altogether - so their employer can be 'internationally competitive'.

It's presented as a Catch-22 - to demand a fair go for workers is self-defeating because it will lead to the ultimate loss of those very jobs.

The experts tell us the Australian economy has brought many benefits - there are undoubted winners individually and the economy as a whole. But there are also many losers who want to see some evidence.

The Free Trade versus Fair Trade debate may be too glib a dichotomy, but it does stake out the territory for a new and maturing dialogue.

At one extreme of the debate is the unlikely alliance of economic nationalists and anti-globalisation protestors who would close down global trade and build barricades around their own block of the world.

At the other lurk the corporate cowboys and mega-corps, for whom any regulation or responsibility is a restraint of their freedom to scour the globe for a quick buck.

Somewhere in the middle lies the solution - establishing ground rules that bind the corporations that increasingly control the world economy.

The agreement secured by the International Union of Foodworkers and NZ multinational Fonterra could be a first step in this direction. Based on ILO standards, it binds Fonterra and its subsidiaries to respecting worker and union rights.

The IUF's success comes from engaging with a large corporation, showing how it can benefit from an ethical labour framework and then developing a practical framework to that delivers equity without killing the company. You could call it enlightened self-interest.

Whatever you call it, it's is an interesting development actually exposes the limits of the term 'Free Trade'.

As workers are fast discovering there is no freedom without rules. The challenge is to develop rules that give people a stake in the game.

Peter Lewis



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