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Issue No. 133 26 April 2002  

The Struggle Continues
While the romantic image of May Day may be one of international struggle to establish a workers paradise, the reality is far more pragmatic and practical.


Interview: If The Commission Pleases
President Lance Wright marks the NSW Industrial Relations Commission's centenary with an exclusive interview with Workers Online.

History: Protest and Celebrate
Neale Towart scours the globe to discover the spirit of May Day online � the celebration of the eight-hour day.

Unions: A Novel Approach
A union office has been transformed into a library thanks to efforts to provide books for children in detention centres, reports Jim Marr.

Industrial: Hare Tony, Hare Tony
Close your eyes and the Mad Monk sounds like a Hare Krishna, but increasingly the world is tuning out from his mantra about IR reform, writes Noel Hester.

International: Never Forget Jenin
Trade unionist Sari Kassis argues the word 'Jenin' now defines Palestinian demands for justice.

Politics: Left Right Out In France
The results of the first round vote for the French presidency have led to mass protests and calls for national unity, Paul Howes reports.

Health: Delivering A Public Health Revolution
Zoe Reynolds travelled to Cuba to discover how Australians are backing a ground-breaking child health project.

Review: The Secret Life of U(nion)s
Tara de Boehmler stumbles upon a juicy trade union sub-plot in the popular GenX TV drama.

Poetry: May Day, May Day
Rapper Swarmy G is one of the finalists in our workers anthem comp with this ode to May Day.


 Shonky Bosses Get Contract Brush

 Kirby Bouquet for Equal Pay

 Deep Pocket Syndrome Stalks IRC

 Court Decision Threatens Thousands Of Jobs

 Safety Summit to Set Accident Targets

 Detention Centre Vets Song Lyrics

 Fat Sheep Dip Into Workers Pockets

 Government Con Drives SA Vehicle Blue

 Dead Worker�s Family Calls for Safety Crime Laws

 Netball Mum Bounces Back

 Aussie Agency Backs War Crimes Call

 Thumbs-up For Union Immigration Role

 May Day Rundown

 DOCS Worker Assaulted In Courthouse

 Queensland Unions Move on Youth Exploitation

 Activist Notebook


The Soapbox
A Humane Under-Belly
Presenting the annual Kingsley Laffer Lecture, Justice Michael Kirby argues that international human rights underpin Australian industrial law.

The Locker Room
The Hidden Culture of Indigenous Football
Brian McCoy argues that indigenous footballers do not just bring thier skills to the game, they bring their culture as well.

Of Shares and Options
It was a week when Rio Tinto faced its shareholders, Ford faced a backlash and a bid to cap US executive salaries failed.

Week in Review
The ANZAC Spirit?
Jim Marr wonders what the ANZACs would have said about our current treatment of the homeless and needy.

 French Connection
 Gold Star Student
 Time for a General Strike?
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Delivering A Public Health Revolution

Zoe Reynolds travelled to Cuba to discover how Australians are backing a ground-breaking child health project.

Awesome - This is how a visiting intern from a large New York hospital described the doctors of Cuba.

"They just don't have enough texts and reference books to go around," he said. "So they've memorised whole volumes of medical information. It's mind blowing. We just don�t do that. We go and look things up all the time. They keep it all in their heads."

The intern cannot be named because of Washington's restrictions on US citizens travelling to Cuba. While there are exemptions for study under strict guidelines, tourist travel is not allowed and failure to comply with the regulation can result in criminal prosecution upon return to the United States.

In the Caribbean the Cold War lives on. For four decades the US has imposed an economic embargo on Cuba. Even the tourist dollar is off limits.

In 1996 the blockade was tightened to include other nations trading or investing in Cuba. Ships from other countries are banned from US ports for six months after visiting Cuba. Requests to purchase medicines from US companies or their foreign subsidiaries have been routinely denied - in violation of international human rights accords, according to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.

In 1989 World Health Organisation highlighted a profound economic crisis in Cuba brought about by the embargo and the collapse of the Eastern bloc where Cuba sourced 85 percent of its trade. GDP fell 35 percent and exports 75 percent.

The US embargo compounded the problems, preventing Cuba filling the vacuum by trading sugar and other goods with the United States. But two years later, the downward trend was reversed with GDP showing modest growth since 1991.

A report published in the American Journal of Public Health in 1997, examined the impact of the embargo on the health of Cubans. Food shortages in the early nineties had led to a fall in birth weights and anaemia affected more than half of pregnant women as well as infants aged from six to 12 months.

House to house distribution of vitamins and freeing up of agriculture so that people could cultivate fresh vegetables, pigs and poultry, even in their city backyards and bathtubs has helped alleviate food shortages, if adding to housing problems. What is more remarkable is that the WHO report also showed that despite the economic hardships, the Cuban health system has ensured its people enjoy health as good or better than those in the world's most developed nations. And as it boasts a surplus of health professionals, Cuba has also exported around 10,000 physicians to help out in other developing countries.

"In Cuba the State assumes full responsibility for the health care of its citizens. Health is considered the key ingredient for quality of life and is seen as a strategic objective in the development of society," the report states. "The Cuban health system comprises a network of institutions that are easily accessible and provide coverage to 100 percent of the population."

The American Public Health Association representing over 50,000 members made this statement in the US capital in 1996: "Public health professionals who have served in other countries have long held up the Cuban health care system as a model... in Cuba all citizens have a right to high quality health care, to education, to (child) day care and to other social services. The infant mortality rate, life expectancy and other health indicators in Cuba match those in the world's richest countries. While other countries including the US respond to economic problems by cutting back on resources for health, Cuba has steadfastly maintained its commitment to health."

And so our US intern made his pilgrimage to Cuba, befriended and lived among the people, learnt some Spanish and visited hospitals.

Included on his tour was the William Soler Children's Hospital, where the ACTU's union aid abroad agency (Apheda) has helped raise over a half million dollars in funding and life saving equipment as part of its Funds for Cuban Children alliance.

For this, the Department of Pediatrics Cardio Unit Professor Dr E Selman Housein Sosa is grateful: "It's good to know that people are interested in what is happening in other parts of the world, people with open minds and open souls," he said. "It's good to know people take an interest in things so far away. We�re very thankful."

The Cuban Children's Fund was founded in 1998 to support the Cuban public health system and to develop bilateral links between the Australian and Cuban health sectors. In 1999 the fund entered into an alliance with Union Aid Abroad and since then more than $200,000 has been raised in funding with a further $300,000 worth of equipment supplied to the hospital.

The equipment and funds help save the lives of newborn babies and young children with congenital heart disease.

"Thirty percent of these babies would die in their first year if we did not operate," said Dr Selman. "If the operation is a success they can go to school and most of them can lead normal lives. I think it is important that the Australian people know what they are helping us do here."

Heart surgery on infants is risky, with a 10 per ent mortality rate. But the alternative is a life cut tragically short. Australia is the major donor to the cardio unit, with Italy a close second. Canada, England and Germany also give help from time to time.

"But only Australia and Italy ring in every six months and ask what we need," Dr Selman says.

Leading the mission to provide the hospital with much needed equipment is Apheda chairperson, founding member of the Cuban Children's Fund and former secretary of the Waterside Workers� Federation (now the Maritime Union of Australia) Tas Bull.

Cuba is a beacon for socialists the world over, with many making their way there if they can get the money together, and many more all too willing to give to a Cuban cause.

"Donating to the hospital was the then consul Marcelino Fajardo's idea," said Bull. "A Greek Australian comrade, Jim Mitsos, kicked it off with a half million dollar personal donation. That was the genesis of the whole thing."

Dr Andrew Refshauge, then NSW minister for health, officially launched the Cuban Children�s Fund. Bull was the first chair, with other founding members including Joyce Clark, a communist and former principle of Kogarah Girls' High and Dr Alf Liebhold of the Doctors' Reform Society. Peter Sago from the Trade Union Medical Centre was its first secretary.

"Then we looked around and invited eminent people onto the committee. They include Dr Meredith Burgman President of the NSW Legislative Council and John Menadue, a former Immigration Department Secretary," Bull said.

Bringing the fund under the umbrella of the ACTU aid agency, has helped ensure that all donations are tax deductible and that the fund has a wider reach.

Sean Chaffer, from the Maritime Union led a contingent of wharfies and seafarers to the World Youth Festival in Cuba in 1997 and is now the fund's secretary.

Some of the cardio equipment donated to the hospital was purchased outright in Japan and Germany. But Tas Bull also discovered that due to restructuring and centralising of the NSW health system some equipment became surplus and available for aid organisations.

"We were able to send 15-20 pallets to the hospital gratis," he said. "The French airline OAM, agreed to fly over the first batches, then after they withdrew from the Australian run, we got on to British Airways and they agreed to take over. I've got no idea how much it would have cost if we'd had to pay freight. One shipment alone weighs nearly a tonne. Imagine how much a tonne of air freight to Cuba would come in at! I know how much they charge for excess luggage."

Dr Selman to Sydney is currently in Australia meeting with Australian cardio specialists, briefing them on the work of his hospital and exchanging information.

The US embargo still proves frustrating for the cardio unit at the William Soler Hospital. Dr Selman says the hospital must still obtain equipment in Europe and fly in technicians from the other side of the world to service it



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