||Issue No. 133||26 April 2002|
The Struggle Continues
Interview: If The Commission Pleases
History: Protest and Celebrate
Unions: A Novel Approach
Industrial: Hare Tony, Hare Tony
International: Never Forget Jenin
Politics: Left Right Out In France
Health: Delivering A Public Health Revolution
Review: The Secret Life of U(nion)s
Poetry: May Day, May Day
The Locker Room
Week in Review
Gold Star Student
Time for a General Strike?
The Struggle Continues
With its roots in the struggle of US workers for an eight-hour day, the May Day message is less international revolution than collective action for basic rules. It's a simple idea, but not a simplistic one.
Today, the idea of an eight-hour day is again a dream for many workers - for casuals who can't get secure, stable hours and for the overworked, for whom refusing to work unpaid overtime is akin to letting the team down.
The workplace of 2002 is far removed from the struggles of the 1860s; the competition between enterprises today to meet shareholder expectations on a global scale has created a new justification to attack the rights of workers.
But there are also similarities: in the face of excessive management power and feeling of powerlessness on the shop floor there is a demand for rules to bring some humanity back into working life.
Rules like the far-reaching guidelines in NSW that for the first time make government departments responsible for the behaviour of firms they contract to, ensuring public money is not used to undercut wages and conditions.
Rules like the reasonable working hours principle that the ACTU is currently pursuing; or the equal remuneration principle that has been applied recently in NSW.
And rules that put a bar on the global auction for cheap labour that is sending living standards spiralli8ng downwards in both the developed and developing world.
As High Court Justice Michael Kirby noted in his Kingsley Laffer address this week, labour law has been a driving force in establishing international principles of human rights.
In the workplace at least, international conventions on decency and dignity are recognised and applied by industrial tribunals like the NSW Industrial Relations Commission, which celebrates its centenary this week.
For trade unions, the challenge is to imagine new ways of applying these universal rights in a way that has relevance to today's workers: from protection from email surveillance to regulating new areas like call centers and IT to the way women workers are treated.
And from there, the more fundamental step: an acceptance that work rights are human rights; and like human rights, the denial of work rights hurts us all.
The message of May Day is that the workers united will be in the best position to demand fair rules at work. It may not lead to the downfall of the state, but then neither did the eight-hour day campaigns that are its inspiration.
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