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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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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.

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.

Peter Lewis



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