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Issue No. 135 10 May 2002  

The Costs of War
John Howard's chickens will come home to roost in the next week when Peter Costello delivers a dog of a federal budget.


Interview: Squaring Off
NSW Industrial Relations Minister John Della Bosca looks beyond last year's WorkCover dispute to rebuild relations between the wings of the labour movement.

Industrial: Heroes Betrayed
Seafaring veterans joining the protest against the CSL Yarra sell-out this week were fighting for their heritage, reports Jim Marr

History: At The Coalface
An oral history of working life on the NSW coalfields has been brought to life by ABC Radio.

International: Wobblies With Chinese Characters?
Workers in China's industrial heartland have started killing their bosses as a form of labour protest., writes Andrew Casey

Politics: Dancing with Trotsky
John Passant re-reads an old political favourite and argues that as fascism in Europe grows the Left must learn the lessons of history.

Economics: You Are What You Eat
Something's eating at Neale Towart, all those Aussie food brands in foreign hands.

Poetry: Alexander's Bragtime Band
When the foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, announced this week that �Australia, internationally, has never been better regarded,� the leaders of the world sagely nodded their heads.

Satire: Stott Despoja Celebrates Engagement With Minor Party
Australian Democrats leader Natasha Stott Despoja says she will celebrate her engagement to public relations consultant Ian Smith in typical Democrat style, with a minor party.

Review: Painting Paradise
NSW Upper House MLC Ian West meets Currawong's artist in residence Sophie Haythornthwaite.


 Gun-Runners Threaten Aussie Coast

 Kings Cross Date For Commissioner Cole

 Sunbeam Irons Out Sydney Grand Mother

 Low-Paid Gridlock Melbourne

 NSW Libs Open to Abbott Takeover

 Ten Points for IT Workers

 Low Paid Target Rose Bay Toff

 Terror Bill Needs More Work, ACTU

 Wage Clerks Duck For Cover

 Burma Release Fails to Blunt Campaign

 East Timorese MPs oppose Timor Sea Arrangement

 Airport Screeners Face Men in Jocks

 Black Label Roots For Hessian

 Back Chat for Child Laws

 Barking The Wrong Way In NSW

 Unions Push into Regional Queensland

 Activists Notebook


The Soapbox
Live a Little!
MEAA state secretary Michel Hryce tells Young Labor the party needs to get funky.

The Locker Room
Something To Chew On...
Peter Filandia gave sports commentators something to chew on with the recent revelations regarding his activities with the old choppers, writes Phil Doyle.

Slow Train Coming
Union Aid Abroad's Phil Hazelton sends another missive from South-East Asia where union money is helping the people of Lao.

A Share of the Action
Big half-yearly results for the banks, a kick-along for a bomb-maker and a debate about executive options at the 'Woodstock for Capitalists'.

Week in Review
Too Much Telly
That little box in the corner takes top billing as the cypher through which the comings and goings of an eventful week are best relayed, as Jim Marr finds out �

Tool Shed
The Speculator
Labor frontbencher Mark Latham has taken out a controlling stake in this week's Tool Shed with his whacky idea that Labor should be underwriting speculation on the stock exchange.

 Heaps and Heaps of Hate Mail
 No Choice
 Who Rules Australia?
 No Wrap for Song Comp
 Abbott's Contempt
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Tool Shed

The Speculator

Labor frontbencher Mark Latham has taken out a controlling stake in this week's Tool Shed with his whacky idea that Labor should be underwriting speculation on the stock exchange.

Mark Latham this week unleashed another of his 'big ideas'. This alone should have been enough to have Laborites ducking for cover. If you've braved the weighty 'Civilising Global Capital', ploughed through the newspaper columns and endured his education agenda and survived his attack on asylum seekers, you would have known what to expect. Latham is the ALP's self-appointed moderniser whose starting premise is that collectivism is old hat; instead we need a new vision. His problem is that all too often the vision ends up reading like a treatise for the Tories.

This week it was 'the ownership agenda' which Latham argues has the potential to fill what he perceives as a vacuum in the labour movement. In short, he advocates for the government subsidizing the purchase of shares of low-income families, much like the first-home buyer scheme created by Menzies and - as revealed this week - resurrected by Howard to allow pauper and millionaire alike to receive a leg-up into the property market. While Menzies may have championed his first homebuyers scheme as a 'bulwark against the Bolshevicks, Latham's idea of a first shareholder scheme is something altogether different. Home ownership is by its nature a conservative investment - one buys an asset, improves the value over time by a combination of market forces and hard work and then realisees the asset at a later date. Share ownership is altogether more speculative

To Latham share ownership is "a modern expression of social justice, with its commitment to equal life chances. It gives new life and electoral appeal to the traditional values of the Labor movement: opportunity, security and responsibility. It needs to be part of our social contract with the Australian people.' The idea is nothing new, right-wing economists in the United States have long advocated for this type of idea.

To his critics, Latham is advocating state-sanctioned gambling. If it's not enough to have the working people punting on the horses and the pokies to fill the public coffers, now they want us to punt on the markets. Perhaps when things get tough they can live under their chare certificates. The big winners from the Latham plan will be the brokers - and the existing shareholders whose share values will surely increase as new speculators enter the market.

As One.Tel, Ansett, HIH and Enron have shown, there's no sure bet on the stock exchange. There is nothing in the proposal to channel funds into the blue chips either - what if the shares are bought in dot-commer? For lower income earners, who cannot afford a large share portfolio in which the risks are spread, this is particularly problematic. Converting share ownership into regular dividends may have looked easy to achieve in the 'nineties, but this is a more difficult decade, with major corporate collapses, like those of HIH and OneTel, and growing fears of a major economic recession emanating from the US economy. In the context of corporate collapses, workers and retirees stand to lose their lifetime savings. Indeed, the workers at Enron, not only lost their jobs but their life savings, rolled as they were into the Enron share price.

But my biggest problem with Latham agenda, is its underlying principle to individuate society as if we all start with nothing and exist to accumulate. Of course, until a few years ago, each citizen was born with a stake in a range of enterprises from the Commonwealth bank to Qantas to Telstra. That was before federal governments of all political colours got the privatization ball rolling and public infrastructure moved into private hands.

For those interested in increasing community equity, a far better target would be increasing government support for superannuation payments, coupled with regulations making it a little bit easier for workers to control the investment decisions of their funds. Delivering greater support for pension savings would deliver real security for workers who know they no longer have a job for life. Taking it a step further a giving individuals greater rights to determine where those savings are invested would deliver real control.

It goes back to Workers Online's original contention that Latham junked in his paper: a Labor model should not be based on greed because it will weaken Labor's long-term mission. Developing national savings strategies based on collective involvement and collective benefit is one thing. Pitching for votes by offering the punters a few gambling chips at the door, is something altogether more short-sighted.

Far from being Labor's new Light on the Hill, Latham's share ownership agenda is a dousing of the flame, a desertion of the ideas of working together as a society rather than as individual players for our mutual benefit. If we give up on this we may as well all join the Liberals. Mark could do us all a favour by leading the way


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