||Issue No. 137||24 May 2002|
An Aussie Icon
Interview: Just Done It?
Tribute: Lest We Forget
History: Solidarity Forever
Technology: Unblocking the Superhighway
International: Gloves Off
Unions: Out Of Work
Review: Strange Business
Poetry: The Lawyer's Lament
Satire: Government Mourns Loss Of Last Anzac
The Locker Room
Week in Review
Your Tools Page is Down
Big Dave Foster
Give Us a Click!
Will the Real Mark Latham Please Stand Up?
The Last Survivor
Not Hate Mail
The Cold Hard Truth
Friends, I am proud to be here tonight for a number of reasons. First because of where I come from, secondly because of whom I represent, and thirdly because it gives me the opportunity to restate my basic beliefs about justice and human solidarity, which as any unionist knows, are the only real way people can bring about a better world.
My parents were refugees from Poland who fled Germany and arrived in Australia in 1951. I have recollections of the Villawood Migrant Hostel, without razor wire and guards, as our family struggled with language difficulties and sought employment. I also remember we were free to leave the hostel and have outings to visit friends
HOW DIFFERENT IT IS TODAY!
My parents like so many others who arrived here in similar circumstances struggled to make a better life for their family and I am a beneficiary of their efforts, and of the fact that Australia welcomed us all.
I went to work in the NSW Railways in 1963 in an industry that employed thousands of refugees and migrants from Europe who were later joined by refugees and migrants from South East Asia, Middle East Africa and Latin America. As RTBU NSW Branch Secretary, I am proud to represent these workers and unionists-Our union membership almost looks like a UN General Assembly roll call and our officials, both honorary and full time reflect that diverse background, although not as much as we would all like.
What I want to say on the issue of an appropriate response by the political and industrial wings of the labor movement on this issue reflects important things about my personal history, the workers I represent and my views on labor movement solidarity.
THE CAMPAIGN WAGED BY THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT IN THE LAST ELECTIONS, AND WHICH CONTINUES UNABATED TO DAY, IS, AS THE PREVIOUS SPEAKERS HAVE SAID, SIMPLY A DISGRACE.
It is the kind of campaign that observers of the political Right have long noted about the conservatives
They always seek to divert people's attention from the real issues facing working people.
They always attempt to deflect people's feelings of insecurity and anger onto the weak, the marginal, the dispossessed, in other words, the outsiders of our society.
They are tactics that my parents and their generation from Europe would have been familiar with through the thirties and into the war. However for us here tonight, and particularly the union movement, the point is how to tackle this campaign of slander and denigration against asylum seekers.
The first point is that if we decide that this is a disgraceful campaign, and we want to defeat it, we have to make up our minds that we will debate the issues squarely within our unions, and in the wider community.
IT IS NO GOOD FOR A FEW LIKE MINDED PEOPLE TO SIT HERE AND AGREE THAT WE ARE DISGUSTED.
To debate the issue we need to understand why people at the moment and during the elections were so receptive to the lies and slanders - in other words we need to understand our opponents' objectives and develop a counter approach that exposes the campaign for what it is-
A DIVERSION FROM THE REAL ISSUES.
Some have said and written that because a majority of people think something is OK, then it is self defeating to take up debate to oppose it.
I disagree with that approach, because on this issue, the departure from both justice and ordinary human decency has much wider ramifications for the community than just slandering asylum seekers from the Middle East.
As a trade unionist, I, like every other unionist who must deal with federal workplace industrial legislation know that this government has a history of trashing international conventions to which this country is a signatory.
When the Howard/Reith industrial legislation was carried, a committee of ILO experts found that the legislation was in breach of the international conventions concerning the right to collectively bargain and the rights of workers to effective representation by a trade union.
I am not surprised that they have now trashed our legal obligations under the Refugee Convention of 1951 and the subsequent protocols. This government has 'form' in relation to the trashing of human right conventions, and so their approach to asylum seekers is not surprising to me.
But I know that trade union rights are human rights and so I know that an attack on human rights in any area will eventually mean an attack on workers rights and their rights to effective and independent trade unions.
My point is that trade union leaders must oppose these breaches of the rights of asylum seekers, not only because it is right and just to do so, but because it is in the collective interests of every worker, every trade unionist, and indeed of every ordinary citizen of this country.
WORKERS UNDERSTAND THIS MORAL VERY WELL--IF I DON'T FIGHT FOR YOU AND YOURS WHEN YOU ARE UNDER ATTACK, WHO WILL BE LEFT TO FIGHT FOR ME AND MINE WHEN WE ARE UNDER ATTACK?
The next point is that we must never fail to remind our members that this government has spent millions of dollars in this and previous budgets on giving handouts to the wealthy, while taking away from the needy to pay for it.
THAT IS THE ISSUE THAT THE GOVERNMENT WANTS TO DIVERT ATTENTION FROM.
Of course people are scared and insecure
Just look at the facts for workers today:-
§ a third of all workers are casuals or temporaries,
§ people's entitlements aren't guaranteed when their employer goes bust (unless of course one of the directors is John Howard's brother),
§ people are frightened of unemployment.
In my view it is the fear of competition in the labour market that drives a lot of this fear and hostility.
The sooner we in the labour movement start raising the issue that there are 8 job seekers for every job available in this country, the sooner we can get the real issues back on the agenda, and go on the offensive, instead of being defensive about a proper and humane approach to asylum seekers.
Let me say here that I support the need to check the identity and any criminal records that may be needed of any person that seeks to live among us.
But why do the necessary checks and so on for people who come here in leaky boats take three years, and if you arrive here flying first class with the intention to stay, you are waved through like a long lost cousin?
As others have spoken and written, these necessary checks do not need to take three years more like three weeks and under no circumstances should families be split up, women and children put in camps, and people denied the most basic rights, even rights enjoyed by convicted criminals in this country.
Others have catalogued the outrages of this policy at length and in detail so I don't want to repeat what has already been said.
What I do want to point out on behalf of trade unionists, is that the fight for the rights of asylum seekers, and their claims under both international law and the claims of ordinary human decency are very much the business of the trade union movement, because if we don't see that the treatment of these people is indicative of the way workers who are in unions will be treated next, we are fooling ourselves.
As a trade union official and a citizen I know the importance of honouring agreements freely entered into.
There is no worse demonstration of bad faith than to walk away from your obligations in that regard. As I said earlier, this government has form on rejecting its obligations.
To those who say this doesn't matter because it is popular I say this-
The next time my members, or any trade union member for that matter, has to appear before the Commission to face an application by the employer that they have breached some agreement or other, could I please invite all you people who say agreements don't matter, to come on down, tell the Commission it doesn't matter, argue our case for us, and don't charge us a cent for your efforts-
Is that a flock of pigs I see flying above us?
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