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Issue No. 144 12 July 2002  

The Lotto Economy
The failure of George W Bush's much-hyped pitch for corporate responsibility underlines the current crisis facing unregulated global capitalism: the system is corrupting all before it.


Interview: Capital in Crisis
ACTU president Sharan Burrow outlines the global union response to the corporate carnage gripping an increasingly shaky system.

Industrial: No Sweat
Neale Towart surveys the international debate around sweatshops and what can be done to regulate them

Bad Boss: Super Spam
Several late scratchings have seen Workplace Relations Department secretary Peter Boxall win this week’s heat of the Workers’ Online Bad Boss handicap.

History: Living Treasures
Labour History is 40 this year. Greg Patmore looks back at what it took to get a regular journal of the labour movement in Australia up and away.

International: Axis of Evil
George W Bush’s scarecrow trio of Iran, Iraq and North Korea is not an original invention, argues Stephen Holt

Solidarity: Pride of Place
NSW Labor Council and CFMEU flags sit alongside the mounted jersey of former Kiwi Rugby League hooker Syd Eru in a modest home at Manurewa, south Auckland.

Technology: The Art of Cyber-Unionism
More Unionism? Transformed Unionism? Peter Waterman looks at a new handbook for unions and the internet

Poetry: The Masochism Tango
Tony Abbott's comment we should accept a bad boss like a bad husband or bad father has made us all realise that instead of fighting bad bosses, we should love them. Anyone for a tango?

Satire: Foxtel-Optus Merger 'Anti-Repetitive'
The ACCC has ruled today that the proposed content sharing arrangement between Foxtel and Optus Vision would constitute anti-repetitive conduct

Review: Bob Carr's Thoughtlines
Stephen Holt reviews one man's journey from collectivism to the centre


 Sweat Shops – Coming To A Street Near You

 Glassworkers Walk for the Umpire

 Family Friendly For A Buck

 Abbott in Slow GEER

 Royal Commission Bugs Workers

 Drivers Frozen Out by Corporate Spin

 Coca-Cola Brews Storm In A Tea Cup

 Bush Prepares for War on the Wharves

 Safety Summit A Hit With Unions

 Beattie Faces Bargaining Face-Off

 Casual Work Exploits – Catholic Church Agency

 More Effort Required On Disabled Workers

 Protecting Security Officers From Disease

 Activists Notebook


The Soapbox
Why Modernisation Matters
Labor frontbencher Mark Latham argues that the ALP's reform agenda must go way beyond the 60-40 debate.

The Locker Room
Playing To The Whistle
Phil Doyle takes a look at the man in the middle, and he doesn’t like what he sees.

Inquiry Into Executive Pay
The ACTU Executive this week called for a public debate on spiralling executive pay packets, seeking feedback from workers, community representatives and unions.

Up In Smoke
Wobbly Radio's Nick Luccinelli reports from England where drug law reform is on the political agenda.

Week in Review
Bulldust and Boofheads
Jim Marr casts his eye over a week in which bullshit and bad bosses fought for headlines…

 On Aspiration
 GST Agenda
 Amanda's Mediocrity
 Capital Ideas
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Tool Shed

The Latin Lover

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlosconi has turned the Tool Shed into a geo-political version of a Love Shack after his effusive embrace of our Prime Minister this week.


Indeed, Berlusconi could be the first individual - including Janette - to ever show any physical affection to John Howard. As he groped then kissed our glorious leader, Berlusconi exposed Howard as the amateur arse-licker he is. And while he grinned sheepishly at the physical proximity with his Latino lover, he was clearly out of his comfort zone. For a stodgy Methodist from Earlwood the touchy feely embrace reminded us of our favourite Wesleyan joke: why don't Methodists have sex standing up? It could lead to dancing.

The Rome meeting was the latest set piece in Howard's victory lap of Europe, that also included a most curious audience with the Pope, where the PM was forced again to get up close and personal to interpret the spittle. It had been a trip of war grave photo opps and failed calls for trade access to Australian farmers. Dammit, he didn't even get to Wimbeldon to yell 'c'mon'. Like many an Aussie caught on a Kontiki tour, Europe was proving more movement than action.

But then he met Berlusconi - Italy's cross between George W Bush, Rupert Murdoch and Mel Gibson. Howard found a kindred soul, albeit one with a far more interesting CV. While Howard has hacking away in Canberra, Silvio has pursued more diverse interests including buying the nation's leading soccer team, AC Milan, building a $14 media empire that includes three TV networks - commanding 90 per cent of the viewing public - publishing houses, PR firms and investment firms. The small section of the Italian media he does not control describe him as 'Citizen Kane on steroids'

Between business deals, he established Forza Italia Party (meaning Go Italy, which is a chant at soccer games). It too is more of a commercial enterprise rather than a Party - founded in 1994 and revolving around Berlusconi. The Party has no platform, branches or conferences. The membership of the party have no say over the policy and direction of the party. Rather Berlusconi draws on PR and Advertising professionals from his own media empire to develop policies and campaigns. Candidates are selected by PR "headhunters" and only can be endorsed by Berlusoni himself.

Berlusconi won power in 2001 in alliance with the National Alliance which emerged in the post-cold war era from a small group in the 1970s which stood in the tradition of Mussolini. Also in Alliance with the "Northern Alliance" which seeks to separate the rich northern half of Italy from the poorer south. Both parties have links with neo-Nazi groups and are xenophobic in their nature.

So where's the common interest? Silvio is currently at war with the union movement - with recent general strikes bringing literally millions of workers onto the streets. Howard may not have the resources to buy the Central Coast Bears or even the Prime TV network, but he knows how to trash unfair dismissal laws. At this week's media conference Berlusconi told him how much he admired Howard's IR 'achievements' Howard replied that he'd just LURVE a three year freeze on unfair dismissal claims. They were talking dirty and didn't care who was listening.


So there they were, seated side by side in the Eternal City. The palms were sweaty and the furtive glances resembled a couple of teenagers at a formal - but do they really have so much in common?

Here's a comparative snap-shot of Australia and Italian industrial relations (special thanks to Neale):

* the Italian Government has tried to get up dismissal laws which replace reinstatement provisions with financial compensation. Howard and Co want dismissal laws that don't allow any compensation or right of employees to appeal

* The Italian Government has proposed 'on call' allowances for workers whose jobs require them to be on call. The on call jobs are all defined by collective agreements, which remain the basis for all employment in Italy (except for a largish black economy sector. We have a government that is doing its level best to remove all collective rights and agreements.

* Italian proposal will require labour disputes to be conducted in accordance with the "principles of fairness". Abbott and co probably see merit in this as it's a pretty slippery term as the unions recognize. Unions object to this as they say arbitration decisions should be based on legislative provisions and on collective agreements, not a reference to "fairness"

* There are social partners in Italy- business unions, governmentt, a concept that the Libs here couldn't cope with.

* Italy also links a wages guarantee fund with active labour market policies so workers have the right to skills training and income support, not the threat of a cut off of all income if they don't follow the increasingly ridiculous and arduous social security rules that apply in Australia. Italians are also looking for a mobility allowance for unemployed workers who are re-skilling and seeking employment away from their current location.

* In Italy a cooperative approach to industrial relations is pursued between employers and union on to foster employment, as opposed to Tony Abbot's notion that there is war going on and employers should use all means possible to win the war. In Milan a new "pact for employment and growth" was signed in May 2202, after the general strike against the central govt, between the three main union confederations, municipal government and employers. The pact aims to:

· Support innovative sectors and production activities with a view to a Europe wide role

· Improve citizen services such as health care, transport, environmental

· Raise the employment rate with emphasis on the weaker category of workers (older workers, migrants)

· Increase citizen participation all aspects of life

· Regularise irregular and clandestine employment

· Foster continuous training and adaptability of workers and firms

· Devise Municipal action program to foster local economic growth and employment growth

* After the general strike negotiations resumed and the Italian Government signed a statement of agreement with two of the three major union confederations which meant that negotiations could continue on the unfair dismissal laws (and social security law reform and tax reform) were not implemented except for new employers of more than 15 people, who were still required to pay financial compensation rather than reinstate. The Italian government had been proposing an experimental change to just give compensation. Italian unions have agreed to limited experimentation.

* And NB: Even though Berlusconi and co are Far Right of the Italian spectrum, they still negotiate labour, pension and tax reforms with unions, and they weren't trying to remove rights to any comeback by dismissed workers, only allowing them cash rather than reinstatement. Anyone dismissed in Australia has no automatic right to cash, has to wait for social security payments, beg for any money in the meantime and faces ridiculous job search rules to keep getting social security.

* Despite govt intransigence, it did talk to the unions before the general strike and after it indicated its willingness to negotiate on the provisions. When did Howard and Abbot last have a talk with union officials here? And while the dismissal law is the big sticking point, but the Italian government's position, which the unions firmly oppose, is a better starting point than anything Howard and Abbott want.


So the message for Howard is that before he gets to second base with Silvio, he might be just another Latino Lotharo who is more talk than action. Despite the big claims, gold chains and hairy chests, he's just another flaky ideologue without the streak of hatred that Howard is looking for in a relationship. If George W just wiggled his butt, Sylvio is a sweet-talker. Be warned Johnny, he'll tease ya, but he'll never deliver.


The most inspiring interpretation of this week's tool get's a souvenir edition of Ship of Tools. Deface the Tool of the Week, click the button above to post your artwork, fill out the form and send your entry in and we'll post the winners next week in the Tool of the Week Gallery.


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