||Issue No. 145||19 July 2002|
Two Wings Flapping
Interview: In The Tent
Bad Boss: The Desk Nazi
Media: Hold the Presses
Workplace: Putting Bullies In Their Place
Industrial: Women and Work
International: Whine and Dine
History: Black Adder
Review: Bad Movie
Poetry: I Remember
Builder Blows Whistle on Kangaroo Court
Abbott Trips on Entitlements - Again
Picnic Day for Union Members Only
Memo: John Travolta - Come Fly With Us!
Cole Comfort to Bodgey Builders
Burrow: Paid Mat Leave Just First Step
Mayne Warning � But Will They Listen?
Drought Relief Should Extend To Rural Workers
Coca Cola Action Bubbles Globally
The Locker Room
Week in Review
Hooray for Frank!
Reform or Die
Labor Council of NSW
Hold the Presses
Australians know little or nothing about the secret war, the guerilla war going on against workers - they have heard very little about the new militancy and terrorist tactics adopted by employers and their managers.
Many Australians will have personal stories about skirmishes or battles in their workplace, or the battle scars from a supervisors ravings and rantings, but they won't connect these incidents with the wider war and the new militancy of the bosses.
And that is in good part because the media has largely withdrawn from covering work issues and the trade union movement.
In Sydney today the main newspaper read in the working class suburbs, the Daily Telegraph, does not have a full-time labour reporter - one of that paper's Macquarie St parliamentary reporters is expected to keep an eye on the industrial round, at the same time as he keeps an eye on State politics, especially the coming election.
The big quality broadsheet paper the SMH has a 'veteran' IR reporter in Brad Norington - but nowadays he seems unable to get anything in that paper unless it is about inter Labor Party-union strife, or some internecine factional battle or election inside a major union.
Even the ABC has in recent times allowed the field of regular reporting of IR to lapse.
Only the news wire service AAP has a dedicated full-time industrial reporter in Natalie Davison. She covers the traditional IR beat - and her copy supplies most of the knowledge about the struggle of working families that is irregularly picked up by the both the SMH and the Daily Telegraph as well as commercial radio in this city.
In recent weeks Natalie has not been available to report on the general IR round because she- like several other industrial rounds reporters - has been caught up with the Cole Royal Commission. This Commission has successfully focussed almost all Sydney, and national media, on lurid allegation about violence in the building industry.
The little space given to work issues completely disappeared while Cole was in Sydney, because the Royal Commission sucked up the daily 'quota' of media space given to IR stories.
While the collapse of the industrial round is the probably most extreme in Sydney it is reflected in most other states. Melbourne though is a little different. In large part, because the ACTU is based in Melbourne, that city has a lot more reporters dedicated to covering the IR round - - full-time.
Mark Phillips, the Herald Sun's full-time industrial reporter gets, almost on a daily basis, one, two or three traditional IR copy about stoppages and disputes into that paper - it is hard to understand why his working class readership are more interested in these issues than Sydney's Daily Telegraph readership who - in marketspeak - have similar demographics.
An inkling that the retreat from industrial reporting may also be on in Melbourne might be read into the fact that at The Age this round has recently dropped from being a two person round to a one person round. Paul Robinson is now left by himself to keep an eye on these issues - but at least he is getting more copy into his paper about the travails of working life, and less about internal union disputes, than happens at the sister Fairfax paper in Sydney.
And let's not talk about that other Fairfax paper the Australian Financial Review, where in recent months they seem to have gone from two roundspeople to zip.
The legendary metalworkers union leader Laurie Carmichael once used to enthusiastically tell his militant union delegates not to read the Daily Telegraph, not to buy the Herald Sun, but get the AFR and read it on the way to work if you wanted to know industrial relations, and get a fair and balanced account of what was happening and what the bosses were thinking.
This retreat from coverage of the industrial round is part of a worldwide media trend. In the USA media observers say the retreat began in the late 60s - so that today the AFL-CIO claims there is no more than a dozen labor reporters nationally.
And most of the reporting of unions and their membership is buried in the back part of the paper as part of the business pages because in the USA labour is reported as a cost-input, rarely as a human story about the tragic lives of low-paid workers trying to live in the heart of the beast.
Up till the start of the Accord era, here in Australia, the industrial round was considered one of the plum beats for journalists - especially ambitious young journalists would brawl with each other to get an opportunity to report Brother Ducker's words.
To get ahead in the media you had to have 'done' industrial reporting.
Well into the early 80s, on the 7th floor of the Sussex St Labor Council's office in Sydney, there was always a hive of media activity in the cubbyholes the journalists occupied as part of the IR press gallery.
When I first joined the IR gallery, as a cadet reporter in the mid-70s, the SMH had three people covering the round; the now defunct afternoon tabloids ( The Sun and The Mirror) had two each; the Daily Telegraph had at least two and sometimes three people on the round; The Australian had one or two; AAP had one person and a second person got attached when the round was busy; the ABC had one full-time TV industrial reporter and one full-time radio industrial reporter and another reporter when things were busy - and there was always one or two commercial TV and radio reporters using the spare cubby hole laughingly called an office.
Industrial reporters would regularly scurry up to the 10th floor to door stop Ducker, Unsworth and McBean to get the latest on an industrial dispute - just like the door stops we now see outside Parliament House in Canberra. ( Though there were a hell of a lot more gruff words and f*ck offs when Barrie or the two Johns didn't want to talk).
At the Thursday night weekly Labor Council meeting at least half a dozen mainstream journalists were there ( plus the Community Party's Tribune journalist) to covering proceedings.
There were then two pubs, on the corner of Sussex and Goulburn Streets, after hours ( wink wink ) you could catch union officials from the Left in one pub, and union officials from the Right in another - many a half sodden journalist would nearly get run over as they crossed Goulburn St going from one pub to another to pick up the tribal stories.
The Sydney IR gallery was replicated in Victoria where, amongst the wonderful old architecture and furniture of the Lygon St Trades Hall, there was an IR reporters gallery where - I jealously noted - the media offices were larger and better appointed than those in Sydney.
Once industrial power became centralised in Melbourne, with Bill Kelty at the epicentre of the Accord, the NSW Labor Council was seen to be sidelined and irrelevant. The Sydney IR gallery quickly died - though the Melbourne Gallery survived, almost intact, for a few more years.
When the centralised Accord era came to an end, industrial relations became decentralised and the relative importance of the ACTU disappeared, but the Sydney IR Gallery was never revived and re-created. The Gallery was dead - and the IR round is now coughing and spluttering.
During this period the nature of work and workplaces changed dramatically - from big workplaces to miniscule workplaces, from manufacturing and resources as the dominant employer to the service industries as the job creator.
It was also the time when the importance of the daily newspaper as the primary source of news dived dramatically, to be replaced first by TV news - and now increasingly by the short commercial radio news bulletins which need to tell sometimes complex stories in seconds.
The media big wigs watched these changes and watched union membership dive, the power of unions rapidly diminish and - probably after a bit of tea leaf reading with the aide of the marketing department - decided their readers and their viewers and listeners were just not interested in learning about unions and strikes any more.
Now even the ABC and the AFR seem to be going down the same track.
Important stories are just going unreported. And the less working people and their unions appear in the media the less relevant we seem to the community.
We all know the line - which comes first the chicken or the egg.
Very few unions in Australia put the time into getting media attention for their battles - let alone their victories.
Few unions factor a media strategy into their organising campaigns - the media is always an afterthought
Union such as the AMWU can still, relatively easily, get a hearing - but it is not because of the human crisis facing their membership but rather the cost on the economy, and business people, that comes from a large manufacturing dispute involving their members.
In smaller states - especially where union power is still strong, and membership is relatively high, and there is a State Labor Government and the competition for media space is less aggressive - some unions are still getting more than a modicum of news coverage.... or at least better than what we see in Sydney.
But there are so many qualification here you can see that if one or other of these struts disappear the coverage of union issues in those States will also quickly dissipate.
Some American unions are slowly building a new strategy of getting, not their union leaders, but their members to talk to the media about the real, stark and personal issues facing working people - providing the human interest stories that the media craves.
The Justice for Janitors campaign run by the Service Employees International Union has been a particularly good example of pushing members, rather than union officials, in front of the TV cameras.
These workers are getting viewers pulling out their hankies as they hear stories of poor immigrant women trying to make a go of it in LA or NY - and the violence sometimes meted out as they try to stand up for themselves.
It doesn't always work.
The AFL-CIO is loudly complaining at the moment that an expensive exercise of having a Senate inquiry - organised by Democrat Senator Ted Kennedy - listen to dozens of workers complaints and harrowing personal stories about America's unfair anti-union laws went largely unreported.
While the Senate inquiry was on the BIG industrial story reported by almost all media was the labour dispute involving the millionaire members of the Major League Baseball Players Association.
Here in Australia we don't (yet) have this culture of union activists and delegates speaking out and giving the personal human interest story which lies behind almost every dispute.
The collapse of the industrial round means unions need to work out alternative strategies of getting their story into the media.
Instead of just developing a relationship with the now almost non-existent industrial reporter, and ringing them up to give them a news tip, ( no not about some dinner with Simon Crean talking about internal labour movement stuff) unions need to develop relationships with other reporters on other news rounds.
Health reporters should get the industrial angle to their round. Entertainment and tourism industry reporters should get to understand the travails of workers on their beat.
And they shouldn't be just talking to the union leadership but also to our 'expert' members, the health worker, the casino worker, the child care worker and the shop assistant who can give real life examples, and interesting personal stories to the media.
The drop away in union membership has stopped. We can perceive a slight growth in our numbers.
As the organising model, now adopted by unions around the country, wins more members and more power in the workplace, we can hope, and expect, the media to give working people , their workplaces and their unions more coverage, more space in their pages and more time on the airwaves.
The growth of working peoples' power and respect in the workplace will deliver more media column inches - but union organisers can help it along by incorporating media strategies into their organising campaigns which will deliver the voice of members across the media airwaves into the lounge rooms of the people we want to organise.
|Search All Issues | Latest Issue | Previous Issues | Print Latest Issue|
© 1999-2002 Workers Online