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Issue No. 163 29 November 2002  

Lessons from History
History has a seemingly infinite capacity to create and debunk myths, as the latest offering from the Journal of Labour and Social History shows.


Interview: Trade Secrets
Federal Labor�s trade spokesman Craig Emerson is on a mission to bring the shady world of trade talks into the open

Industrial: It�s About Overtime, Stupid
An overtime free-for-all is at the heart of Australia�s hours explosion and it's time to look at a cap on hours, reports Noel Hester from the ACTU�s Working Hours Summit.

Unions: Full Steam Ahead
After two weeks of rallies around the state, rural Rail Towns are making a stand for jobs and safety. Jim Marr reports.

Bad Boss: The BBQ Battle Axe
Manly restaurateur, David Diamond, is a shoo-in for this month�s Bad Boss nomination, leaving Workers Online looking for a good employer who can undo some of his damage.

Economics: Different Dimensions of Debt
Professor Frank Stilwell presented the big picture on debt policy at the Evatt Foundation�s Breakfast Seminar

History: Raking the Coals
Labour historians Rae Cooper and Greg Patmore explain why today�s organisers have much to learn from the lessons of the past.

History Special: Wherever the Necessity Exists
Rae Cooper tracks NSW union organising between 1900-1910 to argue that today�s activists should be looking closer to home for inspiration

History Special: Learning from the Past
Ray Markey looks at union membership growth in the 1880s & 1900s to argue that today�s unions must engage to grow.

History Special: A 'Cosy Relationship'
Barbara Webster looks at Rockhampton between 1916 � 1957 to debunk the �dependence� theory of trade union growth.

Politics: Regime Change for Saddam
Labour lawyer Jim Nolan looks at the challenge for the Left in the current geopolitical stand-off in the Middle East.

International: World War
Europe has suddenly come aflame with industrial action, Andrew Casey reports.

Corporate: Industrious Thinking
Neale Towart looks at the influence of German immigration on Australian industry policy in the post-war period.

Review: Jack High
Mick Molloy�s new flick Crackerjack tells the tale of a traditional bowling club struggling to stay afloat in an industry dominated by pokies, pokies and more pokies, writes Tara de Boehmler.

Culture: Duffy�s Song
Former Labor Council official Mark Duffy�s Sydney super band Sundial clocks in a bit of a corker.

Satire: A Nation of Sooks
The Strewth Institute's Tony Moore looks at the spate of defo suits and wonders if Australia has gone soft.

Poetry: Mr Flexibility
One of the key challenges facing unions, as the ACTU celebrates its 75th anniversary, is confronting the problems of increasing working hours and work intensity under the guise of "flexibility". Our resident bard, David Peetz, takes up that theme this week.


 And On the Seventh Day � Satan Joins Union

 Security Masks Political Bans

 Members Offered Spotters' Fee

 Casuals Written Out of the Script

 New Mining Bully On the Block

 ACTU Examines The Cap Option On Hours

 No Sweetener for Diabetic Workers

 Pressure Goes on Apartheid Employers

 ASIC Turns Blind Eye on Dodgy Boss

 Family Test Case a Priority Campaign

 Echoes of Prestige Hit Home

 Brutal Bashing Sparks Prison Strike

 Minister Challenged by Cleaners

 ABC Journos Off The Air

 Union Says RSCPA "Kills"...

 Guards Demand Campus Security

 Uni Backs Down On Regional Review

 Peace Returns to US Docks

 Activists Notebook


The Soapbox
Economic Migrants
A man - a worker - risks death by machine gun to escape what he is told is a 'workers' state'. He flees East Berlin through a tunnel, dug beneath a cemetery.

And the Winner Is �
It�s that time of the year when we honour the best. In the past week, both the IR Writers fraternity and ACTU have got in the act with more to come.

The Locker Room
More Post-Colonial Madness
Phil Doyle joins the fools and Englishmen out in the midday sun, and finds that it all comes at a price.

Call Waiting
The Howard Government backs off its plans to privatise the rest of Telstra under market pressure. But it�s nothing like the pressure that former HIH directors are under.

Month In Review
Way Down
As Elvis might have said, if he had had a longer-term perspective �ooh, what a month it was, it really was such a month ��

 Oh Bugger Me!
 State Based Organising
 Gino on the Gong
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Letters to the Editor

Oh Bugger Me!

Dear Editor

I am responding to the impassioned, frustrated plea from Martin Griffin in your letters from a few weeks ago (

Yes Martin, there is a better way than Us V Them. The best-known story in Australia is a book called Maverick! by Ricardo Semler, first published in 1992. Reading it changed my life. Since then, I have found hundreds of other companies doing their own versions of what Semler did. Most of them are in the U.S.; a small handful in Australia, and they are all private companies.

It is known as Open Book Management, or just OBM. Oh b*gger me! Is the truth really out there?

My attempts over the last three years to interest various powerful stakeholders in OBM have been almost fruitless so far. What I'm talking about here has a dramatic impact on power. Power depends on the unquestioning acceptance of rules, and too few leaders are comfortable with debate about their actions, let alone being held accountable for them.

This is why forums like Workers Online, Bosswatch and have immense value. It is easy to dismiss Stephen Mayne as a rabid anti-unionist. The truth is far more frightening to those in power: he puts the spotlight on the actions of the powerful - anyone who has a job involving stakeholder trust - whether they be politicians, journalists, company directors, shareholders, ... or union leaders. I doubt whether he appreciates fully the enormous social value of what he is doing.

But I digress.

The world is full of Us V Them-isms, with each party seeking to further its own agendas and self-interests (read 'power'). When does the battle become really desperate? When survival (or the means to it) is at stake.

It's a rare person who doesn't put self-interest at the top of the personal agenda, especially with respect to power. To redistribute power, you have to change the rules - or people's perceptions about the rules or how they should be applied. And there's a really sad irony that even successful (read 'powerful') rule-changers discover eventually: in organisations small and large, rules create habits that are very hard to change. These habits are, collectively, corporate culture. I know quite a few CEOs, and most have told me they sometimes feel trapped by their own corporate cultures.

But back to Us V Them and OBM. Even my sallies aimed at interesting the union movement locally have been ignored. I vented my frustration to an astute observer/participant of the labour movement and she replied ... "well I'm not surprised, it's UnionsWa after all!! They have no grey matter whatsoever let alone managerial nouse. They are not really interested in making things better for workers, just themselves. Heaven forbid that you may have a way to empower the workers, then they wouldn't need unions would they ... think about it???"

Is she exaggerating a trifle? My experience has been that very very few bosses are willing to share power in a substantial way - and that goes for union bosses too. Us V Them. Both sides locked in mortal combat. But don't acquire a taste for anti-depressants: we're not on this planet to do that.

Martin, if you're really interested in having a major impact on the world of work, get mad, get really really really mad about Us V Them - and find out more about OBM. Read Maverick! Do a web search on "open book management". You'll be amazed, inspired, exhilarated, breathless.

Then channel your emotion into spreading the word. I've been working in the area of organisational change for over 20 years now and I've concluded that our future depends on the values and systems embodied in OBM. We have to eliminate Us V Them. But don't take my word for it about OBM. Find out for yourself. Come to your own conclusions.

Go for it! Then think about the implications for Us V Them of sharing 'in the responsibility and rewards of the bosses'. Contact me, by all means - [email protected] - but only after you've done some of the homework I've suggested above.

What Einstein did to physics, OBM is doing to management.

(The author is a psychologist and independent consultant now specialising in OBM. He is a very wealthy man, as readers can see from his company's expensive and elaborate web site -


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