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Issue No. 176 02 May 2003  

Solidarity Forever
Another May Day, another year gone, another year to look back on our history and celebrate the past and talk about how we can make our movement strong again.


Interview: Staying Alive
CPSU national secretary Adrian O'Connell talks about the fight to keep the public service - and the union movement - alive.

Bad Boss: The Ultimate Piss Off
Wollongong workers on poverty-level wages are losing up to $5000 for taking toilet breaks, according to the union representing staff at a Stellar call centre.

Industrial: Last Drinks
Jim Marr looks at the human cost of the decision to close Sydney’s Carlton United Brewery

National Focus: Around the States
If Tampa told us that John Howard circa 2003 is the same spotted rabid dog from 1987, this week’s assault on Medicare confirms it reports Noel Hester in this national round up.

Politics: Radical Surgery
Workers are vitally interested in Medicare, not least because they traded away wage rises to get it. Now, Jim Marr writes, the Coalition Government is tearing apart the 20-year-old social contract on which it was founded.

Education: The Price of Missing Out
University students and their families will pay more for their education following the May Budget, writes Tony Brown.

Legal: If At First You Don't Succeed
Love is wonderful the second time around, goes the famous torch song. But is the same true for legislation? Asks Ashley Crossland

History: Massive Attack
Labour historian Dr Lucy Taksa remembers the general strike of 1917 to put the recent anti-war marches into perspective

Culture: What's Right
Neale Towart looks at a new book that looks at the failings of the Left, while reasserting the liberal project

Review: If He Should Fall
Jim Marr caught Irish folk-rock-punk legend Shane MacGowan at Sydney’s Metro Theatre. He was surprised but not disappointed.

Poetry: If I Were a Rich Man
Through a distortion in the time-space continuum, we have found a recording showing how people a few years into the future will deal with health care.

Satire: IMF Ensures Iraq Institutes Market Based Looting
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has agreed to monitor the Iraqi economy to ensure that the reintroduction of looting into the economy conforms with free-market theory.


 Mystery Men Behind Pan Bungle

 Charities Brace for Medicare Backlash

 Court Throws Out Cole Prosecutions

 Child Actor Dodges Broken Voice

 Rio Tinto: $40 Million for Boss, Eviction for Workers

 Child Care for Oldies Too

 Winning Poster Shouts at Freeloaders

 May Day Tragedy Claims Union Lives

 Westfield Cleaners to Down Mops

 Question Marks Over Nursing Home

 Burn Payout Highlights Compo Fears

 Costa Blows Whistle on Canberra Raid

 Hoops Bet on National Body

 Tear Us Down, Buttercup

 Activist Notebook


The Soapbox
What May Day Means to Me
Reader Marlene McAlear penned this tribue to May Day and worker solidarity.

The Toast
Labor Council secretary John Robertson's toast to the annual May Day dinner in Sydney.

The Locker Room
The Numbers Game
In life there is lies, damned lies and sporting statistics, says Phil Doyle - but who’s counting.

Brukman Evicted
ZNet's Marie Trigona reports from the streets of Argentina in the rundown to last week's presidential election.

The Costs of Excess
Some tall business poppies had their heads lopped this week as the laws of economic gravity applied their always chaotic theory.

 Is Labor History?
 Bob Gould Sprays Gerard Henderson
 War and Peace
 A Strange Light
 A Little History
 Does It Have To Be?
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Solidarity Forever

Another May Day, another year gone, another year to look back on our history and celebrate the past and talk about how we can make our movement strong again.

The conversation began at last night's May Day Toast, but will continue through the next week as union organisers and delegates from all around Australia converge on Sydney.

There is no doubting that organising has become the all-encompassing ethos for union renewal in Australia, a reorientation from top down to bottom up unionism which carries self-evident benefits.

While Workers Online has been critical of the tendency by some to turn organising into a fetish, we do not take issue with this underlying principle - it's the workplace, stupid.

For us, the big question is how to translate this orientation into a workable, effective and growing union movement.

To simply say unionism is about training up delegates to run their own issues is an example of outsourcing taken to extremes.

We need to mix delegate empowerment with a clear vision of what we are as unions - to steal a bit of management speak, we need to define our product and take it to the market.

Most with a view to labour history would say the union product is collectivism - working together to score a result we could never achieve by going one out.

But one of problems is the day to day activities of many individual union 'brands' seem completely at odds with these values.

Demarcs, poaching wars, factional battles and on-site sniping of one union to another is the cancer that undermines unionism in the workplace.

Yet today, in 2003, we still see many workplaces where unions battle for members, undercut each other for coverage or dismiss a competitor as 'yellow'. It all serves one purpose - to weaken the union brand.

As CPSU national secretary Adrian O'Connell says in this month's interview, a modern union movement has no option but to confine these traditional rivalries and petty jealousies to the dustbin of history.

Unions need to work together to organise industries; they need to put their members before their political agendas and distance themselves from factional politics.

One of the bright signs is that more and more unions are beginning to carry the Workers Online newsfeed on their websites, meaning unions can begin to share the struggles and celebrate the victories of each other.

We need to take this further, in an ideal world the stories you read online each week would be reproduced in journals across the movement, regardless of the union members involved in the activity. A workers' press to challenge the dominant vehicle of the bosses through the Tele, the Fin and the new neo-con daily, The Australian.

It's one of the ironies of union history that we celebrate a concept of 'solidarity' yet rarely practice it because we carry the historical baggage of the tribe we inhabit.

Our May Day message is it's time to pull off the blinkers and build a movement, not just a bunch of unions struggling to stay afloat.

Peter Lewis



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