|Issue No. 185
|04 July 2003
A Recipe for Conflict
Interview: As They Say In The Bible ...
Industrial: Just Doing It
Unions: Breaking Into the Boys Club
Activists: Making the Hard Yards
Bad Boss: In the Pooh
Unions: National Focus
Economics: Pop Will Eat Itself
Technology: Dean for President
International: Rangoon Rumble
Education: Blackboard Jungle
Review: From Weakness to Strength
The Locker Room
After the Accident
Cuba - the Debate Continues
Greetings from Japan
Letters to the Editor
Old Ted sat quietly, looking at the assembly. He knew them all some for well over thirty years. He nodded recognition to a few friends , they nodded back, or waved a paper or pipe stem.
He`d started with Merriman`s Engineering from school nearly forty years ago under old Frank Merriman and expected to stay until retirement. When old Frank handed over to young Ron recently life went on the same.
Past on-the-job learning and long experience stood him in good stead. He "burnt in" new machines , ran the tricky jobs , and his opinion was valued by old Frank when new contracts or new machines were under consideration.
Ted`s poor education had ruled out management positions but "he knew the union" and was respected and trusted by the men , for twenty years he`d been shop steward.
For over fifteen of those years "award negotiations"had been held between Ted and Old Frank. Ted would knock on the office door at 1.30 on the first Monday in May. They`ed sit down with a pot of tea and a plate of iced vo-vos ; discuss their families ; the youngsters coming through - how each year they seemed more inept , not like the "old days"; and gradually work around to problems and what each wanted.
There was no argument , both knew the pros and cons , work and projects on the books , and the difference between "want" and "need" so neither could fool the other. By the end of the day the deal was pretty well set , just minor details to be sorted out before the award was presented before the men and the company board on the first of June. If Ted and Old Frank were in agreement there was no doubt how votes would run.
Merriman`s was old fashioned and conservative , but it was a "civilised" place to work. The four "girls" had it too good to want "equality". The youngest , Mrs Thornton (Leslie in private), must be going on - what?-35 now? She started when she was 18.. Twelve years ago they started building and repairing supermarket trolleys , eight years ago it became their main contract , demand always exceeded supply. Where did the blasted things go he mused. Merriman`s had built enough to cover Sydney in trolleys three deep , yet there were never any at the local supermarket. Though Merriman`s bid was never low , demand grew due to workmanship and meticulous attention to detail. Until Ron got caught with a shifty CBD construction company that went belly - up and dragged Merriman`s under. Ron sold the company to Japanese multinationals eight months ago. The men and union were assured business would continue as usual , with Ron as General Manager , and it did
until the award negotiations.
Suddenly Ron was out and Ted found himself negotiating with three university graduates who didn`t know a steel bar from a lump of cheese , but could read a balance sheet to maximise advantages. They`d flatly rejected every claim.
No discussions , just "NO". Merriman`s was finished They didn`t want
Merrimans , only the trolley contract. A giant plant in Taiwan (not even loyal to Japan , Ted thought bitterly , how could we expect them to be loyal to us), would supply supermarket trolleys world-wide. Merriman`s would be stripped and closed , or sold with the few other contracts that could only maintain a fraction of the workforce - either decision was immaterial and no business of Ted`s. Then a young twerp in a six hundred dollar suit , trying to keep clear of Ted`s clear of Ted`s clean and honest overalls , earnestly stated that men like Ted were too old and would be offered a golden handshake. They could accept or reject it , but they were finished at Merriman`s.
Most of the younger men would be retained until the Taiwan plant began supply. "Negotiations" dragged on for months. For the first time Ted had to call the union for assistance. All his life he had been a "union man" , but when help was needed it was like looking for an iceberg in a desert.
"We can`t start another strike only a month before elections , Ted" . the secretary explained and "The union is knee deep in cases before the industrial court , we can`t handle another one right now , Ted. Give it a rest ,we`ll get them next year ." from the organiser. There wouldn`t be a "next year " for those men , including Ted , laid off within six months. So even more unbelievably Ted had recommended the men walk out.
A meeting was called for that afternoon but with elections looming ACTU big-wig suddenly arrived. He communicated well with the bean-counters. His Italian suit and university speak made it hard to tell who was union and who was management. He had no time for Ted. The country needed foreign investment to get it back on its feet , Ted had to look at the big picture.
The few sweeteners Ted won were given away to prove a" genuine commitment to foreign investment" as he"negotiated" at the Leagues club. Then the union and ACTU wanted Ted to explain to the meeting why the men would get nothing.
What could he say? Anyone with a job in four years will be lucky? Many would be on the street within a year? Could he destroy his workmates dreams, hopes and beliefs like someone bursting balloons at a party? It was a disappointment for Ted , but he was set . For some it would be an unimaginable disaster. The reptile was surprised when choked by his silk tie and told the only way he`d return to MELBOURNE before addressing the men would be in an ambulance. Now the menwanted to hear what the union - meaning old Ted - had won for them.
Ted faced the assembly , a deep pain in his chest , blinding headache behind his eyes , and a choking bitter lump in his throat. The men looked back , confident Ted would have negotiated a fair award. Slowly chatter died the meeting eyed the rostrum expectantly. Their unswerving loyalty caused him to bow his head , swallow to clear the lump in his throat , and blink back the unexpected tears. Merriman`s and these good men , mates of many years , had been sold out , and he felt somehow unclean and part of it , one of the Judases. To scattered applause he stood , proud and tall with a straight back , yet the room seemed unfamiliar. Still , his familiar booming voice
had all the authority of the union as he said "You all know this bloke , there`s no need to introduce him." As if from a distance Ted saw the ACTU mogul rise , brushing his carefully coiffured silver hair with one hand as the applause died , and faintly heard his opening ringing words greeted with a loud cheer.
"Comrades , Let me just say this. By your courageous direct action last week you`ve won an historic victory. Never again will you be ignored or taken for granted by this management." They said Ted had a
coronary , to be expected in a man of his age.
They couldn`t test for a broken heart.
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