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Issue No. 186 11 July 2003  

Beyond the Possible
For a union movement that is struggling to break through the constraints of time and place, the visit of US union leader Amy Dean this week has been a breath of fresh air.


Interview: As They Say In The Bible ...
One the movement’s great characters, Public Service Association general secretary Maurie O’Sullivan, is calling it a day. He looks back on his career with Workers Online.

Industrial: Just Doing It
Sportswear giant, Nike, is the first company to sign off on an agreement that purports to protect Australian clothing workers, wherever they labour, writes Jim Marr.

Unions: Breaking Into the Boys Club
For a 23-year-old woman who has never worked in the trade, recruiting young construction apprentices into the union has its challenges, reports Carly Knowles.

Activists: Making the Hard Yards
Mal Cochrane came to the smoke as part of an Aboriginal avalanche that redefined the face of Rugby League. Today, he serves his community through the trade union movement.

Bad Boss: In the Pooh
What do you give a boss who makes his workers labour in raw sewage? A nomination for the Tonys.

Unions: National Focus
In the national wrap Noel Hester finds a Victorian Misso delo who is redistributing lucre from Eddie McGuire into workers’ theatre, South Australian unions taking that Let’s Get Real stuff seriously, an American unionist fronts up at a distinguished ‘meeting of the brains’ in Adelaide and a look at the line up for ACTU Congress.

Economics: Pop Will Eat Itself
Dick Bryan wonders if we can be insured against pop economists promising financial nirvana as well as financial market instability.

Technology: Dean for President
Paul Smith looks at how the internet is helping one Democrat candidate to the front of the primary pack

International: Rangoon Rumble
Union Aid Abroad's Marj O'Callaghan looks at Australia's weak response to developments in Burma.

Education: Blackboard Jungle
Lifelong learning shouldn’t mean cutting jobs, but that's exactly what the Carr Government is proposing, argues Tony Brown

Review: From Weakness to Strength
Labor Council crime-fighter Chris Christodoulou catches up with his boyhood hero, the Incredible Hulk

Poetry: Downsized
Resident bard David Peetz pens the song the Industrial Relations Commission needed to hear


 Stop Thief: Shelf Company Owes Millions

 Axed Workers Take on Max

 Seven Bowls Bouncer at Umpire

 Smokescreen Clouds Morris McMahon Win

 Rail Boss Locked In

 Actors To Be Paid Their Dues

 Ruddock Urged to Block Immigration Scam

 Silicon Workers Seize Their Valley

 Wage Case Swings on Fare Go

 Fire, Pepper Spray all in a Day’s Work

 Taking It Up for Medicare

 Shelved Worker Fights Back

 Activists Notebook


The Soapbox
Cleaning Up
Rabbi Laurie Coskey from San Diego adds her voice to the global campaign for just for cleaners in Westfield malls.

The Locker Room
The Name In The Game
In an age of the sportsperson as celebrity it seems that names are overtaking the games, writes Phil Doyle.

The Beach
Southern Thailand’s terrorist activities: facts or fiction asks HT Lee

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 Tom's Lessons
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Beyond the Possible

For a union movement that is struggling to break through the constraints of time and place, the visit of US union leader Amy Dean this week has been a breath of fresh air.

Australian unions are bruised and battle weary after spending the best part of a decade slugging it out in the face of a hostile federal government promoting a deregulated labour market where union-busting becomes sound business practice.

But if we reckon life is tough here, try organising in the Silicon Valley, the engine room of the information economy where gold rush capitalism has thrived with massive bounty for the winners and no protection for the rest.

At least it did until South Bay Labor Council president Amy Dean, along with a group of other labor council leaders, embarked on a program to rejuvenate the role of peak union bodies in their communities. They called it Union Cities.

The Union Cities agenda is based on a simple home truth: it is no longer enough to operate industrially. If you organise a workplace, an employer can simply contract out the jobs; if you win a pay rise they'll close the factory; and even you do, what can you offer apart from a meagre leg-up in the constant grind that is modern working life.

Yes, you can organise a single workplace, but until you change the broader context of work in a community you are never really going to improve your members' lives.

So Union Cities began with the simple idea of casting their minds forward a decade and imagining the sort of world they wanted for their members. Having imagined this they then went about mobilising their base to realise their vision.

Unionised workers take action against anti-union employers, recognising they are the greatest threat to their own jobs. They enter the broader political debate, forming alliances with community groups over issues such as transport, housing and planning.

And they hold individual politicians accountable for their decisions, placing real benchmarks on the candidates they support that go beyond the traditional industrial agenda.

Pulling all these threads together, unions create a momentum that transcends any individual workplace.

And the results? In Silicon Valley it's still no workers' utopia, but you have a local council, responsible for most of the service delivery that state governments control here, run by union-endorsed candidates.

Some of the policies they have delivered include: laws that demand the provision of union jobs on council-funded projects; transport policies that focus around the needs of workers; and the highest minimum wage laws in the country.

But they've gone further; because they have a broader social agenda, they have been able to argue for public space and childcare centres to be requirements of all new projects in the Bay area.

And it doesn't stop with government. Building workers are now refusing to work on projects where the development has not guaranteed that service workers on the completed project will have the right to organise. That's solidarity at its most constructive.

As Dean says, these are still the first steps. But if the workers of Silicon Valley can make a biased legal system, disinterested political establishment and hostile employers work for them, there has to be hope for workers in Australian that we too can develop a broader agenda.

Peter Lewis



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