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Issue No. 191 15 August 2003  

Three Year Itch
The triennial ACTU Congress meeting Melbourne this week comes at the most difficult of times for the union movement, as the horror prospect of seven years of conservative government becomes an ongoing reality.


Interview: The New Deal
US union leader Amy Dean expands on her agenda to give unions a real political voice

Unions: In the Line of Hire
Unions have lobbied and negotiated in a bid to stem casualisation and insecurity. Now, Jim Marr, writes they are seeking protection through a formal Test Case.

Culture: Too Cool for the Collective?
Young people are amongst the most vulnerable in the workforce. So why aren't they joining the union, asks Carly Knowles

International: The Domino Effect
An internal struggle in the biggest and strongest industrial union in Germany IG Metall has had a devastating wave effect across not just that country, but also the rest of Europe, writes Andrew Casey.

Industrial: A Spanner in the Works
Max Ogden looks at the vexed issue of Works Councils and the differing views within the union movement to them.

National Focus: Gathering of the Tribes
Achieving a fairer society and a better working life for employees from across Australia will be key themes at the ACTU's triennial Congress meeting later this month reports Noel Hester.

History: The Welcome Nazi Tourist
Rowan Cahill looks at the role Australia's conservatives played in supporting facism in the days before World War II.

Bad Boss: Domm, Domm Turn Around
Frank Sartor might have shot through but Robert Domm still calls the IR shots at Sydney City which pretty much explains why the council is this month’s Bad Boss nominee.

Poetry: Just Move On.
Visiting bard Maurie Fairfield brightens up our page with a ditty about little white lies.

Review: Reality Bites
The workers, united, may never be defeated but if recent episodes of Channel 10 drama The Secret Life Of Us are to be believed, this is not necessarily a good thing, writes Tara de Boehmler.


 Public Backs Services Over Tax Cuts

 Seafarer Awards – Full Steam Ahead

 Sunnybrand Plucks Workers

 Call Centre Stink Over Time in Loo

 Reynolds Banks on Safety

 Workers To Back League Stars

 Witnesses Line Up for Test Case

 Unfair Legislation Dismissal

 Tax Office "Bites" Its Own

 Bosses Grab Massive Pay Hikes

 IR Staff Walk Over Job Cuts

 Government Kills Manslaughter Bill

 Rail Workers Spitting Mad

 Activists Notebook


The Soapbox
Fighting Words
Craig Emerson gave what could be the most spirited Labor spray in a decade to the NSW Labor Council this month. Here it is in all its venom.

Out of Their Class
Phil Bradley argues that Australia's education system should not be up for negotiation in the global trade talks.

The Locker Room
The ABC of Sport
Phil Doyle argues that the only way to end the corporate madness that is sport, is to give it all back to the ABC.

Locks, Stocks and Barrels
Union Aid Abroad's Peter Jennings updates on the situation in Burma, where the repression of democracy is going from bad to worse.

 Tom’s Tool
 Neighbourhood Watch
 MUA CD Launch
 The Remittance Man
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Three Year Itch

The triennial ACTU Congress meeting Melbourne this week comes at the most difficult of times for the union movement, as the horror prospect of seven years of conservative government becomes an ongoing reality.

This is not just a government that acts contrary to workers' interests, but actively sets out to destroy the union movement under the constant khaki cover of terror and global instability.

Three years ago ACTU Congress was consumed with passionate speeches about what Labor should do when it was back in power; debate on issues such as trade policy had an edge because there was a genuine feeling that future government policy was being shaped.

This time around, the feeling is more: how the hell do we get Labor back into power? And perhaps more importantly, how do we effect change if we can't achieve this political goal in the short term?

The challenge for this ACTU Congress is to develop an agenda for change that can be achieved in a hostile political environment; through workplace negotiations, industry bargaining and state legislation.

It must be built on a consistent set of values and grounded in concrete policy issues that effect the lives of both union members and non-members.

Medicare is such an important flashpoint issue because it packages the values of a fair go for all with a service that has, to date, been available to every Australian worker and their family.

Medicare is not a just a health issue, it is a symbol for a model of government that the Howard Government's mad obsession with all things American seeks to rip away - universal access to basic services.

The challenge is to transform Medicare from a point of community angst to the line in the sand where workers say to Howard: we will not trade this right off for lower taxes. All indications are this is the public mood, the union movement's challenge is to mobilise it.

As for broader debate around workplace issues, few are expecting fireworks - when you are fighting for survival, disagreement over the nuances of industrial policy does seem a tad indulgent.

Where there is tension it will emerge on issues like the call to cap hours at work, here the argument comes down to imposing central regulatory models or empowering workers to set their limits through on the ground organising.

The good news from our perspective is that this Congress will be transmitted to the movement through a unified medium - unlike three years ago when Virtual Communities transmitted bells and whistles while a bunch of idiots like me ran around in Hawaiian shirts.

This time, if you have the inclination, you'll be able to follow all the debates online through an ACTU website that is linked in with Labornet, Workers Online and dozens of other union websites.

None of which will win the war, but it at least provides a common ground to embark on the hard, often dispiriting, but ultimately pivotal mission of rebuilding unionism in such a hostile political environment.

Peter Lewis



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