|Issue No 2||26 February 1999|
Letters to the Editor
Don't Be Glib
By Rohan McKenzie
I was excited to hear of this publication and the possibilities it offers for encouraging more and widespread participation in the labour movement. I have now read and enjoyed your first issue,particularly Long's article, the interview with Costa and the article about the NSW Alliance, of whom I was unaware.
I am motivated by that in submitting a letter, but also in order to make a suggestion. I believe that part of the opportunity represented by this publication is in reaching workers who do not have a traditional affiliation with labour politics, and that in order to encourage an affiliation Workers Online needs to expose those casually perusing your page to the arguments and beliefs that underlie labour politics.
I suspect that many of those who will hit this page will be doing so out of curiosity about a political movement based on a categorisation which they've always known has claimed to represent them, but with which they've never identified. Instead many may have fallen for the anti-union sentiment prevalent in the "hostile mainstream media", and assumed that by being familiar with Labor politics/arguments they are thereby familiar with labour politics/arguments, without realising that labour is not necessarily faithfully subsumed by Labor. For me, the basis of labour politics is the distinction between employer and employee which justifies their separation into those two categories, and of course the conflicts that occcur in the pursuit by each of their interests.
With exposure only to either the negotiated policy compromises of the ALP which operates in the mainstream of politics and to marginalised hard-core activist movements, some workers may not have come across a relevant articulation of the labour movement's arguments. Such an articulation starting from first principles could convince those as of yet unfamiliar of the need for workers' representation.
One example provided by your first issue in the campaign diary article is the issue of secret ballots before strike action. Here is an opportunity to appeal to people with argument rather than with the dogmatic 'any enemy of my enemy is a friend' tactic which immediately closes the mind of the listener. How would you express your opposition to secret ballots? By making a case for open ballots it would seem inevitable that references to the fundamental beliefs of labour politics would be required; such an article would not only be an argument but an exposition of labour politics' goals. A reference to solidarity, for example, could remain just another use of that catch-cry, a word that immediately brings with it familiarity and inattention. Or it could be expanded upon to show that the relationship between employers and employees rests on a balance of power, where the power for the employees lies in collective and coordinated action. If an 'uninitiated' worker absorbs this and feels an intuitive fraternity with their neighbour they are converted to your cause; the words that allude to these arguments only do so to one who is already acquainted with not only the conclusion but the path to it and the mental realisation of it.
While Workers Online is a great opportunity for those interested in labour politics to be kept up to date with relevant issues, it would be a failure to exploit the advantages of the medium if it merely preached to the converted. I hope you'll succeed in a pitch to the casual surfer, not in the familiar glib language of gainsayers on televised politics, but by virtue of the clearly argued merits of your cause.
Interview: Checking the Spellar
We talk to a former union official who is now a minister in the Blair Government about the difficult relationship between New Labour and the labour movement.
Unions: Working It Out
NSW trade unions have embraced a movement-wide campaign to deal with the vexed issue of ensuring workers have a life.
History: Remembering The Eveleigh Railway Workshops
The Eveleigh railway yards have a rich history which your average commuter would never imagine.
Review: Opening Tanner's Australia
Lindsay Tanner's new book offers a frank and forthright view of the future for Australia.
Campaign Diary: Carr And The Unions
No-one would accuse the Premier and the labour movement of being bossum buddies, but their fortunes are inextricably linked.
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Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005