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Issue No. 209 20 February 2004  

Regions To Be Cheerful
Rule changes endorsed by this week’s NSW Labor Council Annual General Meeting reorganising the South Coast Labor Council into as a regional branch council should not be under-estimated.


Interview: Trading in Principle
AMWU national secretary, Doug Cameron, a key figure in the Labor movement, discusses the big issues - from Mark Latham to Pavlov’s Dogs.

Unions: While We Were Away
While Workers Online was washing sand from between its toes and enjoying an Indian summer at the cricket, there was a reality show chugging relentlessly away in the background, Jim Marr reports.

Politics: Follow the Leader
Worker’s Online tool man, Phil Doyle, dives into the ALP’s Darling Harbour love-in and nearly drowns in treacle.

Bad Boss: Safety Recidivist Fingered
The CFMEU has come up with a killer nomination to kick off our 2004 hunt for Australia’s worst employer.

Economics: Casualisation Shrouded In Myths
British academic, Kevin Doogan, sets the record straight on casualisation and warns unionists about the dangers of scoring an own goal

History: Worker Control Harco Style
Drew Cottle and Angela Keys ask if it's worth rememberinng the 1971 Harco work-in.

Review: Other Side Of The Harbour
The 1998 maritime dispute threatened to tear many a family apart but Katherine Thomson's Harbour tells the tale of at least one that it brought back together - albeit reluctantly, writes Tara de Boehmler.


 Trains Go Backwards

 Mum Can’t Bank on Westpac

 Andrews Up for Hanke Panky

 Riot Raises Safety Probe

 ABC of Solidarity

 "Shameful" Action Pays Dividends

 Bum Rap for Bump Caps

 Strikers Tie Down Gas Project

 Heat Rises at Uni

 TeleTech's Dead Heart

 Tired Drivers Fight Hypocrisy

 Seven Days on a Leaking Boat

 Families Back Safety Calls

 Howard Pushes Pay Cut

 Activist's Notebook


The Soapbox
Dog Whistlers, Spin Doctor and Us
John Menadue argues the "better angels" of the Australian character are having their wings ripped off by an ever-expanding group dedicating to keeping the public at arms length from our decision-makers.

Something Fishy In Laos
Phillip Hazelton fishes around in Vientiane, Laos, and looks at the impact of Bird Flu on those relying on feathered friends for survival.

Magic Realism
Phil Doyle discovers that literature and sport may have more in common than you would think

The Westie Wing
Trickle, flood or drought? Workers friend Ian West, MLC, is wet, wet, wet on the issue of bilateral Free Trade.

 On the Road
 A Casual Affair
 Latham Is A Bad Man
 Congrats Johnny
 Tom’s Bit
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Regions To Be Cheerful

Rule changes endorsed by this week’s NSW Labor Council Annual General Meeting reorganising the South Coast Labor Council into as a regional branch council should not be under-estimated.

For more than 100 years the NSW Labor Council and a range of regional trades and labour councils have existed as discreet entities on the industrial landscape, individual unions affiliating to some or all of them, depending on political allegiance and coverage considerations.

In a time where regional economies and their labour markets were stable and constant, this made sense - local workers negotiated their own arrangements with the key employers in a region, such as BHP in the Gong, and ran political lines reflecting those priorities.

All that changed with the end of certainty, as some have dubbed the Hawke-Keating years, which saw the flight of established businesses from estab.lished centres - with the subsequent crisis in regional employment and the social dislocation that this precipitated.

To say that the regional network of trades and labour councils has been neglected is an understatement, like much regional infrastructure today many exist in name only.

The tragedy is the need for regional union bases have never been greater - the pressures on regional workers and their desire to be part of a broader union movement obvious to anyone prepared to dig the surface.

Indeed, the catalyst for the recognition of the South Coast Labor Council, really flows form the united action across the state in defence of workers compensation rights in 2001.

When the NSW Labor Council organised a statewide Sky channel meeting to discuss the changes - the big attendances where in the regions - across the states rural workers showed they were hungry to get involved and defend their rights.

Since then we've built on that momentum, increasing the use of rural media to raise union issues in the bush and commissioning focus groups into the attitudes of workers in key regional centres.

What will flow, from the current structural change, plus an internal recognition that unionism does not begin and end at the Sydney city limit, is a campaigning agenda that recognises the potential of the regions and develops strategic plans to rebuild unionism across the state.

That said, there is much that city unionists can learn from their country cousins, not least the way many country union offices have built and maintained a wide network of ties within their community.

So in integrating on terms that preserves their political autonomy, but brings their leadership into the NSW Labor Council, the SCLC is setting the benchmark for a process that should bring at least another three key branch council online in the coming years.

If this can be achieved, unionism in NSW will have made the transition from a number of regional and industry-based silos, to a true network of working people with the resources and commitment to work together for their mutual benefit.

One of the inevitable consequences of globalisation is that the focus of nation al economic activity moves from the nation-state to the regions.

In this world, it is vital for all workers, that their regions work together rather than against each other, entering a global auction where wages and conditions are in a race to the bottom.

We have already seen what happens when we ignore the regions, with the spread of country call centres exploiting what are effectively free trade zones within Australia's borders, we have allowed a cheap labour market to develop before our eyes

If we are to rebuild the workplace and challenge the current economic orthodoxy, so that economic growth works for our members not against them, it is vital we work together across the state.

This week NSW trade unions took the first tentative steps down this path.

Peter Lewis



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