||Issue No. 209||20 February 2004|
Regions To Be Cheerful
Interview: Trading in Principle
Unions: While We Were Away
Politics: Follow the Leader
Bad Boss: Safety Recidivist Fingered
Economics: Casualisation Shrouded In Myths
History: Worker Control Harco Style
Review: Other Side Of The Harbour
A Casual Affair
Latham Is A Bad Man
Regions To Be Cheerful
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.
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