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Issue No. 213 19 March 2004  
E D I T O R I A L

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While the ABS latest figures show union density is stable, behind the headline rate of 23 per cent lie some interesting trends.

F E A T U R E S

Interview: Baby Bust
Labor's Wayne Swan argues that the plight of our aging workforce is only one side of our demographic dilemma.

Safety: Dust To Dust
Failure by authorities to police safety in the asbestos removal industry is threatening the lives of members of the public, writes Phil Doyle.

Bad Boss: Shaming in Print
Delegates from print shops around Sydney will publicly shame this month’s Bad Boss nominee with a rally outside his new Alexandria operation next Thursday.

National Focus: Work's Cripplin' Us
Noel Hester reports on a spin doctors' talkfest, workplace pain, stroppy teachers and IWD party time in the national wrap.

International: Bulk Bullies
An extraordinary five month struggle over affordable health care, by nearly 70,000 Californian supermarket workers, has just come to an end, writes Andrew Casey.

History: The Battle for Kelly's Bush
Green Bans saved a piece of bush before they saved much of the Sydney’s built environment, writes Neale Towart

Economics: Aid, Trade And Oil
Tim Anderson reveals Australia’s second betrayal Of East Timor is playing out before our eyes.

Review: The Art Of Work
Workers and westies are being celebrated as the cultural icons they are thanks to two Sydney exhibitions reminding us there is a world of art in the everyday, writes Tara de Boehmler.

Poetry: Sew His Lips Together
Wondering where the next porkie is going to come from? Resident bard David Peetz knows.

N E W S

 "Grubs" Derail Revolution

 Blackouts Hit Sydney

 Pig-Out at Restaurant

 Smith’s Charity Begins At Work

 Air Rage Set To Soar

 Boxers Union Lands First Blow

 Drug Tests On Hold

 "Anarchy" Warning from Builders

 Burmese Generals at it Again

 Sugar: Sweet Taste of Survival

 Workers Endorse "User Pays"

 State Water, Forests Face Sell-Off

 Pirates and Ports for Classroom

 Activists What's On!

C O L U M N S

The Soapbox
Iraq and Your Mortgage
How high interest rates go will be a key issue in 2004 and if you are looking for a clue, there's no better place to look than the war in Iraq, writes Michael Rafferty.

Sport
Hang Onto the Day Job
Show someone else the money, says Phil Doyle.

Politics
Westie Wing
Ian West shows why Eveleigh Street’s not so far away from Macquarie Street

Postcard
Don’t Give Up the Fight
Get Up, Stand Up is the logo of choice on a popular range of subversive condoms. Ken Davis from Union Aid Abroad reports from Zimbabwe’s second city

L E T T E R S
 Grubby Poseur
 Militancy
 Tom On Drink
 Howard Screws Vets
WHAT YOU CAN DO
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Editorial

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While the ABS latest figures show union density is stable, behind the headline rate of 23 per cent lie some interesting trends.

Stability in union density does not mean the movement is standing still, indeed to maintain the current rate unions actually recruited a net increase of 33,000 workers over the past 12 months.

They had to do so in a climate that saw the workforce growth fuelled by non-union, private sector jobs and the continuing spread of casual and contract work, an area which has always been difficult to organise.

In holding the line, there have been some great advances, none the least the Foxtel contractors, many of whom left the movement when they took redundancy from Telstra to establish their own cable and satellite installation businesses..

A few years on and they are retuning to their union, albeit as owners of their own business, pushed to the brink of collapse by the constant squeeze from their new market places.

The unionists have contracts with for a range of bottom feeding companies who undercut each other to win a stake in the booming pay TV installation work and internet roll-out busniness.

Of course, the bargain basement bids are then passed onto the contractors who have no option but to drop their fees, meaning many are now working six and a half days per week to take home a salary that hovers around the poverty line.

With a campaign neatly timed to coincide with the launch of Foxtel's 'digital revolution' (and surprisingly absent from the pages of the News Ltd press), the contractors have gone on strike to assert their basic right to negotiate with the company controlling the market.

It may be a new form of employment and a new sort of industrial objective, but anyone who saw the convoy of Foxtel vans in the city this week should be under no illusion that these are real unionists displaying real resolve.

Meanwhile, in more traditional union areas, another wave is building - a demand from rank and file members for unions to demand that those who benefit from union negotiations are made to pay for the service.

It is a push across many industries, a demand for the free-loaders to pay that is driven more by a sense of what is fair in the marketplace than any notion of class solidarity.

People are prepared to pay for a decent service, but they don't like seeing someone else pick up the benefits for free.

The predictable response from employers is talk of bully-boys and returns to the days of compulsory unionism, but their shrill response belies the truth that the market-based argument of 'user pays' is compelling.

Unions have always been about markets, giving workers a joint bargaining position to maximise their leverage for wages and conditions; it is this more than any ideology that have made employers so hostile.

And as markets evolve, the need for workers to intervene or be squashed is only intensifying - and that's the real reason why unions refuse to disappear despite the best efforts and prayers of big business.

After all, in an era when you have to pay to watch the footy - albeit from 25 different angles - surely no-one can expect a free ride at work.

Peter Lewis

Editor


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