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Issue No. 228 09 July 2004  
E D I T O R I A L

Thai-ed in Knots
With all the hype, hiccups, fear and loathing around the Australia/US Free Trade agreement, another agreement all but slipped under the radar this week - a preferential trade deal between Australia and Thailand.

F E A T U R E S

Interview: Power and the Passion
ALP's star recruit Peter Garrett shares his views on unions, forests and being the Member for Wedding Cake Island

Unions: Tackling the Heavy Hitters
Tony Butterfield became a State of Origin gladiator at the unlikely age of 33. Even that, Jim Marr reports, couldn’t prepare him for the knock-down, drag-em-out world of modern IR.

Industrial: Seeing the Forest For The Wood
Proposals to flog off NSW’s forests have raised eyebrows and temperatures amongst some of the key players reports Phil Doyle.

Housing: Home Truths
CFMEU national secretary John Sutton argues for a radical solution to the housing affordability crisis.

International: Boycott Busters
International unions have issued a new list of corporations breaching ILO sanctions to do business in Burma.

Economics: Ideology and Free Trade
The absurdities of neoclassical economic assumptions has never stood in the way of their being trotted out to justify profiteering and attacks on the rights of citizens. The AUSFTA is the latest rort we are supposed to swallow, writes Neale Towart.

History: Long Shadow of a Forgotten Man
Interest in JC Watson's short time as Labor's first Prime Minister should not detract from his more substantial role as Party leader, writes Mark Hearn

Review: Chewing the Fat
As debate rages in Australia about Fast Food advertising, Julianne Taverner takes a look at a side of the industry that Ronald McDonald won’t tell you about in Supersize Me.

Poetry: Dear John
Workers Online reader Rob Mullen shares some personal correspondence with our glorious leader.

N E W S

 Adecco in the Dock

 Chubb Faces Bullying Rap

 Print Company Burns Staff

 Carr "Prefers" Americans

 Drug Cheats’ Eye off Olympics

 Unions Crack Skull

 Howard Backs $7.30 Report

 MCG Vet Kicks Casual Goal

 Parking tickets Gonged

 Safety Meets Low Expectations

 Koori Building for Future

 "Super Sopper" Soaks Up Funds

 Kelly’s Figures go West

 Activists What’s On!

C O L U M N S

Politics
The Westie Wing
As the NSW Labor Government sells its first budget deficit in nine years, the real concern for the union movement is the devil in the detail, especially when it comes to procurement agreements, writes Ian West.

The Soapbox
Rubber Bullets
Labor's IR spokesman Craig Emerson launches a few characteristic salvos across the Parliamentary chamber

The Locker Room
Tears After Bedtime
Phil Doyle says that it's all fun and games until someone loses an eye

Postcard
Postcard from Vietnam
APHEDA's Hoang Thi Le Hang reports from the north of Vietnam on a project being fund by Australian unionists.,

L E T T E R S
 History Left In The Back Of The Cab
 Libs have Got To Go
 A Boring Bastard
 A Home Of Their Own
WHAT YOU CAN DO
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Editorial

Thai-ed in Knots


With all the hype, hiccups, fear and loathing around the Australia/US Free Trade agreement, another agreement all but slipped under the radar this week - a preferential trade deal between Australia and Thailand.

While the pointy heads are patting themselves on the back for ripping down another tariff wall, some are wondering whether a few details may have been lost in translation.

Read the fine print of this deal and you'll find no recognition of core labour standards - that is, no guarantee that goods 'freely traded' should not be produced by slave labour, child labour or by workers denied the right to organise and bargain collectively.

The result? Well in markets where Australian workers are competing with Thai workers, there will be no contest - after all, how can Australian companies match competitors paying their workers just $4.60 per day.

Those advocating Fair Trade are not denying the reality that some nations have lower wage structures; but they do argue that workers in developing nations need basic labour rights if there is to be any benefit derived from free trade and any prospect of a genuine contest.

Indeed, if trade treaties were to force companies in developing countries to provide these core labour standards in order to access overseas' markets, then an argument could be made that free trade does deliver for workers.

But as Thai textile worker, Noi Phongkhwa in Sydney this week to promote Oxfam-CAA's Play Fair at the Olympics campaign, told a public lecture this week, this is just not happening.

Instead, the plight for Thai workers who 'benefit' from global trade include being fed amphetamines in order to work fast enough to meet unreasonable quotas

That Australia's Olympic Committee refuses to meet with Noi is a disgrace; that Australian athletes will be competing in sweatshop gear is a national shame; and that this is the product of free trade makes a joke of our beaming leader shaking hands for the cameras.

Bi-lateral treaties are the ostrich approach to trade, with sweet heart deals the substitute for the harder work of establishing a fair global economy that delivers for all its players.

The irony underlying the Thai trade deal is that even the South-east Asian workers undercutting Australian jobs face the prospect of being priced out of the market within a few years as the Chinese economy enters the global economy, where worker shave even lower base wages and fewer rights.

Indeed, the role of China in the global economy is the great unknown that those striking bilateral trade deals are choosing to ignore, hoping it will go away.

Anyone who thinks that bi-lateral trade agreements will deal with this Mac Truck of an issue is kidding themselves; just like anyone who thinks unilateral military action can deliver global security or that the global environment doesn't need global treaties.

Special deals that focus solely on economics and ignore moral issues as irrelevant are wrought with long-term dangers. The Thai Trade Deal is a very sharp edge of a very thin wedge.

Peter Lewis

Editor


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