||Issue No. 241||08 October 2004|
Thatís All Folks!
Interview: The Last Bastian
Unions: High and Dry
Security: Liquid Borders
Industrial: No Bully For You
History: Radical Brisbane
International: No Vacancies
Economics: Life After Capitalism
Technology: Cyber Winners
Poetry: Do It Yourself Poetry
Review: Hard Labo(u)r
The Locker Room
Thatís All Folks!
While at the time of writing this editorial the result of the poll is unknown, what is clear is that yet again unions have somehow been positioned as a negative for the ALP.
Despite the widespread public support for unions, reflected in poll after poll, the Conservatives manage to portray unions as the enemy of the Australian people.
The Prime Minister has pegged his entire interest rate scare campaign on the fact that Labor's industrial relations policy would create economic ruin by - shock, horror! - restoring some powers to the industrial umpire and forcing employers to bargain in good faith rather than beat their workers into submission via the number one industrial tactic of the 21st century - the lock-out.
Howard's kept a straight face accusing Labor of rediscovering socialism, while ignoring the reality that the nation's largest economy, NSW, chugs along swimmingly on the very same model of industrial relations - cooperation, flexibility and mutual respect.
Bereft of a fourth term agenda, he rabbits on about further 'freeing up' of the labour market - code for attacking workers rights - and is never asked to exactly explain what he means.
Meanwhile, his workplace relations minister Kevin Andrews dishes out bald-faced lies about how great AWAs are, comparing the salaries awarded to public sector managers to part-time child care workers and claiming it's the form of employment, not the job, that makes all the difference.
In the normal course of events, one would expect this sort of rubbish to be exposed by the media - whose job it used to be to analyse policy and scrutinise the public debate. But in this election senior journalists, who should know better, have swallowed the porkies hook, line and sinker, playing into the PM's hands an doing the public a grave disservice in the process.
Even the complexity of the Tasmania timber workers could not cut through the stereotype. Rather than seeing this as a legitimate case of a union doing what its members pay it to do - that is, protect their interests - the media simply characterised it as the PM triumphantly taming the beast.
That's the risk you take when you position yourself too closely with one political party.
The lesson for the union movement is that it needs to be more than a cheerleader come election time - and there were some nauseating and downright degrading examples of that this time around.
When it comes to election campaigns, our challenge must be to pick the issues where we have credibility, build our case and campaign on the ground, not for a political party but a policy outcome. Only then will our message have credibility and our motives not be questioned.
A number of unions have done just that this campaign: the HSU on health, AEU on school funding, the NTEU on tertiary education, the AMWU on trade, the police unions around retirement. The challenge is to convince all political parties that their positions are broadly held and the changes need to be made.
Until the union movement can establish itself as advocates of its members - rather than a political player - the cartoon will continue to be perpetuated and politicians will get away with the sort of nonsense Howard cooked up this time around.
The sad irony of this election is that given a choice between the interests of big business and working people, the party operating for the powerful managed to portray itself as the champion of the little guy.
We need to break this circuit or election nights will continue to be as painful as I suspect this one will be.
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