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Issue No. 246 12 November 2004  
E D I T O R I A L

How It Comes To This
There are times when a worker has no real option than to take a stand, no matter the cost. This is the situation confronting NSW’s 15,000 rail workers right now.

F E A T U R E S

Interview: The Reich Stuff
Robert Reich has led the debate on the future of work – both as an academic and politician. Now he’s on his way to Australia to help NSW unions push the envelope.

Economics: Crime and Punishment
Mark Findlay argues that the present psychological approach to prison programs is increasing the likelihood of re-offending and the threat to community safety.

Environment: Beyond The Wedge
Whether the great forestry divide can ever be overcome or whether it is best sidestepped for the sake of unity and sustainability in other areas is up for debate, writes Tara de Boehmler.

International: The End Of The Lucky Country
Linda Weiss, Elizabeth Thurbon and John Mathews show us How To Kill A Country

Safety: Tests Fail Tests
Nick Lewocki from the RTBU lifts the lid on the shonky science behind RailCorp testing

Politics: Labo(u)r Day
John Robertson lets fly at this years Labor Day dinner

Human Rights: Arabian Lights
Tim Brunero reports on how a Sydney sparky took on the Taliban and lived to tell the tale.

History: Labour's Titan
Percy Brookfield was a big man who was at the heart of the trade union struggles that made Broken Hill a quintessential union town writes Neale Towart.

Review: Foxy Fiasco
To find out who is outfoxing who, read Tara de Boehmler's biased review of a subjective documentary about corrupt journalism.

Poetry: Then I Saw The Light
Brothers and sisters! Praise the Lord! Brother George has saved the White House from an invasion by infidels, writes resident bard David Peetz.

N E W S

 Workers Seize Cat

 Castle Hill Uprising

 Carr Flips on Rail

 Producers Call "Cut"

 Fly Me To … Anywhere

 Saint Buzz: Hymn the Man

 Patricks Attacks Westies

 Cold Comfort for Scientists

 Mothball Bowls Port Hedland

 Boss Rejects AWA

 Asbestos Audit Refused

 Bear Mauls Children

 "Leave or Leave," Telstra

 Activists What's On!

C O L U M N S

The Locker Room
In Naming Rights Only
Phil Doyle has Gone to Gowings

The Soapbox
Homeland Insecurity
Rowan Cahill tells us how the Howard Government’s appointment of Major-General Duncan Lewis to head up the national security division of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has received little critical comment, until now.

Parliament
The Westie Wing
New proposed legislation in NSW provides a vital window of opportunity for unions to ensure they achieve convictions for workplace deaths, writes Ian West.

L E T T E R S
 What about the real crooks?
WHAT YOU CAN DO
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Editorial

How It Comes To This


There are times when a worker has no real option than to take a stand, no matter the cost. This is the situation confronting NSW’s 15,000 rail workers right now.

Over the past 12 months, the rail workforce has seen a fundamental shift as their organisation has been transformed from a public service into a State Owned Corporation, run with the express purpose of delivering a financial dividend to the government.

This major shift occurred with little public debate, no staff consultation, just an edict from on high.

Any regular reader of Workers On line could not help but conclude that RailCorp management has been on an express mission: to end the union culture in RailCorp and let 'the managers manage' - this is a sort of Year Zero approach to a railway system that has run on the goodwill of the workforce for decades.

Under the cloak of the Waterfall Inquiry, Rail Corp management has been on a mission to show the workforce who is the boss.

In the past 12 months, they've been poked and prodded, forced to undergo urine samples, heart tests, and even discredited mind games under the name of psychometric testing.

Drivers have been scapegoated, guards and station staff abused and maintenance workers blamed for the effects of poor management.

After holding the rail system together for decades, they have been told they are now the problem.

At the same time, the workforce has borne the brunt of public anger as the new Minister has unilaterally cut rail services, scrapped new railway lines, ditched timetables and stopped production of a new fleet of trains.

A new low occurred last week when RailCorp management got caught out for failing to employ enough electricians. A sub-station blew up, there was no one to fix it and drivers sat at base waiting for a train to drive.

Instead of copping the wrap, RailCorp CEO Vince Graham shifted the blame to the workers - cooking the sick books to conjure up the furphy of an orchestrated industrial campaign; a lie that seemed designed to derail negotiations for a new EBA and undermine the rail union leadership.

It got worse this week when the government released false statistics to class workers as greedy - the front pages had them being paid more than police and nurses, false numbers comparing overtime rate s to base rates of pay.

It also began a whispering campaign about drivers refusing to work more than four and a half hours in the cab in; creative accounting that ignores the time spent conducting safety checks, in shunting yards and turning trains around; as well as the fact that drivers are bound to the timetable management draws up.

It was as if RailCorp were following the script from the 'Waterfront' - make them look lazy, make them look greedy, and then roll out the rorts.

This rail dispute is not just about pay and conditions - it is about the way an employer has treated its 15,000 workers over a sustained period time.

The current restructure is designed to divide workers - offering some jobs in the newly formed RailCorp, leaving others to wither without meaningful employment in the old SRA.

The negotiations are expressly manoeuvred by RailCorp to split the workforce, 'segmenting different sections' and giving management a blank cheque for further reform over the next three years,

It is almost like the whole process has been destined to end in industrial confrontation. Indeed, senior managers have been quite open in admitting their objective is to goad the workers into strike action so as to allow them to shift the blame for the railways' failings onto the workforce.

Yes, strikes disrupt the public, they cost the strikers money and they give the Tories a free kick.

But sometimes the withholding of labour is the only weapon left; the only piece of dignity a worker has. Let's hope a strike can be avoided, but if it is not, let us all, as a movement, support the rail workers in their battle for a little bit of respect.

After all, that's why unions were created, it's why unions remain relevant today and, as a last resort, why striking is still a valid from of protest.

Peter Lewis

Editor


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