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Issue No. 250 21 December 2004  

Beyond The Law
Despite the all-engulfing gloom emenating from our political wing right now, 2004 comes to an end on a strangely upbeat note for the trade union movement.


Interview: The King of Comedy
John Robertson looks back on a year when his comic genius was finally realised.

Unions: Ten Simple Rules
Accepted wisdom has unions all but retired as serious players in the Australian game. A glance through the major industrial stories of 2004, however, suggests improved footwork, and a commitment to boxing clever, might herald a comeback, writes Jim Marr.

Politics: Rampant Indivdualism
CFMEU National Secretary John Sutton gives his take on a year when the political debate took a turn to the Right.

International: Global Struggle
Labourstart's Eric Lee looks back on a year when the struggles for labour increasingly crossed international lines.

Economics: Cashing in the Year
Look back in sorrow or look back in anger? By any standards 2004 has been a hell of a year, writes Frank Stilwell.

History: Grass Roots
Worker solidarity in Australia in the first century of invasion can give us inspiration and clues for our upcoming battles, writes Neale Towart.

Review: Cultural Realities
In 2004 popular culture shifted from reality television to reality movies, and swapped last year's light-weight subject matter for the slightly more substantial, writes Tara de Boehmler.

Poetry: Y-U-C-K
Workers Online resident bard David Peetz takes inspiration from The Village People for his latest prose.


 Unions Make Hardie Pay

 Hadgkiss Gives Mourners Grief

 Mum Gets "Hopson’s" Choice

 AWAs Crash on Broken Hill

 No Fun in the Sack

 Tax Office Draws Blood

 Origin Prop a Union Hit

 Good Guy Wears Black

 Security Crisis at Sydney Airport

 Biscuit Bosses Crumble

 Ardmona Urged to Can Racism

 Bomber Predicts Big Bang

 Stolen Wages Cut

 Tomorrow the World…

 Bosses Sack WorkCover

 Activists What's On!


The Crystal Ball
Workers Online consults a raft of leading psychics to find out what readers can look forward to in 2005.

The Soapbox
Scrooge Was Right
Christmas has been cancelled this year, writes our US correspondent Brooklyn Phil.

The Locker Room
The Workers Online Sports Awards
Continuing a tradition that dates back to the Twentieth Century, Phil Doyle dishes out the gongs for all things great and small in the world of sport during 2004.

The Westie Wing
Our favoutrite MP looks for a positive spin on the year at NSW Parliament

 Costa’s Hike Unfare
 Temporary Arrangements
 The Price Of Tea In China
 Cry For Me, Argentina
 Ho Bloody Ho
 Right Is Wrong
 Business As Usual
 All In The Family
 Swing Left Wishful Thinking
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Beyond The Law

Despite the all-engulfing gloom emenating from our political wing right now, 2004 comes to an end on a strangely upbeat note for the trade union movement.

True, John Howard may be celebrating the fact that he has now held power for longer than Bob Hawke by drawing up plans for a legislative assault on the union movement.

Granted, the federal ALP appears to have lost the plot and is given its best impression of a blind man seeking refuge up his own fundamental orifice.

And, yes, the Bush Empire's second instalment does threaten the world on some many levels, from geo-political to environmental meltdown of which Australia will be a willing accomplice.

But as a movement we seem to be kicking goals across the paddock.

As we go to print, the ink is drying on a deal to finally force James Hardie to meet its moral obligation to victims of its asbestos products, who would have been left exposed to financial ruin, alongside certain death, had it succeeded in its morally repugnant ploy to skip town.

This is an heroic victory anmd full credit to ACTU secretary Greg Combet and the AMWU NSW branch which kept the issue on the boil until the full extent of the outrage was appreciated.

Meanwhile, NSW rail workers are nutting out the final aspects of a wages deal that secures them decent wages and conditions, having headed off a calculated attempt to smash their union.

And we enter summer consigning the 'NSW Labor Council' to history, to return in the New Year under the 'Unions NSW' banner, sending a clear message to both our members and the general public that we are an independent body putting unions first.

The common thread running through these and others advances is that they have been achieved through the mobilisation of public pressure rather than the more traditional arena of industrial law and disputation.

Indeed, the triumph of the ACTU's campaign against James Hardie is that the corporation has been forced to go beyond its straight legal responsibility to answer public demands for a moral outcome - a remarkable achievement for all concerned.

Likewise, NSW rail workers won their campaign without needing to strike, instead aligning themselves with commuters in their demands for better service and showing the extent to which the government needs the goodwill of its workforce to maintain a working rail system.

Meanwhile, more and more unions are using research and market testing to develop new ways of projecting themselves in the public domain, something behind the re-branding of the Labor Council

Do these moves equate to a trend? It's probably too early to call. What is clear is that the legal industrial relations framework, while important, is not the be all and end all of an effective union movement.

Organised workplaces, empowered delegates, smart public campaigning are all elements that can place real pressure on employers and provide an impregnable beachhead for the movement.

The battles for fair workplace laws must be - and will be - fought in 2005, but not as an end in itself; they have only ever been a vehicle to allow working people to strike a fair bargain.

One thing is for sure; if John Howard thinks that changing the law will wipe out the union movement, then he will be expending a lot of time, effort and political capital for nothing.

Hubris? I fear the man is too savvy to go down this path. But if he's not, I say: bring it on!


For Workers Online this is a particularly auspicious issue, our 250th edition.

That's about 3,000 news stories, more than 1,000 features and 250 streams of consciousness, archived over the web, in the past six years of this august journal.

Thanks to all those who have contributed, and particularly to our Workers Online editorial team of Jim Marr, Tim Brunero, Phil Doyle and Tara de Boehmler who join me in chugging out the journal week in week out.

Thanks also to our regular contributors including Neale Towart, Andrew Casey, Frank Stilwell, Rowan Cahill and Ian West.

We'll take our annual break, recharge our batteries and look forward to returning in the New Year to take up the only real battle that matters - the rebuilding of the Australian trade union movement's base, the condition precedent for all the other wonderful things we are capable of achieving.

And finally, if you want to give us a little Christmas present - just click here and give us your vote as international labour website of the year -

Peter Lewis



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