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Issue No. 256 18 March 2005  

Planet Common Cents
The current debate around the federal government’s move to ban compulsory university service fees exposes more than a pathological hatred of all things ‘union’.


Interview: Dot.Com
Evan Thornley was a labour activist. Then he rode the tech wave. Now he's home with new ideas on how Labor can win the economic debate.

Workplace: Dirt Cheap
In her new book, Elizabeth Wynhausen learns how hard it is to live on the minimum wage.

Industrial: Daddy Doesn’t Live With Us Anymore
Andreia Viegas’ tells the story of the loss her young family has felt since her husband was killed at work, and the need for justice for families who fall victim to industrial manslaughter.

Economics: Who's Afraid of the BCA?
Big Business's agenda for Australia has gone from loopy to mainstream at the speed of light, writes Neale Towart

International: From the Wreckage
Working people across Iraq are struggling to build their own independent unions – and are successfully organising industrial action on the vital oil fields as well as in hotels, transport outlets and factories, Writes Andrew Casey

Politics: Infrastructure Blues
With much attention given belatedly to the shortage of infrastructure, little attention has been given to the structure of infrastructure, writes Evan Jones

History: Meat and Three Veg
A new book recounts the impact of the Depression on women workers, writes Neale Towart,

Savings: Super Seduction
Sharks are circling your super. From July 1, banks and financial planners will have access to the nesteggs of an extra four million workers, writes Jim Marr.

Politics: Popping the 'E-Word'
Federal shadow treasurer Wayne Swan unveils Labor's new economic doctrine.

Poetry: To Know Somebody
This week saw an appointment to the ABC Board that was even more breathtaking than that of Liberal Party figure Michael Kroger. Resident Bard David Peetz celebrates the occasion with a reworking of an old Bee Gees hit.

Review: Off the Rails
A new play on the impact of rail privatisation in Britain has a poignant message for Sydney commuters, writes Alex Mitchell


 MaxiRort in Ballarat

 Beer Boss’ Want Froth

 Facts Ruin Costello’s Story

 Uni Burns Book Man

 Strong Pulls Pianist

 Terminator Runs Away

 No Choice for Small Business

 Scully On Run from Cops

 Picketer Wins $190,000

 Wheat Board on Sea of Shame

 School Raids Condemned

 Tangled Web Weaved

 CASA Cans Safety

 Radioactive Relay Race

 Activist’s What’s On!


The Soapbox
The Big Picture
Think about this: It takes 150 tonnes of iron ore to buy a plasma TV, writes Doug Cameron.

The Locker Room
Reducto Ad Absurdo
Phil Doyle offers advice for the lovelorn, and finds that things are getting smaller

New Matilda
Work is In
The rise and fall of the working hours debate in france is relevent to Australian workers, writes Daniel Donahoo and Tim Martyn

The Westie Wing
Our favourite MP surveys the upcoming conservative centralist collective attack.

Postcard from Harvard
Australian union officials making the annual pilgrimage to the Harvard Trade Union Program learnt that, at least, they are not alone, says Natalie Bradbury.

 Poor Prose Praised
 Fabulous Fan Mail
 Skilled Tools
 Nelson ‘Solves’ Skills Crisis
 Loyalty Nonsense
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Planet Common Cents

The current debate around the federal government’s move to ban compulsory university service fees exposes more than a pathological hatred of all things ‘union’.

It also represents the mainstreaming a new way of thinking that is hostile to both social democratic and conservative principles - that is the active promotion of an individual's 'right' to opt out of the structures of their society.

The mistake is to look at this issue as simply a partisan ideological obsession - although for that generation of Liberals who cut their teeth of campuses in the 1970s it undoubtedly is.

The real drive behind VSU is linked to the rise in free market fundamentalism - a mind set that sees a person as an individual consumer rather than as a participant in and product of their society.

The arguments advanced in support of VSU by Brendan Nelson have been all about pitching students as consumers of a degree - the institutions of universities are purely suppliers of this product.

The end product is a degree divorced from the rich varsity experience - long regarded as playing as much a part in educating our young people; whether their interests be in sport, culture or even politics.

The justification? Because some students choose not to use the services offered to everyone, no one should be compelled to contribute to any of them.

The fractured logic on this type of 'free choice' argument reminds me of the lines trotted out by the Tories whenever unions raise the point that non-members should be asked to contribute to the costs of bargaining a pay rise.

In countless focus groups you hear the line repeated - why would I join if I get the benefits anyway? This is the logic of the rational consumer, but one who has no comprehension of their place in the broader society.

But when the institution - be it a university or a trade union - makes the point that everyone benefits from their service offer, they are howled down with charges of coercion and compulsion.

Similar logic is at play across the society - with the rampant evasion of taxes identified by Malcolm Turnbull this week - the end point of a population that is so self-focused it ignores the bigger picture.

The separation of the self from the social structures frees us from a sense of mutual obligation, until, of course, the structures themselves begin to collapse.

Until we won't have university communities to nurture our young, we won't have trade unions to improve working conditions and we won't have public schools or hospitals either - because we will have become such canny consumers that the institutions that have supported our individual life stories will lie in ruin.

As they say in the economics textbooks 'caveat emptor' - the buyer beware.

Peter Lewis



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