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Issue No. 260 22 April 2005  

Praying Mantras
The election of a new Pontiff is a moment of cultural significance, a point where the world’s moral compass comes under scrutiny, and not just for the world’s billion-odd Catholics.


Interview: [email protected]
Labor's Penny Wong has the job of getting more people into the workplace and keeping companies honest. In her spare time ....

Unions: State of the Union
Unions NSW secretary John Robertson unveils the annual survey of attitudes of workers to their jobs, thier lives and the union.

Industrial: Fashion Accessories
Jim Marr unpacks the unlikely claim of a suburban house to be considered the New Mecca of the New Right …

Legal: Leg Before Picket
Chris White looks at how the federal industrial changes will impact on the basic right to strike.

Politics: Business Welfare Brats
Neale Towart asks why the only form of legitmate welfare seems to be going to the top end of town.

Health: Cannabis Controversy
Zoe Reynolds looks at how drug and alcohol testing is leading to some addled outcomes.

Economics: Debt, Deficit, Downturn
As the indicators head south, Frank Stilwell wonders whether it is the way we do economics that is to blame.

History: Politics In The Pubs
Phil Doyle reports on the increasingly-popular Struggles, Scabs and Schooners day out.

Review: Three Bob's Worth
Doing their best Margaret and David, Tara de Boehmler and Tim Brunero have different takes on the new Australian flick Three Dollars.

Poetry: Do The Slowly Chokie
Workers Online bard David Peetz teaches how workers to dance to Howard's industrial laws.


 Pope Backs Rights At Work

 Trade Deal Built On Corpses

 AWAs Go – So Do Long Hours

 Sunday Too Far Away

 True Lies at RailCorp

 Mushrooms Mums Fed Bull

 Sewage In The Streets

 Taskforce Stands Over Vet

 Engineers in Driving Seat

 Backyard Funerals Targeted

 Work Deaths Get Permanent Reflection

 Yanks Brawl With Mall

 Activist’s What’s On


The Soapbox
Notes From a Laneway
Mental Health Workers Alliance member Toby Raeburn shares a week on the frontline.

The Locker Room
War, Plus The Shooting
The Socceroos aren’t their own worst enemy after all, or so says Phil Doyle

Life Imitates Art
The jokes have been around for some time about the economic rationalist's approach to the orchestra, writes Evan Jones.

The Westie Wing
Ian West takes the secret passage out of Macquarie Street to deliver his take on NSW Parliamentary Committees and other goings on.

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Praying Mantras

The election of a new Pontiff is a moment of cultural significance, a point where the world’s moral compass comes under scrutiny, and not just for the world’s billion-odd Catholics.

As one not of the Faith, it has been interesting to witness Joseph Ratzinger's ascension and the analysis around the theology that he will bring to the Papacy.

One of the key themes has been his call to reject 'moral relativism', an assertion that there are moral absolutes, based on both faith and reason.

While armchair post-modernists may roll their eyes, it is an interesting frame through which to view some of our current political and economic debates.

The proposed Free Trade Agreement with China is being vigorously promoted by the Prime Minister, who is spruiking it as the salve for Australia's economic future.

But, as AMWU national secretary Doug Cameron points out, these negotiations are premised on a fundamental 'lie', that a market actually exists in China.

Chinese workers have none of the rights accorded workers in a market economy - the right of freedom of association, the right to strike, the right to bargaining collectively. Nor do they have the right to vote for a government that will give them any of these rights.

A Free Trade Agreement with China would have Australian workers compete on a level playing field with workers on the world's lowest wages, with no political and industrial rights, a staggering 14,000 of whom die at work every year. How can this be free? How can it be trade?

Worker rights are part of the building blocks of a market economy, alongside a transparent and consistent legal system to enforce contracts.

Is it drawing a long bow to ask whether the self-interest that allows a nation to strike a trade deal which ignores fundamental moral issues like workers rights is the economic dimension to this 'moral relativism'? Does the pursuit of economic self-interest blind us to the consequences of our actions?

And what of the Prime Minister's attitude to workers' rights at home?

Dig into the archives of the new Pope, who has openly backed trade unions in his writings for the Vatican, and you get a picture of a theology that would have difficulties with the coming attack on unions.

"The Church encourages the creation and activity of associations such as trade unions which fight for the defence of the rights and legitimate interests of the workers and for social justice," he penned in "Instruction On Christian Freedom and Liberation" for the Vatican in 1986.

Of course the Papacy is a non-partisan position and my Catholic friends tell me there are always dangers in reading too much into theological writings - they tell me if you go far enough you can construct most arguments and justify most ideas.

But there does seem to be a moral perspective that can bought to the debate over workers rights that is often missing when it is reduced down to procedures and profits.

It requires one to step back and look at what happens to a person when job security is taken from them; how families and communities are built on solid bases, of which a stable job is a key component.

The idea that these worker rights can be subverted in the interests of the economic good must surely fit within this frame of 'moral relativism'.

In the very least, it is part of the slippery slope that has led to dislocation, desperation and even despair.

And you don't need a Pope to tell you that can't be good for a society.

Peter Lewis



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