||Issue No. 260||22 April 2005|
Interview: [email protected]
Unions: State of the Union
Industrial: Fashion Accessories
Legal: Leg Before Picket
Politics: Business Welfare Brats
Health: Cannabis Controversy
Economics: Debt, Deficit, Downturn
History: Politics In The Pubs
Review: Three Bob's Worth
Poetry: Do The Slowly Chokie
The Locker Room
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.
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