Woolworth's chief executive something-or-other, Roger Corbett, sat down before a NSW parliamentary committee this week to explain his company's policy of no care and even less responsibility.
While Woolworths uses trucks to move its goods about, apparently it is not responsible for drivers' health and safety when carrying said goods.
In this brave new outsourced world that becomes 'someone else's problem'.
Corbett has even been on the telly, telling us all how good this system of feudalism on wheels is for consumers.
The scary thing about all this is that the Woollies boss is currently arguing to be allowed to open his own pharmaceutical stores.
Given his evidence before the NSW STAYSAFE committee this week it should come as no surprise that Roger is a big fan of pharmaceuticals, making his relationship to an industry allegedly riddled with drug abuse very interesting indeed.
He was on the stand for a bit over an hour, or $2,000 worth in RogerWorld, providing the public record with an illuminating insight into the inner workings, or lack thereof, of the country's leading corporate minds.
Before the Joint Standing Committee upon Road Safety inquiry Into Road Safety Administration in New South Wales, Roger the Dodger said that Woollies had only four accidents in four years.
After everyone had picked themselves off the floor and the laughing died down Roger claimed that none of the four accidents was shown to have been caused by driver fatigue.
Besides, Corbett had to share another gem with the committee - his groundbreaking research on lateness.
Corbett showed he was earning every cent of that $2,000 an hour by observing that of the "thousands of items that require arrival on time in life, it has mostly to do with setting off late".
Despite the fact that this will be amazing news indeed for anyone who has ever tried to negotiate the Western Distributor, or catch a train in morning peak hour in Sydney, it led to this colourful exchange:
"Mr Corbett: It is not the priest's fault if you are late for church.
Staysafe committee chairman: That is right but the priest does not turn around and fine you for being late either. Can we get on with this?"
Then our Tool of the week went on to share his blissful ignorance on how long one of his distribution centres had been there, how long they had been "trying to do something about it" (meaning fix its problems), how one of its contractors had faced 273 charges, whether Woollies has a road safety consultant or not, whether drugs were used in the trucking industry (he must be the only person in Australia who doesn't know the answer to that one!), satellite monitoring of vehicles, major reportds into his own industry or, finally, even what is going on with their contractors who lug all this palaver about for him.
All a bit of problem with transparency, apparently. Sorry about that. Won't do it again.
Eventually, his figures of four accidents in four years was set up against the news that one of the companies that had been moving his crap around, Harkers Transport, faced 91 charges in 2003 alone.
Then it got worse for our Tool. The four accidents in four years, none of which involved fatigue, became three accidents with deaths in one year alone - all found by the coroner to have involved fatigue, drug use, falsified logbooks and pressure to make deliveries.
Then it became a case of "Ohhhhhhh, thooooooose trucks".
For a guy running what is effectively a distribution business - Woollies handles something in the vicinity of 2% of all truck movements in the country, no small number - Roger appears to have a very vague grasp of what actually goes on.
So here's a few tips to help Roger out :
Those big things at the dock at the back of the store with all the wheels? That's called a truck, Roger.
The bloke sitting in the cab fuming for four hours waiting to get unloaded? He's called a driver. He has these things called responsibilities, he has to pay his debts on time, obey the laws, that sort of thing. You may want to brush up on these things from time to time Roger.
That stuff on pallets on the back of the truck? That's your merchandise. You know; the stuff you sell in your shop to make the money so they can pay you $2,000 an hour not to know anything and be responsible for even less.
So, of course, even though the contractor is dependent upon you to survive, carries your stock around for you, in some cases even allegedly wanders beyond the boundaries of the law for you, you have no responsibility at all towards him or her.
No, none whatsoever.
Well, maybe morally, but we'll have to explain morals to you some other time Roger because it could take quite some time in your case. And time is money, isn't it Roger?
Speaking of money, while all these drivers are speeding off their brain and Woollies garbage is getting carted to and from their stores, sales rose 14.7% to $7.4billion in the 12 weeks ended April 3.
And safety is such a cost to business...
While a staunch opponent of communism and liberation theology, Pope Benedict XVI was responsible for a series of statements and encyclicals supportive of workers’ rights to organise through trade unions.
As head of the Vatican's Congregation For The Doctrine Of The Faith, he strongly endorsed the papal encyclical Laborem Exercens (On Work), which sets out the Vaticans views on the modern workplace.
He also penned the "Instruction On Christian Freedom And Liberation" for the Vatican, which differentiated trade unions from revolutionary political organizations.
"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 wrote in the 1986 document, which had the effect of setting official Vatican policy
The Instruction also back Laborem Exercens Benedict XVI's predecessor, John Paul II, which said that unions were more than just about securing wages and conditions for members but were also "a mouthpiece for the struggle for social justice, for the just rights of working people".
Unions were central to determining influences on "unjust relationships in the field of human labour", the encyclical said.
"History teaches that organizations of this type are an indispensable element of social life, especially in modern industrialised societies.
"It is the State that must conduct a just labour policy."
"People unite to secure their rights, their union remains a constructive factor of social order and solidarity, and it is impossible to ignore it.
"It is always to be hoped that, thanks to the work of their unions, workers will not only have more, but above all be more:
"The whole labour process must be organized and adapted in such a way as to respect the requirements of the person and his or her forms of life."
Working People the Key
The Bishop of Parramatta, Kevin Manning says the conditions of working people have always been a key concern of Catholic Social Teaching.
Manning pointed to the landmark encyclical Rerum Novarum issued in 1891 by Pope Leo XIII.
"All workers have a right to decent pay, safe and healthy conditions, and reasonable workloads that enable a proper balance between paid work and family life," said Leo.
"If through necessity or fear of a worse evil, the workman accepts harder conditions because an employer or contractor will give him no better, he is the victim of force and injustice."
Pope Leo also slammed complex company structures and legal loopholes to avoid paying out workers' entitlements as a "crime that cries out to the avenging anger of heaven".
Australian Manufacturing Workers Union National Secretary Doug Cameron says John Howard's proposed free trade agreement with China was based on the "fundamental lie" that China had a market economy.
"The Chinese Government controls and intervenes in every aspect of its economy," Cameron says.
"They have a suite of national and provincial non-tariff barriers to protect and promote their industries. Workers have no bargaining rights. "
"The country has no human rights, poor environmental standards and a diabolical health and safety system."
Last year, 14,595 Chinese people died in workplace accidents, according to the US State Department.
"The Prime Minister is asking Australian manufacturing workers to compete directly with that system. It will be a disaster for Australian jobs."
Cameron says both the EU and US had refused to accord China market economy status.
He described Howard's call for Australians to "have faith" in his bargaining prowess as "laughable", given the results of the recent US free trade agreement.
"Australia was comprehensively out-negotiated by the Americans. The facts undermine any right for John Howard to ask for our faith in regard to trade negotiations.
Cameron says China represents a threat to living standards and jobs security around the world.
"It has become a haven for multi-national corporations who want to slash wages, environmental and safety standards.
"China is the base from which they want to drive new, lower standards across the globe and John Howard is helping them achieve that."
"We call on John Howard and the state Premiers to immediately convene a meeting of manufacturing industry stakeholders to commence the process of developing a long- term vision and strategy for Australian manufacturing."
"Australia must ensure increased investment, improved technology, innovation, improved skills and exports. These are the key issues we should be looking at."
The 150 workers dumped the Federal Government inspired Australian Workplace Agreements, after a year of activism and negotiation by the near universal union membership.
Under the new deal workers at State Warehousing & Distribution Services, have had weekly working hours cut from 50 hours to 40.
The AWAs had been in place for seven years, but as membership at the warehoiuse grew so did the pressure for a collective agreement.
The new agreement provides workers at warehouse sites across NSW with five weeks annual leave, increased sick leave and has converted many from casual to full time employees.
Over time rates have also been increased with double time on Sundays and after two hours on time and a half.
NUW organiser Justin Cody says union delegates on site deserve full credit for keeping interest high and providing information to members.
"We provided the comparison to other storeman and what they were losing under the AWAs compared to the award and they took it up from there," said Cody. "After seven years of AWAs they'd had enough"
NUW state secretary Derrick Belan says though the union movement faces uncertain and testing times the NUW's success at SWADS reinforces the importance of strength and resilience.
"The lessons of solidarity and determination backed with the willingness to proactively support our members, whatever the challenge, are the things that will see us outlive any conservative political regime or agenda," said Belan.
The push has prompted industrial action with hundreds of Westpac workers walking off the job in Victoria and more action slated for South Australia and Tasmania this week.
Westpac is proposing a 15-month notice period before employees would be able to opt out of weekend work; a move that has been labelled as "locking people away from a weekend".
"We're defending people's right to have a weekend," says Rod Masson from the Financial Sector Union.
"You have to ask yourself, if they don't want to trade on Sundays then why are they setting up the IR system that would allow them to do so,"
Reports from stop work meetings indicated that Westpac employees are furious about moves by the bank to introduce a pay structure which could see their pay reduced.
Other issues discussed at the meeting highlighted the members' intense dissatisfaction with continued harassment to work unpaid overtime, pressure to deliver on unrealistic targets and to do more work with less staff.
The workers have given the Bank until the 1st May to respond to the concerns raised at the meeting.
If no adequate response is received from Westpac by 1st May, workers have flagged further industrial action.
Things Fall Apart
The growing issue of excessive hours will be examined at a special seminar being hosted by Unions NSW.
It brings together leading experts in the fields of ethics, family, work and social research to examine the effects of an increasing workload on society.
The seminar, Things fall Apart: What is work doing to families and community, is set down for the 3rd June 2005 at the Australian Museum Theatrette, College Street, Sydney
For more information, or to RSVP, contact Neale Towart at Unions NSW on 9264 1461, or email [email protected]
Media statements by the CEO Vince Graham blamed drivers taking "sickies" for late running trains, but figures obtained under a Freedom of Information request reveal that there was no campaign, only a shortage of drivers.
Driver sick leave numbers obtained by the RTBU from Sunday, 1 August 2004 to Tuesday, 30 November 2004 showed that there was an average of 34 drivers sick with 1350 planned to be rostered per day.
During this period there were only two occasions when more than 60 drivers were sick and never at any time during this period where there were more than 60 drivers sick on a continuous basis, as claimed by RailCorp.
The real reason for delays was exposed when figures showed that RailCorp was between 53-118 drivers short per day of the planned number of drivers over this period.
Nick Lewocki Rail Tram and Bus Union state secretary says the Railcorp and the government's strategy was to pit one group of workers against another,"
"They wanted to eliminate the goodwill in the community for rail workers and divert attention away from senior management's inability to manage the rail system," Lewocki says.
Information provided by RailCorp prompted Sydney newspaper Columnist Miranda Divine to write, "train drivers taking sick days grind the system to a standstill"; and that "A group is also suspected of using sickies to sabotage a vulnerable rail system."
The RTBU says that the RailCorp strategy was employed during Enterprise Agreement negotiations to make the agreement about one group of workers and not the whole workforce.
RailCorp's strategy backfired when angry train users, led by Rebecca "Captain Commuter" Turner, got behind rail workers, undermining the state government's strategy of trying to blame rail workers for the system's chronic unreliability.
"Accusations made by senior RailCorp management and politicians were achieved by distorting figures to mislead the public," says Lewocki. "The RailCorp Board should insist that senior RailCorp management adhere to the Code of Workplace Standards that require all Railcorp employees to behave honestly, ethically and truthfully,"
The Office of the Employment Advocate upheld the women’s appeal against the contracts and instructed Merbein Mushroom farmer, Geoff Izard to pay shortfalls in their wages dating back to the start of the year.
The OEA ordered the AWA back down after separate court decision found four of the women, who were sacked after refusing to sign contracts, had been unfairly dismissed.
Izard, introduced the new pay regime to his 45 strong workforce two months ago after state law forced him to pay higher wages on January 1. The contracts also cut penalty rates and bonuses, replaced hourly pay with "piece" rates and maintained all staff as casuals.
The four mushroom pickers took Izard to the Federal Court after they were sacked for objecting to the new pay regime, but were ordered back to work in March.
Now the OEA has torn up the AWA's for all the 45 pickers after finding they had been coerced into signing under threat of dismissal.
One mushroom picker who took a stand against the AWAs, Sue Simes, says she feels vindicated by the decision. "The AWAs were stopped because it didn't meet certain requirements, so we were right, we do feel it has been a victory for us."
Staff are now furious because Izard kept them in the dark about the AWA's cancellation for three weeks.
The mushroom pickers union, the AWU, will take legal action against Merbein Mushrooms over the delay.
The AWU believes the result is an embarrassing setback for the Federal Government's preferred form of individual contract.
AWU national secretary, Bill Shorten said he was concerned the Federal Government's forthcoming changes to industrial relations laws will allow AWAs to cut workers' pay and conditions by being forced on people without their proper consent.
"John Howard should publicly rule out any changes that would allow the compulsory introduction of AWAs that undercut Award pay and conditions," Shorten said.
Sydney Water has flagged it will dismiss the workers in defiance of IRC Judge, Justice Boland, who supported the workers at the IRC on Wednesday.
The water utility claims Ron Austin and Tony Bagala carry injuries making them unfit to perform their jobs. But the workers insist they can do the work, are qualified for other roles, or could be retrained for clerical work.
ASU official Colin Lynch says the sackings are the tip of the iceberg with at least 120 other workers marked for termination. Lynch a mass meeting of 1500 workers voted for strike action, and more workers could follow them.
"These workers built the sewerage system of Sydney and were injured, often working in unsafe and dangerous conditions, and now they've reached middle age Sydney Water wants to dump them," said Lynch.
"Sydney Water owes then the opportunity to be retrained and to continue in productive jobs which are less manually demanding."
Lynch says Sydney Water is required by law to redeploy staff.
"You can't tell me in an organisation of 4000 people they can't find someone another job, they haven't even tried."
Bagala, who tore his bicep on the job in 1992, says though he can't use large jackhammers he can still perform his normal duties such as repairing sewers, and preparing pipes.
The team leader, who's been at the corporation for 29 years, says he's only on restricted duties at the insistence of Sydney Water.
"I can do all kinds of fieldwork, I can do plumbing, concreting, work on manholes, bricklaying, and steel work," said Bagala.
Bagala believes he is allocated jobs that simply set him up to fail.
"They're losing an experienced guy only because my manager makes a decision and it's final."
"You give the best years of your life to Sydney Water...the moment you get hurt, even though you get better, they don't want you anymore."
The Taskforce had its bid to have Peter McLean fined $2000 stood over in the Mildura Magistrate's Court, this week, after it indicated it wasn't ready to proceed.
The adjournment request, filed more than a year after the Taskforce began investigating the CFMEU' delegate, drew a stinging response from his wife.
"If this Government was willing to spend what they have spent trying to get us, on improving people's lives, they could afford a new hospital or school in the area," Lynette McLean said.
Taskforce officer, Gary Ponzio, has charged the dogman with breaching the dispute resolution procedure in the Victorian Building Industry Agreement.
The case stems from the failure of head contractor, Zauner Construction, to pay site allowances set out in their enterprise bargaining agreement until La Trobe University's Mildura site was closed for a day.
McLean said he received repeated assurances the $1.65 an hour, at issue, would be paid. But, after nine or 10 weeks of representations, Zauner still hadn't delivered.
Mildura sources said Zauner backpaid the 50 workers on site, immediately after their stoppage.
McLean, a father of six, says he has no idea why the Taskforce is so determined to get its hands on his savings.
"I don't know what they want and I don't think they do either," he said. "I can only think it's become personal.
"Gary Zauner's a nice enough bloke but his company overlooked paying site allowance, and they kept overlooking it.
"But our biggest problem was Gary Ponzio. He kept interfering and we had arguments over all sorts of things. Every morning, for weeks, his white Falcon was parked out the front of the job.
"I was also the safety rep and he harassed me over that, as well. At one point, he ordered me to hand over all my books and diaries.
"I really think the court action is personal. The boys won the argument and now it's pay back time."
The Taskforce began its action against McLean shortly after Hadgkiss told Senate Estimates his organisation did not pursue employers for award breaches.
The Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers Australia says a continued shortage means engineering professionals have the strongest ground for demanding higher and more appropriate remuneration packages in twenty years.
In a circular to its engineering members, highlighting the current labour market trends APESMA urges members to not only seek higher salaries but better conditions, including:
- extra leave in compensation for longer hours being worked
- payment for further training and education
- payment of child care expenses
- extra superannuation
- and provision of motor vehicles.
APESMA engineers are employed under a mixture of collective agreements, individual contracts and Australian Workplace Agreements.
Chief Executive of APESMA John Vines says the time had never been better for engineers to bargain for better wages and conditions.
"With significant increases in spending and planned spending on infrastructure both nationally and internationally together with an ageing engineering workforce and a decline in university enrolments, the demand of engineers is often exceeding supply in some areas.
"In this climate we are encouraging members to use their strong market position to secure better pay and a set of conditions that will push the entire profession forward.
"For too long engineers salaries have not reflected the true value and contributions of engineers.
"Our members don't run big industry wide campaigns, but they do have bargaining power in the context of the skills shortage and now is the time to assert a bit of that power."
Union secretary, Aiden Nye, will tell an NSW Parliament inquiry the industry lacks a proper code of practice or monitoring body to ensure dignity for families and workers.
Nye says lax licensing and procedural regulations have led to horror stories of bodies being operated on, washed, and dressed in residential backyards and babies being kept in domestic fridges. Some undertakers do not even refrigerate cadavars.
Nye is calling for workers to be given proper training, protective clothing, washing facilities and crucial information about cause of death - especially where infectious disease is involved.
He says in the absence of a proper policing body for the industry meant the union had had to step into the breech and prosecute shonky operators.
"We need much better monitoring and approval of premises."
Submissions to the inquiry close on May 17.
NSW Premier Bob Carr will official rename Little Pier Park as 'Reflection Park' at a ceremony involving friends and colleagues of five workers who have died in NSW workplaces.
The park is on the site of Australia's first "industrial revolution", being the home of one of Sydney's earliest mills and a brewery.
Around NSW Every CFMEU OH&S delegate in Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong will attend the service, with the construction union announcing there will be 100 stop work meetings on the commemorative day.
Victorian workplaces, who have had a horror start to 2005 with nine fatalities by the end of March alone, have adopted the canary as a symbol for this year's International Workers Memorial Day.
Workers' Memorial Day commenced in Canada in 1986 as a way of remembering those killed or injured as a result of their work. It was adopted internationally in 1996.
Victorian Unions are marking the day with a memorial service at 10:30am - to be held at the Memorial Rock at Trades Hall in Lygon Street, in conjunction with IDSA (Industrial Death Support & Advocacy), followed by a light lunch at Horti Hall, Interested persons can RSVP to Margot Hoyte, [email protected], 9662 3511
Unions are encouraging workplaces to hold a minute's silence at 11am on April 28 to remember those who have lost their lives through work.
The group accuses Wal-Mart of costing American taxpayers $1.5 billion annually through poor employee benefits schemes, forcing them to resort to medicaid, food stamps, and public housing.
Wal-Mart spends $1300 less per employee on healthcare than average retailers and $2,100 less than average US companies. The company has $1.2 million employees in America.
Communities also fork out for the roads, electricity, sewer, and water lines for Wal-Mart stores.
The group has labelled it the "Wal-Mart Tax", and encouraged supporters to sign up to www.WalmartWatch.com in aThe New York Times ad this week.
Wal-Mart has been in the news recently with revelations of secret slush funds to fund anti-union activity and for employing illegal aliens.
For a comprehensive news source on Wal-Mart, visit
Union Aid Abroad APHEDA raffle
The annual Union Aid Abroad APHEDA raffle is on again. There are wonderful prizes including an around the world trip for two and the proceeds go to UAA-APHEDA's work to help build human rights, workers' rights and justice in developing countries. If you can sell a book of tickets to friends, family and workmates please contact UAA - APHEDA on tel. 1800 888 674 or by email [email protected]
The raffle closes on June 2nd with the winner drawn on June 16th.
Amnesty International Australia (AIA) NSW trade union group
Alison Peters is keen to establish a AIA trade union group in NSW. The group would work on campaigns where people have suffered human rights abuses for establishing, joining or belonging to trade unions and also to involve NSW unions more broadly in AIA's campaigns. If you are interested give her a call on 0425 231 814 or email her at [email protected]
Timor Sea Justice Picket
To coincide with the negotiations between Canberra and Dili and to back up the television advertisements campaign, the Sydney Timor Sea Justice Campaign is calling a picket for 12 noon on Tuesday 26th April, at the corner of Martin Place and Pitt St, then march at 1pm to DFAT corner of Angel Place and Pitt St. Demand a fair maritime boundaryy and that Australia gives East Timor back it's proper sharer of the wealth in the Timor Sea.
Justice for Jack film screening -- 'The President versus David Hicks'
Jack Thomas currently face 55 years in jail under the Howard governments anti-terror laws. Thomas - regularly referred to as "Jihad Jack" by the media - is being prosecuted using evidence obtained in Pakistan where he was held and tortured for five months without charge in 2003. As concern grows over the ongoing erosion of basic human rights in the "war on terror", Jack's case represents an important test on the use of evidence obtained under torture without access to legal counsel.
Come along to this special screening on the closely related story of David Hicks and help support basic human rights and civil liberties in Australia. All proceeds will go to Jack's defence fund.
The President Versus David Hicks
Directed by Curtis Levy and Bentley Dean
"This is a documentary which every concerned Australian should see." David Stratton - The Movie Show
Plus a short documentary on the Jack Thomas case.
$12 full price
7pm, Tuesday April 26 at the Kaliede Theatre - RMIT, Street Level, Building 8, 360 Swanston Street, Melbourne
Phone bookings 9662 3744
Tickets available from the New International Bookshop - Trades Hall, 54 Victoria Street, Carlton.
Organised by the Justice for Jack Campaign
will be shown in Sydney Fri 29 April, Sat 30 Apr and Sun 1 May.
NEW AUSTRALIAN DOCO JUDGED AUSTRALIA'S "DOWN UNDER FAHRENHEIT 9/11" Variety International
Pabrikproductions in association with Mediaworld present a three night screening of
A film by Tahir Cambis and Helen Newman
Anthem is a quest for nothing less than Australia‚s soul and maybe our most important film ever." Encore magazine
In 2000 Emmy Award winning filmmaker, Tahir Cambis and Helen Newman embarked on a personal quest spanning four years and five continents. The result: Anthem, a controversial documentary movie that is a dramatic, intimate witness to people‚s lives caught up in the age of the War on Terror.
Including commentators and characters such as Julian Burnside QC, Tony Kevin, Paul McGeough, Tim Page, Phillip Ruddock and John Howard Anthem combines live action with on-the-spot reportage as it presents the viewer with the devastating consequences and acts of resistance to the "War on Terror‚" From a bounty hunter in Kabul to 9/11 families in New York; from war correspondents in Baghdad to refugees in Australia; the filmmakers take the viewer to the frontline of history.
Anthem explores the very stories and issues that constantly dominant our news: detention centres, the war on terror, our relationship with America.
Funded by the Australian people through the Australian Film Commission and Film Victoria, Anthem is a timely opportunity to review the course of our recent history and the costs of the path we have chosen. Yet apart from emotionally charged screenings at film festivals Anthem has been ignored by distributors and broadcasters. "Never has a film been so fatheadly neglected by the ABC and SBS, its natural homes." Bob Ellis
Screened in 2004 at the Sydney Film Festival to a standing ovation Anthem can now be seen at
The Screening Room on April 29th, 30th and May 1st.
Accompanying each session will be special guest speakers followed by a lively post film discussion with the filmmakers. The Friday night opening will be focused on the role of filmmakers and independent media producers as critical tools in shaping vital public discourse.
"Anthem doesn't just shake the fence, it completely destroys it." Sydney Film Festival
Anthem places itself within the frame, aiming a critical lens on the role and responsibility of filmmakers and wider media in generating public discourse and maintaining strong convictions in the face of creeping censorship across the industry. Independent media producers and filmmakers are encouraged to attend and be part of this much needed debate. Each evening will commence at 7pm for a 7.30pm screening and cost $10 entry donation.
MAY DAY TOAST
7pm Thursday 28th April at the South Sydney Leagues Club, 256 Chalmers St, Sydney. Cost is $20 each and bookings/inquiries can be made to Jaime Midson on 9265 8438.
MAY DAY MARCH
Unionists are asked to assemble from 11am on Sunday 1st May in Hyde Park North with the march starting at 12 noon. Speakers are John Robertson (Unions NSW), Maree O'Halloran (NSW Teachers' Federation), Senator Kerry Nettle and Hannah Middleton (peace activist)
May Day Lunch with Eric Aarons
Produced by Casula Powerhouse Arts centre
Our annual May Day lecture explores how we might instigate change in a vastly different world from that in which May Day demonstrations were first born. In 2005, Eric Aarons will present a discussion about our value systems, global economies, religion, environment and egalitarianism.
Author and sculpture, Eric Aarons, has lived in China and travelled to the Soviet Union, Cuba, Chile and Vietnam. Eric has held some of the highest positions in the Australian Communist Party. His unique perspective is retold in his body of writing and critical thought, including Philosophy for an Exploding World, What's left? and What's Right?
"Perhaps more than any other time, there is today an essential role for rational thought; there is reality to study and grapple with; there are worthwhile, indeed essential things that can be done. Our values tell us what is worthwhile, and the passion with which we hold to them provides the motivation to tackle the tasks involved."
- Eric Aarons, What's Left?, Penguin, 1993.
Neale Towart from Unions NSW will facilitate the program. Join Eric and Neale afterwards, over lunch, for further discussion of his ideas and the role of May Day in contemporary Australia.
WHERE Liverpool Regional Museum
Cnr Hume Hwy and Congressional Drive Liverpool
WHEN Monday, 2 May 2005
11am - 2pm
COST $10 per head (includes lunch)
RSVP Please RSVP by Wednesday, 27 April 2005.
Union Aid Abroad - APHEDA Study Tour
Union Aid Abroad - APHEDA is inviting applications for of East Timor a study tour between July 17th and 24th. The ideal participant will be active in the Australian trade union movement, deeply committed to international solidarity, and keen to investigate the effectiveness of APHEDA projects in East Timor. An ability to have fun and enjoy warm weather is also a must!
The cost of the study tour is $2,050 which includes airfare ex-Darwin, accommodation, in-country transport, interpreter services, breakfasts and the study tour itself. For more information about contact Thomas Michel (02) 9264 9343, 0410 814 360
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.