||Issue No. 265||27 May 2005|
Hit and Myth
Interview: Fortress NSW
Unions: Fashions Afield
Industrial: Pay Dirt
Politics: Infrastructure Blues
History: Big Day Out
International: Making History
Economics: The Fear Factor
Review: The Robots Revolt
Poetry: The Corporation's Power
The Locker Room
One Hell Of A Job
US Fan Mail
Hit and Myth
His new vision of a workforce liberated from their rights is every bit as contrived and dishonest as the white picket, white bread cliche' of Australia that delivered him his first victory.
Strip the rhetoric about 'efficiency', productivity' and, laughably, 'fairness' from Howard's speech introducing his attack on workers rights this week, and you have the absurd proposition that taking work rights away from you will somehow make you stronger.
In Howard's words, the collective rules that have delivered Australia a fair society are the product of the 'elite' few.
He believes workers will welcome the opportunity to jump onto individual contracts and set their own wages and conditions, free of all but the most cursory of minimum standards.
Holding out this nirvana of a society of individuals all thriving as single units reminds me of that wonderful scene from 'The Life of Brian' - the mass gathers and chants 'we're all individuals'; then one chap out the back shouts 'I'm not', then another 'neither am I', until the whole crowd is chanting again.
To expose the woolliness of this proposition takes a little bit of reasoning, but it is well worth the effort.
Step One: A society based on a decent minimum wage, does not just ensure a decent quality of life for the low paid; it also ensures social cohesion for all of us.
Step Two: Awards that give all workers basic standards, rather than putting rights like leave, penalty rates and reasonable workloads on the bargaining table, is more than just an industrial agreement. These are the pillars that give working people certainty in their lives, allowing them to plan their family lives and commit to community activities.
Step Three: And this is the key point to the Howard mythology; individual bargaining is a recipe for conflict - between employers and employees with unequal bargaining power; and between workers, who are pitted against each other. Promote flexible workplaces, by all means, but do it as a team and the benefits will flow right through the organisation.
How anyone, other than an employer advocate with no interest in lifting their eyes up from the balance sheet can see the Howard changes as a recipe for a fairer society defies belief.
Back to John Howard - and Monty Python - the point is that without a set of common rules and collective rights, individuals do not have the chance to thrive.
Cutting work rights is not some exercise in personal freedom, but the opposite: less certainty of income, hours and work-flow placing pressure on families and entire communities.
We already see it with the deregulation that has been imposed to date; work has never been as stressful, economic security has never been as elusive.
It is a mistake to see the upcoming battle over work rights as an industrial campaign or even a political campaign; this is the next cultural battle, about the sort of society we leave our kids.
And the first step is to be honest about the sort of Australia we are - and would want to be; not a nation go-getter entrepreneurs who would climb over their neighbours to get to the top, but a nation founded on mateship and cooperation.
It is through this frame that the Howard agenda is not just anti-worker but down-right un-Australian.
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