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Issue No. 265 27 May 2005  

Hit and Myth
John Howard came to power on the back of a myth about the sort of Australia we had once been; now he is creating a new myth about the sort of Australia we want to become.


Interview: Fortress NSW
NSW IR Minister John Della Bosca on how to win the battle for workers rights - and save the state system.

Unions: Fashions Afield
With new anti-sweatshop creations being paraded at this year's Australian Fashion Week, is equity the new black and are sweatshops the new fur? asks Tara de Boehmler.

Industrial: Pay Dirt
John Burgess argues that the flow-on effect from changing the minimum wage could be more than we bargained for.

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: Big Day Out
Neale Towart looks back on the events that created the May Day heritage.

International: Making History
Hundreds of aid organisations, charities, trade unions and religious groups have formed a global alliance called “ Make Poverty History”.

Economics: The Fear Factor
The solution to skill shortages is intelligent planning, argues John Spoehr

Review: The Robots Revolt
New kids flick Robot uses our electronic friends to teach audiences that inbuilt obsolescence is just a state of mind, writes Tara de Boehmler

Poetry: The Corporation's Power
The idea of a corporations power that could cure any ill has inspired our resident bard, David Peetz, to verse.


 Sign or You're Gone

 Unions Back a Winner

 Howard Chases Nurses

 Victims Champ Joins Resistance

 Red and Green Blue

 Usual Suspects Lead Cheer Squad

 Ugly Australian On Charges

 Aussies Longer and Harder

 Guard Attached, Then Sacked

 Doh – Homero Loses Voice

 Bunbury Families Win Payouts

 Double Standards For Dads

 Libs Back 'Illegal' Rally

 TAFE Teaches A Lesson On Winning

 Activist’s What’s On!


The Soapbox
May Spray
Unions NSW secretary John Robertson delivered the annual May Day Toast - and warned it is no time to be comfortable and relaxed.

The Locker Room
A Rucking Good Time
Phil Doyle reveals many things, some of them useful

The Westie Wing
Our favourite MP, Ian West, is back to regale us with inside goss and intrigue from the Bearpit.

 One Hell Of A Job
 US Fan Mail
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Hit and Myth

John Howard came to power on the back of a myth about the sort of Australia we had once been; now he is creating a new myth about the sort of Australia we want to become.

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.

Peter Lewis



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