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Issue No. 271 08 July 2005  

Polls Apart
The tragic bombings in London may knock industrial relations off the front pages over the next few days, but it is unlikely to end the groundswell of opposition to the Howard Government's mad grab at workers' rights.


Interview: Battle Stations
Opposition leader Kim Beazley says he's ready to fight for workers right. But come July 1, he'll have to be fighting by different rules.

Unions: The Workers, United
It was a group of rank and filers who took centre stage when workers rallied in Sydney's Town Hall, writes Jim Marr.

Politics: The Lost Weekend
The ALP had a hot date, they had arranged to meet on the Town Hall steps, and Phil Doyle was there.

Industrial: Truth or Dare
Seventeen ivory towered academics upset those who know what is best for us last week.

History: A Class Act
After reading a new book on class in Australia, Neale Towart is left wondering if it is possible to tie the term down.

Economics: The Numbers Game
Political economist Frank Stilwell offers a beginners guide to understanding budgets

International: Blonde Ambition
Sweden can be an inspiration to labour movements the world over, as it has had community unionism for over 100 years, creating a vibrant caring society, rather than a "productive" lean economy.

Training: The Trade Off
Next time you go looking for a skilled tradesman and can�t find one, blame an economist, writes John Sutton.

Review: Bore of the Worlds
An invincible enemy has people turning against one another as they fight for survival � its not just an eerie view of John Howard�s ideal workplace, writes Nathan Brown.

Poetry: The Beaters Medley
In solidarity with the workers of Australia, Sir Paul McCartney (with inspiration from his old friend John Lennon) has joined the Workers Online resident bard David Peetz to pen some hits about the government's proposed industrial relations revolution.


 Then There Were Three

 Dad's Choice Goes AWAL

 OEA Invokes Sgt Schultz

 CFMEU Resists Standover Tactics

 Tall Tales and Two

 Corrine Throws Stones

 Cardinal Adds Weight to Concerns

 Bosses: Unions Beat AWAs

 16 Hours to Recover Worker

 Choice Gets Confusing

 Attack Derailed In Qld

 PM Pulls Rank On Ads

 HT Lee Gravely Ill

 Activists Whats On!


The Soapbox
State of the Union
Unions NSW secretary John Robertson lifts the lid on �The Nine Myths of Modern Unionism�

The Locker Room
Wrist Action
Phil Doyle trawls the murky depths of tawdry sleaze, and discovers Rugby is behind it all.

To Hew The Coal That Lies Below
Phil Doyle reviews Australia's first coal mining novel, Black Diamonds and Dust.

The Westie Wing
Our favourite State MP, Ian West, reports from Macquarie Street that the Premier is all the way with a State Commission.

 Don�t Call Me Customer
 Do It Yourself?
 Vale the Eight Hour Day
 The vision thing
 Campaign Pushes Right Buttons
 It�s Time to Punt the PM
 Bob Each Way
 Ads Value
 Travel Allowance?
 Hits the Mark
 Reforms not an Erosion
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Polls Apart

The tragic bombings in London may knock industrial relations off the front pages over the next few days, but it is unlikely to end the groundswell of opposition to the Howard Government's mad grab at workers' rights.

The shift in public opinion charted by newspaper polls this week is totally consistent with the internal research underpinning this campaign - that when people engage in this issue they are vehemently opposed to the government.

Polls seldom move 10 per cent - and that they've done so backed by 60 per cent opposition to the changes - is proof that engagement has now occurred and the government's preferred strategy of flying the changes under the radar has been defeated.

Instead they are about to throw a bucket of our money at the issue - but what are they going to say? Maybe they will villify unions. Maybe we'll see legions of funky young workers free of the shackles of workers rights' - or maybe they will just try to shove it down our throats as being in the national economic interest.

This final approach strikes me as a modern adaptation of the old Nestle Quik ads. Remember, "Go on Freddy drink it. Drink it." Only I doubt this cup will taste as good.

This is not to underestimate the Prime Minister's ability to sell unpopular policies. From GST to the War on Iraq he has used a potent brew of wedge politics, and publicly funded advertising to shift the public mood.

But this time the task may be tougher because this is a very different sort of campaign to the ones that have been run from the progressive left in recent times.

Think about the last decade: reconciliation, the republic, refugees, and the War on Iraq - all worthy causes, but all about symbolic issues that affect our conscience rather than our hip pocket.

In fact, there is one analysis of the Tampa that sees the whole refugee debate as a diversion from hip pocket insecurity about economic globalisation, with the Prime Minister using it to divert our fears about free trade into the border protection issue.

This is where the rights at work campaign is a totally different sort of beast to campaigns run from the Left in recent times.

The changes being proposed by the government hit at the living standards of every Australian.

Issues like annual leave, penalty rates and unfair dismissal are tangible rights. Not every one may know how they work or where they come from, but the idea of losing them is none too attractive.

And the early responses by Minister Andrews such as "the world doesn't owe us a living" and "we have to compete in a global economy" are not the sort of reassurances the punters want to hear.

If we have learnt anything in the years of the Howard Government it is that economic indicators can be manipulated and that truth is an elusive commodity - and there is a growing feeling that what is good for the economy is often at the expense of working people.

At the end of the day the question comes down to this: how can taking away workers rights and weakening Australian families be in the national interest?

This is the question where the government carries the onus of proof and while international tragedy may delay the day of reckoning it won't postpone it.

Peter Lewis



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