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Issue No. 273 22 July 2005  

Split Infinitives
As unions across Australia put up a united front against the Howard IR assault, events across the Pacific serve as a warning of what can happen when individuals start going one out.


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.


 Centrelink to Cheat Workers

 Foot Soldiers Get Blisters

 Feds to Lift Voting Age

 Taskforce Plastered

 Paint It Slack


 Hadgkiss in Safety Failure

 Freedom to Starve

 Police And Thieves

 Feds Make Asbestos Blue

 Scabs Farewelled

 Capital Idea Under Threat

 Masterton Homes Crumbles

 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.

 Frame Up
 Keep the Faith
 Life on a Low Wage
 Seeing the Trees For the Wood
 Carnival Comes to Town
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Split Infinitives

As unions across Australia put up a united front against the Howard IR assault, events across the Pacific serve as a warning of what can happen when individuals start going one out.

This weekend a group of America's four largest unions, representing 30 per cent of the US movement, will boycott the AFL-CIO convention in Chicago, beginning a seemingly irreversible march to disaffiliating from the peak body.

As of print time, the SEIU, Teamsters, UFCWIU and UNITE HERE look likely to walk away from the AFL-CIO, withdraw their affiliation fees and set up their own movement.

Trying to make sense of the schism from afar is always difficult, but from what I can make out the dissidents led by SEIU chief Andy Stern want the AFL-CIO (led by former SEIU chief John Sweeney) to shift its emphasis from political campaigning to grassroots organising.

At issue is the question of whether the political-organising funding model should be about 60-40 or 40-60.

Of course, this budget is only the emblem for deep-seated frustrations created by a hostile political environment, a shrinking membership base, and personal ambitions fuelled by desperation to find a Messiah with the one big solution.

There is no denying that unions are struggling in the USA, with single figure coverage in the private sector, and that the case for changing tactics in a particularly hostile environment would appear compelling.

But look through history and very few splits make either the splitter or the split-ee stronger. From Caesar and Antony, through Trotsky and Lenin, to the ALP and DLP - they've all ended in tears.

But why would we in Australia care if the US union movement proceeds to eat itself?

First, while we might not like to admit it, much of our union strategy has been driven from the USA in recent years. The so-called organising model that has reached the level of faith in some quarters was a direct application of the US doctrine.

Moreover, America exports most of its ideas and the US labour movement's failure to tame major corporations is an international commodity coming to a workplace near you.

Secondly, some of those looking at IR reform beyond the Howard assault see US-style 'recognition ballots' as the end game of Labor's response - enshrining bargaining rights at the workplace and allowing unions to levy bargaining fees on non-members who benefit from their work.

In this context, we will be looking at the US for strategies to win recognition ballots, and there's no denying the SEIU do it well.

Thirdly - and most importantly - the SEUI is thinking globally and has recently put up $1 million to be spent in Australia - ostensibly to further the cause of organising in multinational corporations.

Exactly how is unclear, but the prospect of the establishment of a separatist structure within the Australian movement is the last thing we need right now.

You only have to look at Chicago to see where that inevitably leads. Disunity is death.

Peter Lewis



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