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Issue No. 274 29 July 2005  
E D I T O R I A L

The Heart of the Matter
Senators Steve Fielding and Barnaby Joyce are right to quibble over the futures of Christmas Day, Good Friday and Anzac Day.

F E A T U R E S

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.

N E W S

 Carr Fingers Feds

 Boeing Scabs Take Flight

 Billion Dollar Blow Hards

 Door Closes on Foot Soldier

 Andrews Ropes In Footy

 Gooooood Morning Sydney!

 Posties Bite Back

 Choice Myth Busted Again

 Vale HT

 Dumb and DEWR

 Combet: Business Can't Be Trusted

 Telstra Burns Bush

 Detective on Death Site

 States of Disunity

 A Turbulent Decade

C O L U M N S

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.

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

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

L E T T E R S
 Don’t take your Gunns to town
 Yankee Panky
 Poetry in motion
 Losing the faith
WHAT YOU CAN DO
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Editorial

The Heart of the Matter


Senators Steve Fielding and Barnaby Joyce are right to quibble over the futures of Christmas Day, Good Friday and Anzac Day.

But, with respect, it is only quibbling.

Why, from a family-friendly viewpoint, you would arc up over individual statutory holidays and let plans to rip out two full weeks of guaranteed annual leave go through to the keeper, is not immediately clear.

Howard's Workplace Relations spokesman, Kevin Andrews, has made it crystal clear he wants employers and employees to be able to "trade away" a fortnight of existing four-week entitlements.

It is part of a broad-ranging rewrite of workplace laws that seeks to strengthen the hand of business at the expense of working people and their families.

Business pressure groups, like the BCA and Chamber of Commerce and Industry, must view John Howard as the closest thing to Santa Claus that has ever crawled out of Bennelong.

He has given them everything they wished for and a few unexpected bonuses, for good measure.

Just where the proposal to scrap unfair dismissal rights for everyone at a workplace with less than 101 people came from, is still a mystery. Even the business lobby was only agitating for the right to discriminate against Australians with less than 20 workmates.

The scope of the proposed changes is so broad and fundamental that criticism was inevitable.

Much media, and for that matter, union attention has centred on annual holidays and unjustified dismissals.

Yet, like Christmas and Good Friday, they are merely icing on business' cake.

The active ingredient in this recipe is individual workplace agreements - secret deals that will be used to undermine collective bargaining and the core conditions it has delivered.

Howard and Andrews are arguing, vociferously, that they won't strip anything away from anybody and, technically, they may have a point.

What they are proposing, essentially, is enabling legislation.

Their laws will enable employers to slash wage rates, eliminate overtime payments, do away with weekend rates, and over-rule established conditions and holiday entitlements.

It is on individual contracts, that their plan to Americanise Australian society will stand or fall.

Business understands that and so do its champions.

International law-makers also understood it and that's why they wrote the right to collectively bargain into International Labour Organisation standards that Australia has signed.

Australia, prior to Howard and Andrews, accepted it was a fundamental human right.

What these people also understood was that, for all its apparent sleepiness, the only thing standing between them and the elimination of collective bargaining was the trade union movement.

That's why they have engaged in a decade-long orgy of union vilification. They have used dogs and mercenaries; a travesty of a Royal Commission; and special legislation to deny building workers basic legal protections.

Conservatively, they have spent more than $100 million taxpayer dollars to denigrate unions and union members.

All this, at a time when, to the outside observer anyway, unions had become victims of their own successes, unable to convince large numbers of workers that there was a clear and present need for their services.

The game-plan, clearly, was that, when it came time to rip away the safety net of collective bargaining it could be shrouded in anti-union camouflage.

Well, that time is here and Howard and Andrews are playing their trump for all it is worth.

Their problem is that the attack has been so sharp it has thrown a lot of old truisms back into focus - the sort of things our fathers and grandmothers would have accepted without question.

One of them is that collective bargaining is the central prop for our families' living standards and, another is, that we won't keep it unless we can strengthen our unions.

Jim Marr


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