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Issue No. 277 19 August 2005  

Weasel Words
We are living in an era where words are not always as they seem, and where language is used to shape the world rather than just describe it.


Interview: On Holiday
Historian Richard White looks back on the Aussie vacation - and finds a way of life is under threat.,

Unions: One Day Longer
Nathan Brown travels to the Boeing picket line and find a group of workers with a steely determination to stick together.

Industrial: Never Mind the Bollocks
Jim Marr plays the Howard Government's industrial relations spin job on its merits.

Politics: Spun Out
Canberra’s latest campaign underlines the need for controls over government advertising, according to Graeme Orr and Joo-Cheong Tham

Economics: If the Grog Don't Get You ....
Evan Jones explains how the way we purchase alcolohol reflects the type of economy we live in.

History: Taking a Stand
Neale Towart looks at two books that chronicle how to build community support against social injustice.

International: The Split
Amanda Tattersal outsider's account of an insider's shake-out at the AFL-CIO Convention 2005

Legal: Pushing the Friendship
George Williams argues that the federal government’s constitutional powers are not sufficient to enact a comprehensive national industrial relations scheme

Poetry: Simple Subtractions
The latest blitz of taxpayer-funded advertising has revealed a crisis of arithmetic in government ranks has moved resident bard David Peetz to prose.

Review: Sydney Trashed
Sydney band SC Trash are on a mission to give new life to folk and country music – and the politics of common sense. Nathan Brown had a beer with them


 AWAs Bully the Sisters

 Busted: Howard's 14 Percent Furphy

 Top End of Town to Write IR Laws

 New Laws Make Green Bans History

 Hardies Dodges Responsibility

 Blokes Wouldn’t Cop Child Care Wages

 MPs Duck As Unions Hit the Road

 Profits Do Not Mean Security

 Dodgy Wagons Rolling In

 Telstra: Death By 1,000 Cuts

 Andrews Shafts Employee Safety

 Indon Rail Workers Roll Paycut Plan

 Activist's What's On!


The Westie Wing
Our favourite MP, Ian West, goes away for a couple of weeks and look what happens…

The Soapbox
The Last Weekend
Unions NSW secretary John Robertson's speech to the Last Weekend - how the Howard government laws will undermine the Ausrtalian way of life.

The Locker Room
A Concept Is Born
In which Phil Doyle helps the proponents of the vision thing across the road.

Workers Blood For Oil
A new book by Abdullah Muhsin and Alan Johnson lifts the lid on the bloody reality of US backed democracy for Iraq's trade unions

London Post
During his recent stay in London IEU industrial officer John Shapiro was living only a few hundred metres from the site of one of the bomb blasts.

 Capital Terror
 Think of the Kids
 Let’s Talk
 Stupid Sale
 The Meal
 Stand Your Ground
 Convenient Flagellation
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Weasel Words

We are living in an era where words are not always as they seem, and where language is used to shape the world rather than just describe it.

Don Watson calls them 'weasel words'. As he points out vividly in his book 'Death Sentence', the public language has morphed into a strange parallel universe, with terms like 'enhanced productivity', 'efficient and flexible processes', and 'performance indicators'.

This public language is not just destructive of the soul and the mind, it has also become a tool for controlling the political debate.

This is what is happening in the realm of industrial relations, a world where the language of conciliation and arbitration may have never been elegant, but at least it was clearly understood.

Already we have seen legislation that attacks workers' rights being named 'the Better Pay More Jobs' Act and legislation that destroys building unions being called the 'Building Industry Improvement Act'. Meanwhile the 'Employment Advocate' is set up to 'free' workers from their right to bargain collectively.

We saw it when unions become characterised as 'third parties' encroaching on employees' 'freedom' to 'choose' to 'negotiate directly with their employer'.

Now stand by for the linguistic version of operation 'shock and awe' as $20 million of our money is spent convincing us that we should lie back and think of the nation as our work rights are stripped from under us.

We have already seen the Howard Government's opening salvo: 'More Jobs, Higher Wages, A Stronger Economy'. It's all about 'productivity', 'flexibility', 'efficiency' and 'competitiveness'; self-evident goods that are essential for our ongoing economic well-being.

The arguments gather steam until we reach the absurd position where standing up for workers' rights and basic values, like family time, becomes downright unpatriotic.

So here is the Workers Online glossary of IR weasel words:

- 'Productivity' means 'working longer and harder for less'

- 'Flexibility' means 'losing working rights'

- 'More jobs' mean 'more casual jobs'

- 'Choice' means 'sign here'

- 'Competitive' means 'competing for wages with China and India'

- 'IR reform' means 'destroying unions'

There's one other weasel word that we keep hearing being bandied about, namely 'national interest', and it is the ultimate justification for this attack on workers' rights.

One need look no further than the recent behaviour of three of our formerly state-owned businesses to get an idea of the true meaning of this term.

The Commonwealth Bank makes a $4 billion profit off the back of 20,000 job cuts and the outgoing CEO pats himself on the back. Qantas announces a record profit and in the same breadth says jobs must be cut. And Telstra racks up $4 billion for the year and then starts preparing for redundancies.

These are the companies driving the 'national interest', 'delivering sustained prosperity' and 'enhanced productivity'. They are also the companies driving the Federal Government's IR agenda through the big business union, the Business Council of Australia.

So we have a new 'truth' - that our record profits can not deliver job security for workers and instead just set a higher bar for the next year; meaning the better a company goes, the less secure their workers are.

And it's all in the 'national interest' with no room for debate and if you disagree you are a dinosaur or, worse, 'economically illiterate'.

Today's challenge is to find a language that diffuses this claptrap; a language that is connected to the bullshit detector; a language of verbs and adjectives that puts people and emotions back into the equation.

In this sense the battle around IR goes far beyond the workplace. It is a cultural war where the imperative is to build a clear, concise language that moves people to, not just switch off when they are fed these weasel words, but to rise up in anger and demand something better.

If we can succeed in this, will have won much more than a political battle.

Perter Lewis



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