||Issue No. 277||19 August 2005|
Interview: On Holiday
Unions: One Day Longer
Industrial: Never Mind the Bollocks
Politics: Spun Out
Economics: If the Grog Don't Get You ....
History: Taking a Stand
International: The Split
Legal: Pushing the Friendship
Poetry: Simple Subtractions
Review: Sydney Trashed
The Locker Room
Think of the Kids
Stand Your Ground
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.
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