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Issue No. 280 09 September 2005  
E D I T O R I A L

The Perfect Storm
The mayhem and misery engulfing New Orleans and its surrounds is more than a human tragedy of mammoth proportions, it is the product of a convergence of events that could shift our worldview every bit as much as the attacks on September 11, 2001.

F E A T U R E S

Interview: Polar Eclipse
Academic David McKnight challenges some sacred cows in his new book "Beyond Left and Right".

Industrial: Wrong Turn
Radical labour reform is on the horizon but some workers, like Sydney bus driver Yvonne Carson, have seen it all before, writes Jim Marr.

Unions: Star Support
It wasn't just families who backed workers' rights at The Last Weekend, but a bunch of musicians who set the tone, writes Chrissy Layton.

Workplace: Checked Out
Glenda Kwek asks you to consider the plight of the retail worker, and shares some of her experiences

Economics: Sold Out
The Future Fund and industrial relations reform are favourite projects of the PM and the Treasurer. Both are speculations on the future and the only guarantee with them is that you will be worse off, writes Neale Towart.

Politics: Green Banned
The impact of new building industry laws won’t be confined to one industry, writes CFMEU national secretary John Sutton.

History: Potted History
Lithgow is a place with a proud history as a union town. The origins of broader community solidarity lie in the early industrial development of the town and the development of unions. The Lithgow Pottery dispute of 1890 was a key event.

International: Curtain Call
The curtains have opened for East Timor’s young theatre performers, thanks to a Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA project.

Review: Little Fish
At last! An Aussie film with substance, suspense and a serious dose of reality, writes Lucy Muirhead

Poetry: Slug A Worker
In a shock development, the Federal Treasurer, Peter Costello, gave a ringing endorsement to the poetry pages of Workers Online, writes resident bard David Peetz.

N E W S

 Telstra Cuts Off Sick Mum

 CFMEU Pulls $3M Bank Job

 Life Imitates Ad

 Equal Pay Unlawful

 AWA Threatens Kids

 Howard’s Porky Exposed

 STOP PRESS: Bank Pinged

 Thongs Flap Into IR War

 Dad Sacked Over Safety Fears

 News Leader in Advertising Stink

 PM’s Spin Hit for Six

 Daffy Ducks Dud Deal

 Canada Shamed

 Combet Stars At Rooty Hill

 Vanstone Backs Ciggie Salaries for Detainees

 Flicking the Super Switch

 Activists What's On!

C O L U M N S

The Soapbox
Families First
New Senator Stephen Fielding turned a few heads with his Maiden Speech to Parliament.

The Locker Room
The New World Order
Phil Doyle declares himself unavailable for the fifth and deciding test.

Parliament
The Westie Wing
Our favourite MP, Ian West, reports from the NSW Government's Safety Summit

Postcard
On The Bus
A bright orange bus travelling the state has become the focus of the campaign against federal IR changes. Nathan Brown was on board.

L E T T E R S
 Telstra Trauma
 Telstra’s Calling
 What Poor People?
 The Day
WHAT YOU CAN DO
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Editorial

The Perfect Storm


The mayhem and misery engulfing New Orleans and its surrounds is more than a human tragedy of mammoth proportions, it is the product of a convergence of events that could shift our worldview every bit as much as the attacks on September 11, 2001.

The breakdown in American society that has been on display stands in stark relief to the response to the Asian tsunami. In Aceh the disaster stopped a civil war, in America it came close to starting one.

Experts are calling it a toxic gumbo - and who could argue? A potent mix of small government, federal funding starved by the War in Iraq, race-based wealth disparity, lax gun laws all set alight by what looks suspiciously like global warming.

There is no joy in saying that this is a case of chickens coming home to roost, but this looks more than a little like the end game down the road of rampant individualism.

Think about it; a society built on 'freedom' from government, where 'tax relief' is a self-evident good, 'gun ownership' is a right and prosperity is something enjoyed by the individual not the group.

And when that society faced an external threat, what happened? The rich fled, the poor had nowhere to go, the infrastructure collapsed and there was no effective 'state' to respond.

And in the void, the people who stayed starved, waiting for help to arrive as gunshots and looting rang out across the city, meaning the people who fled now have little to return to.

America now faces a challenge every bit as confronting as the aftermath to 9/11; while the insecurity felt after the terror attacks could be salved by military action, what will reassure those who have seen how brittle America's internal structures have become?

While it may be fun for us to watch the President try to spin and squirm his way out of this one, the big question is not who to blame, but how America can rebuild not just the damaged cities, but the damaged sense of self.

As American academic Thomas Kochan observed this week, the response needs to go beyond the rebuilding of the levee and the draining of the low lands.

Bush's tax program needs to be trashed and his social security 'reforms' put on hold, replaced by a commitment to invest in services, jobs, infrastructure - an FDR-style New Deal for a new time of crisis - overseen by a national unity council of business, government and labour.

As for Australians, we can't be too smug. After all, we are about to head down a path of labour relations that not just follows America, but leapfrogs the US model of individualism.

The question we must ask ourselves is: are we really prepared to take this journey? Is this the sort of society we want to build? Is it too late to blow the whistle and appreciate what we are about to lose?

We are luckier than the poor people of New Orleans; at this point we have a social safety net, a set of entrenched employment rights, a fair minimum wage, mechanisms that protect us - if not from Acts of God, at least from the reactions of our fellow humans.

As America comes to terms with Katrina and her aftermath, as the President dodges blame, as local officials cop heat, and as the people shake their heads in disbelief that the American Dream has become a nightmare, it should give us some pause to reconsider the path our own leader is taking us on.

Peter Lewis

Editor


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