||Issue No. 282||23 September 2005|
Highway To Help
Interview: Polar Eclipse
Industrial: Wrong Turn
Unions: Star Support
Workplace: Checked Out
Economics: Sold Out
Politics: Green Banned
History: Potted History
International: Curtain Call
Review: Little Fish
Poetry: Slug A Worker
The Locker Room
Missed the Mark
Highway To Help
Like the state's roads, there were good and bad moments, providing a real insight into the challenges and opportunities in building union connections in rural and regional communities.
Across the State we found working people engaged with the issue, particularly up on the north coast, where people put their hands up to take on the responsibility of leading local campaigns.
Some of these campaigns had come off the back of months of ground work, others had sprung up recently but were buoyed by an enthusiasm and a resolve to stop the federal government's agenda.
What was common was a thirst for information about the changes, deep-seated suspicions of the Howard Government's industrial relations agenda, and a special appreciation that the dilution of work rights will undermine community structures.
Rural communities, more than the big cities, rely on their human capital, and speaker after speaker on the road trip made the point that changes to work were making it harder for them to commit regular time to communities.
The unifying theme was that the loss of rights was yet another step in the State's walk away from regional Australia.
They've lost their banks and they've lost their government services. Now they've lost their phone services and on top of this the industrial safety net is being handed over to big business.
While there currently may be a strong market for workers in the cities, many regional towns don't have the same pressure to push up wages and conditions, meaning the impact of the changes felt there will be harsher.
Communities already struggling to keep their young people are concerned that there will be fewer opportunities for stable and secure jobs; while those that rely on tourism have a secondary threat - plans to whittle away the current standard of four week's annual leave.
All these concerns were laid bare at the public meetings coinciding with the bus trip - effectively throwing down the gauntlet to the Prime Minister to justify his radical changes.
But the bus was designed to leave behind more than awareness and it was the building of more than 40 local campaign committees that was the real achievement of this road trip.
There may be even more, as a pit-stop in Glen Innes revealed a local committee that had sprung to life organically out of the local sky channel meeting.
There is no one size fits all model for these local committees - the underlying energy was organic. In many conservative towns trade unionism was emerging publicly for the first time in many decades.
From those attracted to the meetings who had never been to a union function in their lives, to the two neighbours in Coffs Harbour who had known each other for five years without being aware that the other was a union activist, the meetings were about forging links within communities.
Part of the plan is to build up a network of local union networks, once the focus of many regional towns - but this needs to be done without imposing some rigid outside model.
It is the organic nature of the regional committees that is their strength - equipping local workers with the tools to link up with colleagues; and the skills to build community networks that are in step with their neighbourhood.
People are able to talk about how this issue will affect their community. It is the all-important relevant local detail that gives the national campaign a context. It reminds people, including those outside the movement such as local small businesses, that there will be no escaping these changes for anyone.
It also works as a tool to hold politicians who support these laws accountable. Liberal Garry Nairn in the Federal seat of Eden Monaro may be able to dodge a 14 tonne bus rolling around his electorate, but he can't hide from his constituents in Cooma, Queanbeyan and down the South Coast forever.
The campaign also builds on growing levels of cooperation between affiliates in servicing country members and provides real impetus toward more creative ways of recruiting and marketing unions outside the cities.
No one suggests a single lap of the state is anything but the first step in building these networks. But it is a timely first step in planting the seeds for a resurgence in regional unionism.
|Search All Issues | Latest Issue | Previous Issues | Print Latest Issue|
© 1999-2002 Workers Online