||Issue No. 289||11 November 2005|
The Great Repression
Interview: Public Defender
Legal: Craig's Story
Unions: Wrong Way, Go Back
Politics: Queue Jumping
History: Iron Heel
Economics: Waging War
International: Under Pressure
Poetry: Billy Negotiates An AWA
Review: A Pertinent Proposition
The Locker Room
We're Just Serfin'
To the Shredder
The Great Repression
The first statement is a concession that the accusations of a union 'scare campaign' over the changes are baseless; the second shows the arrogance of a government now exercising power without limits.
Under the cover of more than 1,000 pages of legislation and regulations is an agenda to criminalise industrial relations as we know it - with fines and even jail for officials and rank and file members prepared to assert their rights.
Let's be clear: we are currently witnessing the most brazen political power play since the 1975 Dismissal - only this time it is not a government being put to the knife but an institution that has been part of Australian life since before Federation.
We have seen the excesses of this approach in the building industry, where this week workers have been interrogated by government agents, without access to their chosen lawyer, with the threat of jail if they refuse to disclose what was said at a union meeting.
We also have the alarming situation where building workers who do not get a signed note from their employer are facing massive personal fines for attending the National Day of Community Action against the IR changes.
These laws have already passed through the Federal Parliament with little public debate and no real scrutiny of their purported justification of addressing 'corruption and thuggery' in the building industry. After all, building workers aren't cuddly and their plight doesn't seem to concern the commentariat as much as the plight of refugees or indigines.
The WorkChoices legislation carries the rest of the Australian workforce down this path, every crevasse of industrial and organising activity has severe legal restrictions and tough penalties for those who step across the new legal lines.
From entering the workplace, to framing agreements, to taking industrial action the laws are highly prescriptive, with regulations framed by the same corporate lawyers who will brief Australia's biggest companies as they begin to make hay with their new found powers..
The government accuses the union movement of crying wolf, but when union leaders are taking steps to divest themselves of their assets and seriously contemplating periods in jail, you get the feeling that we are entering a new era.
The question we must ask is: how have we allowed the situation to come to this? Are we so open to abuse to our leaders that they can just take away basic rights; or has the climate of terror reduced our threshold for individual freedom.
The joke is that this legislation has been presented under the pretence of deregulation ; it would be more accurate to describe it as a massive regulation of the labour market to prevent collective activity.
To call this legislation 'extreme' merely places it in its international context; but it is 'repression' that is at its heart; the repression of the rights of workers to bargain for decent wages and conditions in order to serve two converging ideological imperatives - the triumph of the free market over workers and the more crass mission of the Liberals to dismantle their opponent's institutional base.
The danger for the Howard Government is that the reality of workers and their elected leaders in jail could become the icon for a government that is out of control. That and the Mad Monk's air-kisses.
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