||Issue No. 290||18 November 2005|
The Long March
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
What lucky country
Swimming with Sharks
Save Our Culture
The Long March
The sheer number of people who took to the streets, in capital cities, local suburbs and country towns, was enough to take the breath away.
The way they registered their dissent, with determination, humour and - in nearly every circumstance - a fierce determination to build support with the broader public, showed this campaigning is maturing into a genuine movement.
But it was the reaction of the key players in this class war -, the government, the business lobby, the media, the two wings of the labour movement - that said most about where the campaign is up to.
The Prime Minister who has bet the house on these reforms was ducking and weaving at his best - asserting that all the fuss would be forgotten within a year. After mobilising all available agencies of government - from the ABCC to individual departments to threaten and harass staff out of attending the protests, there he was, large as life on the TV news, asserting the right to protest.
Like everything about his legislation, things are not what they seem - WorkChoices means no choices; 'protected by law' means 'grand-fathered' and freedom now seems to look more like serfdom. In constructing a virtual universe where these laws are defensible, the Prime Minister is fast entering the realms of the self-delusional. It is dangerous territory.
Predictably, the business cheer squad tried to paint the day as a failure - with silly comments like those from ACCI boss and Reith acolyte Peter Hendy that 95 per cent of workers stayed at work. This spin ignores the historical context of these changes, an era where people are rarely moved to take political action on this scale. Then again, big business knows how it has to win from these laws and is prepared to say just about anything to back them in.
If they had any shame left, it surely evaporated when Telstra slashed 12,000 jobs an hour after the march concluded, just as the Fin Review was preparing to publish its annual rundown of mega-executive salaries.
The media coverage of the rally was overwhelmingly positive - we have (finally) reached the point where journalists are taking the running on the changes and seeking out their angles. The TV stations are giving the images of huge crowds full value; while even newspapers in lockstep with the government are finding it hard to maintain their position; although The Australian battles on gamely. Yes, terrorism trumps IR on page one; but to give the media due credit, they have refused to be fully diverted from scrutinising these radical changes
Even the ALP has stepped up a notch; Kim Beazley's vow to tear up the laws the day he wins power was delivered with sufficient passion to make one believe that such a scenario is not necessarily a fantasy.
As for the unions, the key message that the laws will be resisted - and that this is only the beginning of the campaign cut through. If there is still uncertainty about where the campaign will actually go; at least there is a real sense that this is just a step on a longer march - which can only end with a change in federal government.
In this context, November 15 was not just a set piece, but the culmination of six months of grass roots organising, at a workplace and a community level. And behind Tuesday's glitz, tens of thousands of workers were giving their emails and mobile numbers to a central database, what could be the most potent political weapon this country has seen.
There is no denying that once the laws pass the Federal Parliament there will be significant challenges for the union movement. But in building a broad alliance with the community to fight these changes on a cultural level, unions are giving themselves every chance of winning the long-term battle.
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