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Issue No. 301 31 March 2006  

Deep Impact
No the sky didn’t fall in, but there were an awful lot of acorns falling on Australian workers this week as John Howard’s dream of a workplace without rights became a reality.


Interview: Organising In Cyberspace
Workers Online speaks to the ACTU's Union Organiser of the Year, Greg Harvey from the RTBU, who has been using cutting edge ways to communicate with a blue-collar workforce spread across five states.

Industrial: How Low Is Low
Neale Towart looks at the much hyped link between minimum wages and employment

Industrial: Cloak and Dagger
The Howard Govwernment has begun rolling out workshops to inform employers on how to use WorkChoices. Sean Ambrose sneaked through the doors for Workers Online.

Unions: Bad Medicine
Nathan Brown reports on how Australia Post’s dodgy Faculty Nominated Doctor system is leaving sick workers feeling worse.

History: Right Turn, Clyde
Bob Gould believes news of Clyde Cameron’s demise may be premature

Economics: Long Division
Kenneth Davidson looks at a successful political strategy

International: Union Proud
A University of California librarian calls for union labels to increase worker visibility

Politics: Howard’s Sick Joke
Phil Doyle looks at an attack on one of the great achievements of the union movement

Indigenous: The year of living dangerously
That mob in parliament house seems to be hopelessly out of touch with Indigenous Australia. So much so, that Graham Ring wonders if the House on the Hill is becoming a ‘cultural museum’.

Review: Lights, Camera, Strike!
Mandrake the Electrician has been down to the video store over the summer and rounded up the Top Ten Union Movies of all time.

Culture: News Front
If the owners are selling off papers, perhaps the unions should buy them says Mark Dobbie.


 Doctors Orders - Take a Walke

 Teens Changing the Landscape

 Voters Desert Howard

 Electrical Boss Zaps Safety

 Buggers in Office

 Pub With No Beer

 Telstra's Townsville Shocker

 ABCC: Safety a Gas

 Rough Night Pays Off

 Game, Set, Match Building Workers

 Feds AWA Offers No Choice


The Soapbox
Australian Fascism
Rowan Cahill critiques Gerard Henderson’s unique take on history

Westie Wing
Will Westie's Wings be clipped, or will the Hills Angels repent and deliver?

The Locker Room
The Heart Of The Matter
Phil Doyle rolls up the red carpet and celebrates the death of an old foe

 Sing-a-Long Unions
 The Earl Speaks
 Market's Blind
 Hi Guys!
 Let Us Rejoice
 Tom's Bit
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Deep Impact

No the sky didn’t fall in, but there were an awful lot of acorns falling on Australian workers this week as John Howard’s dream of a workplace without rights became a reality.

We have seen workers sacked because they are too expensive, because they refuse to travel to multiple workplaces where they have no transport, because they refuse to tick off on AWAs that cut their conditions.

We have seen collective agreements over-ridden, attempts at legitimate action stone-walled and union meetings secretly taped.

More than this, we have seen the culture of the workplace begin to shift, because all this is OK under WorkChoices - there is now no recourse.

There is little doubt that people don't like it - Unions NSW polling this week found that one in five Liberal voters are regretting their decision to re-elect Howard.

But the great unknown is whether this dislike turns into a sullen acceptance of this Brave New World, or if a real impetus to change emerges driven by a coherent, well-articulated alternate agenda.

Working Australians need a political advocate that pursues the issue relentlessly and passionately - and if they do, we will have a new government by the end of 2007.

The biggest test the ALP currently faces is mounting pressure to walk away in some quarters from its policy platform to abolish Australian Workplace Agreements, instead allowing them to exist with added safeguards.

This is dangerous territory on two levels.

For Australian workers, individual contracts, replicated by an employer but presented on a take it or leave basis to workers, is the primary tool to de-unionise the Australian workface.

They are the cancer that will eat away at the rights that underpin the Australian way of life and take us down the path to the Americanisation of the labour market.

Collective bargaining rights, or recognition ballots, are a treatment for this disease, but will never prove to be a cure.

As long as AWAs exist, managers will have an incentive to break down the collective, pick workers off one by one to drive their labour costs down.

But there are political dangers too; by walking away from the current policy will undermine the ALP's clear messages on WorkChoices and its ability to differentiate .

A national conference focussed on an internal debate on walking away from current policy will undermine this contrast, would be disastrous, bringing into question Labor's real commitment to knocking over the WorkChoices package.

Those advocating the change argue that taking a prohibition on AWAs to the next election is too risky because too many people will have been forced on to them.

But there are solutions; transferring AWAs to common law contracts overseen by an Industrial Commission, transferring AWAs to ocollective agreements, overseen by the Industrial Commission, without undermining what they have now.

Yes, there are risks when challenging Howard's industrial changes; the greater risk is not to. That would be suicide.

Peter Lewis



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