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Issue No. 311 16 June 2006  
E D I T O R I A L

Big Target
Well, he’s finally done it. Opposition leader Kim Beazley has wrestled with his internal doubters and staked his future, and one suspects the next election, on workers rights.

F E A T U R E S

Interview: Rock Solid
Bill Shorten gives the inside story on the Australian Workers Union's involvement in the Beaconsfield rescue.

Industrial: Eight Simple Rules for Employing My Teenage Daughter
Phil Oswald bought up his kids to believe in their rights; so when his 16-year old daughter was told to cop a pay cut she was never going to take it quietly.

Politics: The Johnnie Code
WorkChoices is encrypted deep in the PM's political DNA, writes Evan Jones

Energy: Fission Fantasies
Adam Ma’anit looks at the big business push behind the 'clean nuclear' debate that is sweeping the globe.

History: All The Way With Clarrie O'Shea
The WorkChoices Penal Powers are the latest in a long line of penal sanctions against trade unions, writes Neale Towart

International: Closer to Home
If Australia can forgive its debt to Iraq, why not to Indonesia and the Philippines, write Luke Fletcher and Karen Iles

Economics: Taking the Fizz
While the Treasurer has been popping the post-Budget champers, Frank Stilwell gives a more sober assessment.

Unions: Stronger Together
Amanada Tattersall looks at the possibilities of strengthening alliances between unions, environmental and community organisations

Review: Montezuma's Revenge
Tommy Lee Jones directs and stars in a film about racism and retribution, writes James Gallaway.

Poetry: Fair Go Gone
Employers in the land rejoice, for we are girt by greed.

N E W S

 Esselte Occasioning Workplace Harm

 Andrews Backs State Laws

 Death Sentence for BHP

 Unions Deliver: Freehills

 No Job is Safe: AIRC

 Klan Backs Jan

 Village People Clean Up

 Dad Heads for Blacktown

 Indonesian Guards Occupy Office

 Qantas Passes the Bucks

 IR Laws a Loser: Lib

 Business Bombs Beazley

 OECD Undercuts Howard

 Leafy Council Rewards Choppers

 High Price Of A Low Wage

 Actvist's What's On!

C O L U M N S

The Soapbox
The Beaconsfield Declaration
As the Prime Minister feted Brant Webb and Todd Russell, their colleagues were outside with a message to the rest of Australia.

The Locker Room
Run Like You Stole Something
Phil Doyle observes that there are some tough bastards out there.

Parliament
The Westie Wing
That fun-loving friend of the workers, Ian West, reports from the red leather of the Bear Pit.

Education
Class Action
Phil Bradley draws the lines between education funding and the current skills crisis.

L E T T E R S
 Lost in the Supermarket
 Career Opportunities
 A Nuclear Error
WHAT YOU CAN DO
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Editorial

Big Target


Well, he’s finally done it. Opposition leader Kim Beazley has wrestled with his internal doubters and staked his future, and one suspects the next election, on workers rights.

While the PM, big business and the conservative press are working themselves up into a total lather over his announcement that he will not alter exiating ALP policy on AWAs, the truth is the Big Fella has nailed it.

In one simple statement of principle, Beazley has done two things - derailed an absurd internal debate about watering down IR policy and taken decisive steps to narrow the gap between people who are opposed to the changes and those who know where Labor stands on the issue.

It is this disconnect - one in four voters - that has been holding back Beazley and Labor in the polls, the result of a desire to track the changes and develop nuanced responses at a cost of cut through.

But as evidence of the way AWAs are being used and abused by employers to take away penalty rates and other entitlements is emerging, there was no room for tampering - you are either for or agin'.

The response from his critics has been absolutely bereft of anything other than a desperate flailing; you suspect they too know the game is just about up. This attack has taken three distinct forms.

The first is the blindly ideological - that he is impinging on the right of workers and employers to negotiate directly. Utter piffle. Thirty per cent of the workforce are - and will continue to be - on individual common law contracts, underpinned by the award system. Nothing changes for them.

The difference is that the legal tool designed to destroy collective bargaining, the AWA, will be abolished under a Labor Government. They will be abolished because they drive wages down, cut conditions and remove choice from workers.

This is where the 'freedom' doublespeak is most stark - under WorkChoices new starters have no choice but to sign an AWA; an employer can simply refuse to negotiate a collective agreement and can even sack the workforce, rehire them on AWAs at a lower rate, with the blessing of the law. It is social engineering via legislation, pushed a party that once stood for liberalism and individual rights.

The second argument can only be described as a crude form of voodoo economics. We have had the advocates of big business, with an attempt to keep a straight face, claiming the Beazley abolition of AWAs will drive down wages.

We have had them plucking a figure of 13 per cent comparative benefit under AWAs without 'fessing up that the figures include managers and incorporate first time sweeteners to seduce individuals away from the collective - before the era of coercion began.

And we have them turning a conveniently deaf hear to OECD analysis this week, that these anti-worker laws have absolutely nothing to do with productivity. Just another inconvenient truth.

Finally, we have the personal character assassination, carried out so enthusiastically by News Ltd newspapers this week. These have ranged from the hysterical to the downright - none finer though than our old mate Piers Akerman likening Big Kim to Albanian leader Enver Hoxha. But beyond Piers' silliness, across the stable, it has been the most sustained and biased display of political booster-ism in my memory.

The point that I don't think the public misses is that the story is that Kim is getting off the fence - some would say after spending far too long collecting splinters. How this becomes a sign of weakness is one of the enduring mysteries of the past week.

It makes you wonder. News Ltd is one of the strongest corporate supporters of AWAs, a company that already offered new starters jobs on condition of singing the contracts. Should it perhaps disclose it corporate position on AWAs before it presents its propaganda as news? Just a thought.

All this noise will only benefit Beazley, Labor and the Rights at Work campaign - and one suspects that the more the business lobbies cries poor, the Howard Government cries foul and the Murdoch mouthpieces just cry, the better it will be.

My brave prediction is that Beazley will receive the poll boost the decision deserves; setting momentum all the way to the election on an issue that allows federal Labor, for once, to fight an election on its home turf.

For the union movement it means a political team is finally on the paddock, prepared to rise or fall on the issue that has always defined it; one that it is worth putting in the extra yards for because you know they are prepared to take a stand not just punch at the edges.

Because the truth is this: the campaign against the IR changes is not about ideology or free market economics or personal agendas (although the legislation is dripping with all three). It is about people who work and the rules of engagement.

And if the government, big business and the Tory press think that Australians are such mugs that they will willingly give up their right to control their life, bargaining together and aspiring to be something more than a labour unit on a balance sheet, then they are in for a rude surprise.

Bring it on..

Peter Lewis

Editor


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