||Issue No. 311||16 June 2006|
Interview: Rock Solid
Industrial: Eight Simple Rules for Employing My Teenage Daughter
Politics: The Johnnie Code
Energy: Fission Fantasies
History: All The Way With Clarrie O'Shea
International: Closer to Home
Economics: Taking the Fizz
Unions: Stronger Together
Review: Montezuma's Revenge
Poetry: Fair Go Gone
The Locker Room
A Nuclear Error
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..
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