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Issue No. 312 23 June 2006  

Striking Out Rights
As Australian trade unionist prepare for the latest National Week of Action, broader consequences of the IR changes are becoming apparent. And they are not good for democracy.


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.


 Tooheys Orders a Blue

 Safety Standards Go East

 Libs Laugh At Sacked Mum

 Stoner's Cognitive Faculties Functioning

 Rail Workers Gagged

 Post Delivers Threat

 Elderly Face WorkChoices Assault

 Good Yarn Hits Cyberspace

 Business Buckets WorkChoices

 Hands Off Our Vital Stats

 Telstra Plays Tag and Release

 Multi Yanks Howard's Chain

 Nurses Reject Low Road

 Micks Bone Up On WorkChoices

 Activist's What's On!


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.

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

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

 More Proof
 Fire Up
 Big Dog
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Striking Out Rights

As Australian trade unionist prepare for the latest National Week of Action, broader consequences of the IR changes are becoming apparent. And they are not good for democracy.

Some of the less scrutinised clauses in WorkChoices relate to industrial action, and the severe restrictions that now apply.

Employers now have no option but to dock workers who attend rallies this week four hours pay. In the construction industry, it goes even further, where workers face criminal charges under the government's special laws for the building industry.

Some employees, emboldend by the new powers are going further - Australia Post, for example, is threatening to take formal disciplinary action against workers who march.

These threats will keep some works away, but they also turn those who to attend into heroes, prepared to put their own well being on the line.

It is just the pointy end of an all-out assault on the right to strike - with costly secret ballots now required before workers can with hold their labour.

At the same time the government has handed itself unprecedented power to rule any strike unlawful, exposing unions and individual workers to any economic loss incurred.

But if you think this creates an even bargaining filed, think again. The ability of employers to launch their own form of industrial action - the lock-pout (incidentally the only form of industrial action that is on the rise) has been enhanced by WorkChoices.

In fact, employers are no longer required to negotiate with their workers and have the legal right to stone-wall enterprise bargains till an agreement expires, at which point all conditions about the five minimum standards are stripped away.

And if the employer wants to sack the workforce and rehire them on AWAs at inferior conditions, the Office of Workplace Relations says go right ahead.

If the rules are so loaded against industrial action, what about using your political power as economic citizens, you may ask?

Here again, business has written the laws to protect their interests; the Trade Practices Act renders it illegal to call for consumer boycotts against companies that abuse their workers.

So while we can this week say that we will not be drinking any Tooheys after the shameful way the brewery has treated its contractors and we can encourage to think about the beverage you imbibe, we can not call for a boycott without risking the attention of the ACCC.

If all else fails, one could hope that the Federal Parliament would scrutinise the new laws; but here again the Howard Government has tightened the screws, winding back the Senate Committee system; softening the laws around political donations while making it harder for young people to register to vote.

The test of a vibrant democracy has always been its capacity of its citizens to critique their government - think suffragettes, think civil rights, think Vietnam.

Now we are moving backward, the legal right to raise questions and take action is being wound back under the guise of labour market flexibility in a way that should mobilise all Australian workers this week. No matter the threats.

Peter Lewis



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