Workers Online
Workers Online
Workers Online
  Issue No 42 Official Organ of LaborNet 17 December 1999  




Piers Watch

A Year With Satan's Beanbag

Over the past year we have got closer to Piers Akerman than any healthy humans should. Week after week, we've waded through his tortured prose and searched for the thread of an argument that must lie hidden within.

We've learnt some important things along the way - though not from the man described by Mikey Robbins this week as "Satan's beanbag". The lessons have had more to do with the nature of opinions, who gets to have their say and how one gets a contrary view into the debate.

In an era where opinion polls drive political decisions it seems amazing that the pool of competing views comes from such a small, and talently challenged pool of big media fish. The Baby Boomer blokes and token chicks combine to erect their own reference points, against which all deviation is dismissed.

Pierswatch was our challenge to this Gangland. By directly attacking the views of one of the high profile Wise Men, we sought to find new avenues for getting union views into print. For a movement conditioned to being pilloried by the opinion leaders, this was an important enterprise. Pierswatch also became a marketing tool for promoting Workers Online in the mainstream media by making so much noise that we couldn't be ignored.

Throughout the year the Sydney Morning Herald's Stay in Touch was a vital vehicle, providing us with oxygen in our early days by announcing our presence in a piece titled "Union Toady" and following it up with Piers' early threat to sue "Piers D'orf".

It was Stay in Touch that also broke our biggest story of the year - the Larry Flynnt-style $1000 bounty for charges leading to criminal charges against Piers. This was in response to a particularly grubby attack on justice Michael Kirby for admitting he had been homosexual before it was legalised in the sixties. Piers' used this information to argue Kirby wasn't fit to be a judge.

What we thought was a cheap stunt soon mushroomed into an all-out attack on freedom of speech, as first Conservative commentator Christopher Pearson in the Financial Review and then Piers' stalemate Michael Duffy dedicated full columns to our impertinence. When we responded with the line - "speech isn't free, it's not even cheap" - our critics went into apoplexy. Duffy described it as "one of the most offensive attacks on freedom of speech", conveniently ignoring that it was only Piers and his mates who were getting a chance to have their say in the opinion pages.

Piers' stance through this controversy was even more illuminating. First, he attacked the SMH for publicising the bounty - but refused to credit the source of the reward as Workers Online. He was trapped between wanting to promote his own role in a story, with a realisation that this would only give us added kudos. So the black-ban was placed on mentioning Workers Online in the Telegraph - in a sign of the power of columnist, we were being attacked without being mentioned.

But even Piers cracked when Workers Online published a photo of Michael Costa in reverse baseball cap and a familiar hand gesture. Piers lifted the photo and ran a full page chronicling his gripes against trade unions - everything from wanting to regulate labour hire to disrupting his serene backyard on Pittwater. We even scored our first mention - "the trade union movement's childish website."

The flurry of criticism ended when SMH instructed Stay in Touch to "lay off Piers". even the release of the Pierswatch T-shirt and the lifting of the 'fatwah' failed to crack the mainstream - highlighting how reliant a small publisher can be on the patronage of a mainstream voice.

Here fate stepped in, in the guise of the satirical newspaper 'The Chaser' which struck a syndication deal with Pierswatch. While the columns were printed a couple of weeks after they were first posted on the Net, Chaser again gave us a voice in the printed world.

By the end of the year, Pierswatch has become a recognised voice in the underground media. It's consistently been the most popular part of Workers Online, which itself has grown in stature - culminating in its nomination as a finalist for the Walkely Award in online journalism.

If there is a moral to the Pierswatch experience - it is to always shout loudly, use humour as a weapon and do all you can to provoke your enemy into engagement. In the Gangland that is the Australian media, it's the only way to survive.


*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 42 contents

In this issue
*  Interview: Costa Bravo
Labor Council�s chief trouble maker chronicles the battles of the past year and ponders those still to come.
*  Unions: More Wins Than Losses
Workers Online ranks the Top Ten industrial relations stories from a year of frenetic activity.
*  International: Eric Lee's Year in Review
The editor of Labourstart looks back over his favourite stories of 1999.
*  Politics: So Many Questions
It was a year in politics that threw up more questions than answers. We look at some of the sticky ones.
*  Republic: Referendum With Class
Labor heretic Michael Thomspson analyses the failure of the Republican proposition.
*  Environment: Seattle Kills Greens V Jobs Bogey
The sight of US unionists, environmentalists and human rights activists being attacked by police in Seattle shows how far the progressive movement has come.
*  Deface a Face: Give Him a Hairdo
What better present could Michael Costa offer Workers Online readers than the chance to give him a Deface a Face style make over?
*  Labour Review: What's New at the Information Centre
See the latest issue of Labour Review, our resource for officials, activists and students.
*  Review: Cultural Wasteland
Workers Online resident door-bitches Zanga and Paul pass judgement on the year that finished the millennium.

»  What Price Aussie Jobs as Olympics Loom
»  TWU Activist Named Organiser of the Year
»  Unions Lock in New Years Eve Deals
»  'Scrooge' Destroys Staff Christmas
»  Rule Changes to Restructure Council
»  The Great Salary Rip-Off
»  George to Kick Start NSW IR Reforms?
»  Shaw Loses Key Advisers
»  More New Faces at the New ACTU
»  Reith Second Wave Not Beached Yet
»  Peace in the Gong
»  Workers Support Register Gathers Steam
»  Pay Equity Enters Campaign Mode
»  Union Aid Agency to Establish Dili Office
»  Job Vacancies at the LHMU

»  Guest Report
»  Sport
»  Trades Hall
»  Piers Watch

Letters to the editor
»  Aquilina's Insult
»  Well Done 1999
»  US Union Site Worth a Look

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