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  Issue No 95 Official Organ of LaborNet 11 May 2001  




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Letters to the Editor

The Great May Day Debate

Globalisation - the real issue is act local

I agree with the S11 and M1 protestors. The global economy is rigged in favour of the multinationals, the banks and the rich countries.

I don't agree, though, with their analysis or their solutions.

The problem is that globalisation is nothing new. The global economy has always been rigged in favour of multinationals in some form or other (they used to be called empires).

The protestors and other well-meaning commentators, such as Duncan Kerr in his recent book Elect the Ambassador, argue globalisation is seeing more power amassed at the global level. But it has always been there. The other important trend is the growth of potential power for individuals, wherever they are in the world.

The technological revolution, the freeing of world trade and the explosion of democracy have profoundly broken down barriers. A young woman in Burnie or Berlin, a middle aged man in Johannesburg or Jakarta, have roughly equal capacity to sit at a PC with a modem and sell goods and services to people all over the world.

So potential power has actually grown at a local level. The problem is, how do we ensure all sections of the community have the capacity to tap in? How do we empower people at an individual level to use that new potential access to the world market to make a living and to be a part of the global community?

The real challenge is education. We need to equip the next generation (and today's people without work) with the skills and capacity to take on the world. We need to learn how to seize the opportunities that others around the world are seizing right now to make real money and create real income security. We need to work at our local level to help create more world competitive businesses. Engage with the world, don't turn your back on it.

And what about the world being rigged in favour of the rich? Yes, it is. The US and the European Union still have huge trade barriers against the rest of the world. What we need to do, to build a more level playing field, is to bring those barriers down, not raise new ones of our own.

In Australia, we rely on our huge trade surplus with Asia for our prosperity. If we were to erect barriers we would be the first to lose.

What we must do, though, is support practical attempts for more human rights and more labour rights in our neighbouring countries. Just because we have won those rights here does not mean we should turn our backs on the rest of the world. The more wealth we can help create anywhere in the world is more jobs here in Australia, providing goods and services for the world.


Not the telegraph

Reading cyber news, oops, have I clicked on to the Daily Telegraph by mistake? Surely this can't be WoL, voice of the NSW Labor Council, characterising the M1 protest as a carefully choreographed violent scene and the protesters as simplistic as One Nation? Isn't this the way the mainstream media usually distorts union disputes?

Even more disturbing, however, was the accusation by WoL that M1 was "usurping the labour movement's traditional day". To usurp is to wrongfully assume power or the throne, to encroach upon something. What? The legacy of May Day is one of internationalism and workers struggle, of uniting in alliances and action for the working class against the interests of capital. This was absolutely the message of M1. In any case, when was the last time that the official union movement took action on May Day? It was a vacant space waiting to be reclaimed.

Perhaps the editorial writer should have taken a dose of his own glib message and used the IT tools that globalisation has given us. Rather than a simplistic message you quickly discover that the burgeoning anti-corporate (not against all) globalisation movement shares information, ideas and debate at a pace unimaginable a few years ago. A quick cybersurf would demonstrate that rather than "resisting change", as WoL implies, the activists in this movement are trying to make change.

Websites and e-lists are prolific: you can uncover extensive information about the growing concentration of wealth and power in the hands of an un-elected few; the rapacious greed of multi-national corporations; the role of the IMF, WTO and World Bank in exacerbating poverty and inequality; abhorrent levels of union busting and attacks on human rights. There are a myriad of links to campaigns against 3W debt, sweatshops and environmental degradation, union pickets, actions and solidarity with worker and community struggles wherever the fight to put people and the planet before profit rears its head.

This framework is entirely consistent with union and labour movement ideals. As a long term union and political activist I welcome S11, M1 and its international counterparts as an inspiration and hope for the future. Rather than make scurrilous charges it would be more appropriate to pass on the baton to those enthusiastically embracing the militant legacy of May Day. Union activists should applaud, encourage and unite with this new generation of activists involved in the M1 protest.

Melanie Sjoberg


Davey's Conversion?

: It is good to see Phil Davey be honest enough to admit a change of heart about M1. (WOL 4 May)

The anti-capitalist movement has grown through inspiration. Young activists have shown the courage, determination and anger to take a stand against global capital, on the streets and facing up to police violence. Meanwhile union leaders worry about declining membership and respectability in the media. Fear of a repeat of the so-called Parliament House riot (when unions demonstrated in August 1997 against Reith's First Wave of anti-union laws) has paralysed further union mobilisation against the Howard Government. Instead of blaming Reith and Howard for inflaming workers' anger, Jenny George cringed and apologised to the TV cameras.

The anti-capitalist movement is young and diverse, so disagreements can be heated. No-one has the power to suppress ideas. No-one earns a living from running it. You can join in however you like. You can experiment. It only happens because the people on the ground are committed and free to do what they think is best. And it is committed to challenging the whole power structure of global capitalism.

The union movement is integrated into the system, bogged down in routine, and only rarely looks beyond defensive tactics, wages and conditions. Thousands of people make a career from it and it is difficult for dissenters to be heard. (Workers Online is a wonderful breath of free speech in the union movement, having censored but once in its life, I believe).

However, the anti-capitalist movement has not yet gone beyond targeting capitalist trade, forums and symbols. It does not fight capital at its heart, at the point of production, where workers face capital daily. Unions can benefit rapidly from the energy and commitment of the new activists if rank and file workers and anti-capitalist activists get together.

Phil Davey says he recognises that "irrational fears" are a barrier to unity. It will be good to see Phil and many other union leaders get over their fear of critical opinions, and acting more democratically, for a start by lifting bans on left groups. If the union leaders won't build the links, workers will organise with the inspiration they have drawn from the anti-capitalists anyway. It will just take longer, and union leaders who get in the way will be challenged.

Janet Burstall

mailto:[email protected]


The Real Way Forward

Your editorial "The Workers United?" May 4th 2001 globalisation mass movement to define itself, perhaps even to quantify itself and tell the world what it actually stands for. I believe that this would be a fundamental mistake in terms of the political evolution of what has become one of the fastest growing mass movements in modern political history.

Twelve months ago M1 attracted 200 people, this month M1 attracted 4000-5000 people a twenty fold increase on a cold and wet winter morning. If next M1 increases only five fold next year we will see 25 000 people in the streets of Sydney.

This is not an aberration this is a global phenomena that is currently cast in resistance to the unprecedented damage that the laissez faire flow of capital is doing to the environment, to society and to all facets of humanity. Far from sitting along side One Nation in its reactionary nationalist position, this mass movement is directed squarely at the catastrophic consequences of the unfettered flow of private capital and its insatiable hunger to suck the life out of everything it desires (Corporate $cumbags).

Healthy and constructive debate is essential in delivering the intellectual and democratic processes needed to ensure that this movement achieves the political outcomes it desires. A definition of what it stands for and thereby what it does not will serve only to alienate many of those people that choose to express their politics in the street as opposed to the ballot box.

The five thousand people in Bridge Street were not there through dogma, through free t-shirts and stickers or through loyalty to any entity. They were in the streets through considered political expression. A political expression that has the potential to sweep away the very best political and industrial activists in the NSW Trade Union movement if the leadership of these unions don't take their legitimate place at the public meetings called to organise these events.

The next big target in the sights is CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting) October 6, 7 and 8th in Brisbane. Hopefully we will see lots of Trade Union leaders because we will most certainly see lots of rank and file members.

Simon Flynn


*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 95 contents

In this issue
*  Interview: Geek Guys
Two of the union movement�s pioneers in new technology, Peter Ross and Mark McGrath, chew the fat about wired unionism and virtual politics.
*  Compo: Costa�s Angels
Behind the spotlight of the workers comp campaign four women trade union officials have been burning the midnight oil to protect injured workers.
*  Legal: View from the Bench
Compensation Court judge and former Attorney-General, Frank Walker, argues the Della Bosca workers comp reforms are a threat to judicial independence.
*  International: Timor: Time for the Truth
HT Lee was in Dili when the militas ran rampage. Now he wants the truth to come out.
*  History: True Believers
Frank Bongiorno looks at the origins of the Australian Labor Party, which celebrated its centenary of Caucus this week.
*  Corporate: Trust Me, I�m a Multi-National!
BHP unions have united across the factions to urge �No� vote on the planned Billiton merger.
*  Unions: AWAs � A Doomed Future?
ACTU Assistant Secretary Richard Marles plays clairvoyant and predicts a dismal future for AWAs.
*  Satire: Bush Defends One China Policy - Then Another China Policy, Then Another ....
President Bush today announced a major change to the United States� policy of �strategic ambiguity� towards the status of Taiwan and its One China policy.
*  Review: Surviving Survivor
Workers Online's Reality TV correspondent Mark Morey rakes over the coals of the Survivor II result.

»  Carr Government Avoids Own Safety Laws
»  Phantom Employers Face the Flush
»  Primus Suspect? Unions Seek Answers
»  Big Australian�s Merger Faces Rocky Road
»  Happy Hour for Heineken with a Half-Price Dollar
»  Arnotts Workers Call for Consumer Boycott
»  Asian Women at Work: Daring To Act
»  Academic Sacking Sparks Global Row
»  Labor Councillors Feel Childcare Heat
»  Rail Workers Win Maintenance Security
»  Knitwear Company Stitched Up Over AWAs
»  Three Stripes and You�re Out
»  Unions and Students Move on Harvard
»  IT Workers Alliance � Last Call for Comment
»  Our News Feed Hits 1000
»  Activist Notebook

»  The Soapbox
»  The Locker Room
»  Trades Hall
»  Tool Shed

Letters to the editor
»  The Great May Day Debate
»  Questions for Macca
»  Qantas on Impulse
»  Compo: The Great Tradition

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