||Year End 2002|
Interview: Taking Stock
Bad Boss: Pushing the Envelope
Unions: The Year That Was
Republic: Still Fighting
International: Global Ties, Global Binds
Politics: Turning Green
Technology: Unions Online 2002
Industrial: The Past Is Before Us
Economics: Market Insecurity
Review: Shooting for Sanity
Poetry: The PM's Christmas Message
Culture: Zanger's Sounds of Summer
The Locker Room
Vale: Phil Berrigan
The Year That Was
Caught in Cole's Mire
The biggest story of 2002 had to be the Cole Royal Commission into the Construction Industry. Fears the $65 million road show was little more than a political witch hunt orchestrated by Tony Abbott were vindicated as Counsel Assisting spun, spat and polished its case that all unionists are evil. Union witnesses were hijacked with absurd allegations, while sub-contractors with form for avoiding entitlements were treated with kid gloves. Cross-examination was barred, allowing the media to deliver a steady flow of negative stories involving back-seat affairs, black-market Viagra and threatening phone-calls. Attempts by the CFMEU to have the Commissioner removed for bias failed when the Federal Court ruled that bias was no barrier to an inquiry of this nature. And all the while, Stinky kept a silent vigil outside the Sydney hearing rooms, convinced that if something looks like a rat and smells like a rat it usually is vermin of some description.
Across town a genuine inquiry was uncovering what had really gone on in the lead-up to the collapse of HIH insurance. Greed, deceit, lies and more greed were paraded for all to see. Multi-million payouts, dodgy loans, mega-consultancies for doing very little. Unlike Cole, the HIH Commission looks like catching a fish or two and Messrs Adler and Cooper may be preparoing for a little quality time at the taxpayers' pleasure. But they were just the pointy end of a system of lottery capitalism that i8s fast approaching the point when it will eat itself entirely. The collapses of Enron and World.Com in the US, mega bonuses in the local finance sector linked to branch closures and the multi-million dollar golden handshakes to failed CEOs only added to the feeling that the system of laissez faire corporate governance had reached its use-by date. The shareholder backlash against executive options, led by industry super fund CBUS is just one sign that the salads days .may be nearing their twilight.
Labor Loses Its Base
The historical relationship between the ALP and the trade union movement was redefined as part of Opposition Leader Simon Crean's push to 'modernise' the party. Sold as a push to make the party more attractive to new members, the reality is it will merely consolidate power with the factional warlords of the Parliamentary wing. While Crean crowed of a glorious victory after the Canberra conference, the reality is that he spent a year of valuable time gazing at a navel for a change that will not deliver on the hype. And he only just got there - if the Left had not voted as a block his proposal would have failed and with it, hi leadership. The dangers of deserting the Labor base were highlighted weeks later where trade unionists rejected Labor to install a Green in the seat of Cunningham. As working people await for real policy differentiation from Canberra, that option is in danger of being replicated around the nation.
Unions on Border Patrol
While the major political parties continued to grandstand on border protection, unions were fighting the alarming growth in working visa scams. The CFMEU took the lead highlighting the issue in the face of the Cole Commission, with examples like Rados the Serbian artist paid slave wages to produce priceless art. The story took of though when a black South African worker was whisked out of the country after w fatal workplace accident - before he could provide evidence. From there revelations of what appears to be a organised scam involving black South Africans shipped into Australia on business visas by their pale-skinned countrymen to perform jobs like labouring and cooking are growing. Meanwhile, our domestic shipping routes are now effectively Third World Labour zones, with Australian flag and crewed ships like the CSL Yarra transferred to a flag of convenience, with the crew replaced by lowly paid Ukranians. The CSL Yarra's brave week-long stand-off at Port Pirie captured national headlines, but the Howard Government rode out the storm - more concerned with rust buckets to the north than the oil traps already inside our backyard.
Praying for Tolerance
A Muslim IT worker gained national attention when he took a stand for his right to pray at work. All Kamal El Masri wanted was ten minutes off to pray each afternoon, but his manager wouldn't play ball, telling the Telegraph she was 'no racialist' but rules were rules. Kamal took the matter to the Industrial Relations Commission and emerged victorious when his fellow workers agreed to move their lunch hours to fit in with their colleagues prayers. It was just one occasion when trade unionists took a lead against intolerance at a time when their political leaders seemed hell-bent on exploiting fear and loathing, particularly to Muslims. It was the union movement too who joined with the rank and file of the ALP to pass motions at every state conference demanding a more compassionate policy towards asylum seekers. Despite a softening of Labor policy late in the year, the debate between political expediency and principle is likely to continue at a branch level all the way to the next national conference.
Family Values Up For Grabs
With our leaders opposed to immigration, the political debate moved to the national birth rate and how our current work arrangements could be made more family friendly. Workplace Relations Minister Tony Abbott regards work like a family relationship, hence his naff 'bad boss is like a bad father - it's better to have one than not have one" statement a range of other folksy homilies about trust, fraternity and the goodwill of employers everywhere. But when it came to assisting the birth rate by offering paid maternity leave, the Mad Monk took the vow of chastity, rejecting the arguments of the ACTU and the Howard Government's own adviser Pru Goward that all mothers deserve some degree of support. Abbott took a similarly cloistered attitude to ACTU claims for reasonable working hours, extra time off for working mums and even a basic pay rise for the lowest paid families. All of which makes you wonder how a man with Abbott's commitment to family values can put dso many barriers in front of the act of procreation.
Delegates Assert Their Rights
As unions get serious about grass roots campaigning more began inserting clauses protecting the rights of delegates to stand up for their fellow workers. But the quantum step came in May when ANZ branch manager Joy Buckland won a landmark ruling that the bank had breached the federal Workplace Relations Act after disciplining her for speaking to the media. Justice Wilcox upheld the freedom of speech for Joy, the honorary president of the Finance Sector union, and other union activists, regularly stymied by restrictive work contracts that see any public comment as akin to treason. While the fine of $10,000 was a mere drop in the ocean, the negative publicity of the self-styled people's bank was a sobering wake-up call for all employers.
Code Red for Dodgy Contracts
The Labor Council opened up a new front for the battle against contracting out, through codes of conduct covering public agencies at the state and local government levels. Under the codes, public services would not be contracted to dodgy operators, those who undercut wages, skimped on safety or ran anti-union operations - some of the main ways contractors can undercut full time workers. First cab off the rank was the department of Public Works, embracing the code for all government purchasing, providing information about tenders to interested trade unions and vowing to cut the contracts of serial offenders. Now the focus has moved to local government, with Holroyd City Council being the first to sign a contractors' code; although - with several high profile Labor mayors attempting to move to Macquarie Street - more signatures are expected.
Cyber Action Unites the Movement
LaborNet - the joint online venture between the Labor Council and Social Change Online - continued to lead the movement in online communications. With the ACTU and the NZCTU both coming on board, along with the WA Trades Hall and the Australian Workers Union, LaborNet can now claim to be a truly national portal. The syndicated workers Online newsfeed means unions can share their stories; while exciting initiatives like the online union directory can operate on a common platform. Workers Online continued to gain readers, up to 15,000 pairs of eyeballs a week. But the greatest cyber achievement of the year has to go to the LHMU's Andrew Casey who, single-handedly ran an international cyber campaign for the retrenched workers at the Hilton Hotel - with 3,000 people form around the globe emailing Hilton's top executives and letting them know where they'd be staying on future trips. Needless to say, Hilton caved and the Net delivered a superior payout to the Hilton workers.
All Together Now!
Finally, 2003 was a year when the union movement got rockin' - or more accurately rappin', with a nationwide search for a new trade union anthem. The winner was 24-year-old Adam Dunn, aka Swarmy G who redefined protest chants with his rap track 'May Day, may Day'. The finalists in the song comp transformed the usually staid MaY Day Toast into Rock Festival, whi8le the subsequent CD will become a priceless collectors item. At the other end of the music dial, Labor Council bowed out of broadcasting, selling the off-licence AM station 2KM for 2.1 million (a 7000 per cent mark-up on its 1999 purchase price). It will continue to have a presence at the hip end of the market though, becoming a founding sponsor of community fm station FbI and donating its web radio station Wobbly Radio to the community sector.
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