Interview: Agenda 2003
Peace: The Colour Purple
Industrial: Long, Hot Summer
Solidarity: Workers Against War
Security: Howard And The Hoodlums
International: Industrial Warfare
History: Unions and the Vietnam War
Review: Eight Miles to Mowtown
Poetry: Return To Sender
Satire: CIA Recruits New Intake of Future Enemies
The Locker Room
A Call To Arms
A Tale of Two Malls
Talk Back Tom
On The Beach
Long, Hot Summer
Bushfires ravaged large chunks of the eastern seaboard and ACT. By December 6, more than 4000 volunteers were battling to save lives and property to the north, south and west of Sydney. These fires claimed two lives and dozens of homes but worse was to come. Six weeks later, extreme temperatures and winds combined to set Canberra ablaze. Four people died and hundreds were treated at local hospitals during a horrific mid-January weekend. Blazes were still burning, out of control, in rural NSW and alpine Victoria as January turned into February. The disasters saw pollies of all shapes and sizes looking to make electoral capital. Few, if any, addressed the link between global warming and John Howard's about-face on the Kyoto Protocol.
Six City Rail commuters and train driver, Herman Zeides, died in a derailment at Waterfall, on Sydney's southern outskirts, pushing rail safety to the top of the NSW election agenda. As politicians launched claims and counter-claims, the RTBU maintained a dignified silence with state secretary, Nick Lewocki, saying he was confident an inquiry ordered by Transport Minister Carl Scully, and conducted by Supreme Court judge Peter McInerney, would reveal the truth.
Johnny Jumps High
The Prime Minister's desire to crawl into any orifice George Bush made available was embarrassingly obvious as he signed on as a founder member of the Gang of Three promoting war in Iraq. As countries like New Zealand, France and Germany urged respect for established international law, Howard embraced Bush's radical doctrine of pre-emptive first strikes, donating hundreds of Australian service men and women to the cause.
At least, in the Prime Minister's defence, his "me too" role in the chorus avoided some of the embarrassment Britain attracted for its up-front advocacy on behalf of the US. Possibly the most cringe-making example came when large tracts of a British dossier, promoted as intelligence and praised by secretary of state Colin Powell in his UN address, turned out to have been, well, nicked. Blair told the House of Commons his "intelligence" revealed a "huge infrastructure of deception and concealment" by Iraq. The real deception and concealment became clear when it was admitted most of the "intelligence" had, in fact, been lifted from a post graduate's thesis, dealing with 13-year-old evidence. Worse still, while spelling and grammatical errors had been retained, the Brits had added their own exaggerations to strengthen the US case.
Nike Does It
International trade unions joined forces behind more than 2000 workers tipped out of jobs at the Doson factory in Indonesia without their legal entitlements. The factory closed when its sole customer, Nike, cut orders. The Doson closure followed in the running shoes of Thailand-based Bed and Bath Prestige which shut down owing employees back and severance pay. That company supplied international giants, including Nike, Adidas and Levis. The two issues were highlighted by unions at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre and the concurrent, World Economic Forum at Davos.
A joint statement from international trade unions, entitled Democratising Globalisation, called for democratic global governance to put an end to the culture of "corporate irresponsibility" which, it said, was at the heart of the world's economic woes. US-based ICFTU secretary, Guy Ryder, said billions of people were being left behind while a small minority reaped the befefits of liberalisation and deregulation.
The World Watches
Michael "Wacko" Jackson made an absolute spectacle of himself, courtesy of a world television exclusive. Ros Coward, writing in The Guardian, put an interesting, and disquieting, spin on the whole performance. Below are the first and last paragraphs of her thought-provoking review:
"The general consensus about the Michael Jackson interview on ITV on Monday is that it revealed how truly mad he is. It did the opposite for me, making me wonder more about the craziness of the culture that produced him. For Jackson's wacky life is the embodiment of many dearly held western beliefs: that you can be anything you want, buy anything you want, create any lifestyle and indulge any needs you have...
"This western libertarianism often ends up protecting madness. Nowhere is this clearer than in Jackson's love of pyjama parties and 12-year-old boys in his bed. No one feels competent to intervene because they can't tell the difference between a harmless lunatic protected by individual rights or freedoms and individual rights used to protect a harmful lunatic from scrutiny. Perhaps the smokescreen of eccentricities, talent, money and civil rights, created by Jackson, means even the protagonists don't know what's going on. Most worrying, as we advance towards a war to protect western values, is that Jacko may not be an aberration but their logical outcome."
While the Mad Monk Imitates King Canute
Tony Abbott, itching and scratching for a public stink with his tormentors on building sites, maintained his rage about pattern agreements as employers, around the country, signed off on deals to give building workers 36-hour weeks.
NSW Labor Council co-ordinated deal with Westfields, providing for six shutdown weekends on a big Bondi Junction development was endorsed by the IRC, as NSW CFMEU secretary, Andrew Ferguson, claimed "nearly 90 percent" of the state's building contractors had agreed to similar "leisure time" provisions.
In Victoria, Electrical Workers moved the trend beyond construction, finalising a deal with employers' association, NECA, to phase in the 36-hour week. Eventually, 10,000
10,000 sparkies in construction and servicing. The electrical workers arrangement culminates, in February 2006, with full implementation of a nine-day fortnight.
Other significant industrial developments over the silly season included:
- Grocon Victoria moving away from an Abbott-backed showdown with the CFMEU and finalising an EBA, brokered by Industrial Relations Commission vice-president Iain Ross. Significantly, Grocon agreed to abandon legal action against the union, while the CFMEU withdrew industrial threats.
- On the eve of a state election, NSW IR Minister John Della Bosca again rebuffed worker demands for industrial manslaughter legislation, arguing that sufficient deterrence existed in the Crimes Act.
- The ACTU highlights fat cat salaries and golden handshakes in launching its 2003 minimum wages case. It will argue that around 1.7 low-paid Australians should get a weekly top-up of $24.60.
- Abbott confirms plans to introduce legislation punishing union officials who defy court or IRC orders. The bill would allow the Workplace Relations Minister (Abbott) to seek civil penalties and orders disqualifying cited individuals from holding union office.
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