Interview: Picking Up The Peaces
Unions: The Royal Con
National Focus: Around the Grounds
Economics: The Secret War on Trade
International: United Front
History: Confessions of a Badge Collector
Politics: Stalin’s Legacy
Review: Such Was Not Ned’s Life
Poetry: Osama's Top Recruiter
Satire: Woolworths CEO Denied Bonus After Company Posts Profit
The Locker Room
The Fog of War
Trots Bomb Back
Picking Up The Peaces
Interview with Peter Lewis
As someone who is now called a veteran campaigner, are there parallels with the problems that have occurred over the last few weeks in previous peace movements?
Yes, I think there's always a tension in the peace movement, but I think the main characteristic of this movement is we're doing things in minutes and hours and days, where it took months and years before. The best example I can give, I chaired a meeting for Jim Cairns in 1965 and five years later the movement took off and we had to start and have the big rallies. So everything worked out, people just worked really hard at it. Now we're literally trying to go from one meeting to another to get something on in a couple of weeks and have crowds the same size as the ones we were getting in those days.
The peace movement started with a big bang, the march through Sydney was truly astounding back in February. Was that something that had been planned or was it as spontaneous as it appeared?
I'll put that in an historic perspective. The first march was held on November 30 and by the time we got to the next march there had been a 14 or 15 fold increase in the number of people. I think that just sums up the way it took off. For many it was their first political action and they were marching and they felt so good that they were actually participating and other people had the same idea as them.
Given that it has been a real mainstream movement, how damaging has the past week been?
I think it's very unfortunate because it's an image thing. We know as soon as the war starts the propaganda machine clicks in and unfortunately anything that people can't identify with is going to worry them if they are first time people participating. On the other hand, once the war starts you do have more varied forms of protest and so I think its understandable that some people will want to make a more strident stand. What we've got to do is try to have agreed things that we do to keep it a family friendly thing. But we will be in the business of encouraging people to take initiative.
Do you have sympathy for the views of those who have been involved in the student protest - that these are desperate times and they call for a desperate response?
Well, I'm an old trade union hack and I was taught to talk with the blokes at lunchtime - it was a male union when I first started off - and try and work out something with them. In other words get agreement. I knew I didn't have a chance in hell of doing anything unless I had the agreement of the people on the job and I knew you build up trust and understanding and then if you're going to take some action later on, it's been built on preparing people for it, and them knowing what's involved, and you working that out with them. I don't know any other system that works better than that. So that's the basis that I work on and if you just try and have people accept your point of view by dicta, then unfortunately you're going to come unstuck somewhere along the lines.
The trade union movement has been one of the driving forces, how important do you see it as a modern union movement that the anti war effort is run in a way that connects with rank and file members?
I think it's terribly important to connect with working people. I have addressed a number of building sites in recent months and I think it's terribly important. It's a two way process, the questions workers ask you, even the hostile questions are ones you need answers for. They have probably got those questions from something they've watched on television or read, and you've got to set out to give them the answers. I find that most people, that when you give them a proper answer that is based on basic knowledge they mightn't have, they usually cop it.
I guess it's strange for you the Labor Council being at the centre of a movement like this, given the traditional position with Labor Council?
I welcome that because you've got a much more contemporary labor movement now and I'm very happy to see the council taking initiative. I can go back to 1960 when I was the secretary of the campaign to abolish the Upper House, and there were a whole lot of union secretaries who patted me on the back, took the material and shuffed it under the counters. That was the old trade union movement, I remember it so well, but that isn't the way things go now. Everybody is sweating and working hard in the trade union movement. Trade union secretaries don't go down at 4 o'clock as they used to, to the Upper House.
Looking forward towards Palm Sunday, which is the big event for the peace movement; what needs to happen now to make that a success, obviously some of the momentum has been lost in the last week?
My proposition is that we've got to capture people's imaginations; first of all we've got to get them on the main issue. I want people to vent their anger back on Howard, I want them to use their wit, and I think we should ask people to bring their own signs along. I want everybody between now and then, whether they are students or trade unionists, to talk about how to take the mickey out of Howard with wit, or alternatively vent their anger on a placard, so that we can have individuality at Palm Sunday - not slogans of things that are all the same. I think we'll have a marvellous march, with a whole lot of different signs. Now I don't know whether my colleagues will agree with that. I just think that we need to use our dry wit to take the mickey out of the leadership.
Of course some of the most enduring images from the first rallies have been the Howard poodle on Bush's derriere and the like.
I think you've actually got to do things that are unusual, and I think we're just about ready to. I can't separate anger and wit, because to say that people are not angry is wrong, they're angry with the war, so let's use anger and let' use wit.
Finally, what is your definition of success for the peace movement - obviously it's difficult to proposition before the war started - how do you keep the momentum going?
I don't believe it's by the number of people who participate. I believe that that is one factor, but I know it's going to be difficult in these circumstances to replicate the biggest march we had. But I think its about involving people and that means involving all the component parts, our religious people, our trade unions, our community groups. We've got a period of time to go and we've just got to involve people, that's the big challenge that's the success, and then people will do their own thing, many things are going to happen, it can't be just going in a march. It's got to be what are you going to do about it, what are you personally going to do about, and I hope we can mobilise ordinary people to write letters to the editor, to get on the radio and do their own thing. If we can give a bit of help with facts and figures, that's fine, but that's the next challenge.
Do you set yourself a target for the Palm Sunday Rally?
No I don't set it in numbers, because it depends on so many things. I just want to make sure that every section of our community is represented, that's the key to it. What the numbers finally are will be difficult to determine, but we just want to keep it as it is, every race, every tradition, every component part of our society. That's been the success of our rally so far: we're showing our unity to the people who are trying to drive a wedge between various parts of our community.
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