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April 2003   

Interview: Picking Up The Peaces
Walk Against the War Coalition convenor Bruce Childs outlines the challenge for the peace movement in the lead up to Palm Sunday.

Unions: The Royal Con
Jim Marr argues the Cole Commission can only be taken seriously by people kept ignorant of the way it actually operated.

National Focus: Around the Grounds
Unions maintain the pressure for peace as the upcoming organising conference takes on added significance, reports Noel Hester.

Economics: The Secret War on Trade
Overseas-based multi-nationals are coming after our film industry, electricity, water, pharmaceutical benefits and even childcare. Or are they? Nobody knows, as Jim Marr reports.

International: United Front
Workers and their unions around the world have possibly never been as united in their commitment to campaign together against the War in Iraq, writes Andrew Casey

History: Confessions of a Badge Collector
Bill Pirie has one of the largest collections of trade union badges in the world. After 20 years the collection now numbers some 6,000 badges.

Politics: Stalin’s Legacy
Fifty years ago last month Josef Stalin died. How could it be that a democratic and socialist revolution produced one of the monsters of the twentieth century, asks Leonie Bronstein.

Review: Such Was Not Ned’s Life
The life of Ned Kelly is what we in the world of journalism term a “ball tearing yarn” so why have writers of the movie adaptation felt so impelled to dress it up with fiction, asks Tara de Boehmler.

Poetry: Osama's Top Recruiter
Through our extensive intelligence networks, we have managed to track down the top recruiter for the global terror network of Osama bin Laden.

Satire: Woolworths CEO Denied Bonus After Company Posts Profit
Woolworths chief executive Roger Corbett was devastated today to report an 18.3% rise in profit under his management over the last year.


The Soapbox
Factional Free-For-All
Chris Christodoulou looks at the fallout from the selection of the new Carr Ministry and what it means to the factional warlords.

The Locker Room
The Best Season Since Last Year
Phil Doyle goes trudging through the mud in search of the heart of the matter beneath the corporate biffo

Books on Bombs
In times like these, reading inevitably turns to America and war. Chris White wades through Pilger, Chomsky, Eco, Moore and Vidal.

Postcard from Harvard
Labor Council's Michael Gadiel was elected to give the valedictory speech to this year's Harvard Trade Union Program.


The Fog of War
As the War Without a Mandate proceeds apace, any notion of a domestic political agenda has become surplus to requirements.


 Cole Launches Civil Rights Assault

 Protests Target Arncliffe “Shocker”

 Commerce Swallows DIR

 Abbott, Bosses Turn Guns on Low Paid

 Fat Cats Should Justify Salaries - LHMU

 Black Humour for a Dark Issue

 Minister on Threats, Coercion

 Bosses Stonewall Union Dues Ruling

 Private Hospitals Pay Out on 15 Percent

 Councils on Hotel Workers’ Agenda

 Sharon Hammers Israeli Workers

 Shangri-La Blue Ends

 Inaugural Orwell Awards

 Activist Notebook

 The Rule of Law
 Trots Bomb Back
 Tom's Turn
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Postcard from Harvard

Labor Council's Michael Gadiel was elected to give the valedictory speech to this year's Harvard Trade Union Program.


I am proud to be part of the class of 2003. This group is symbolic of the diversity of the international union movement. With participants from throughout the world, including the United States of America, Canada, Japan, Spain, South Africa and, of course, Australia - the groups reflects the National, ethnic, gender and age diversity that the movement needs to represent all working people.

To all our friends, families and work colleagues who want to know what we've been up to here in Boston, other than important stuff, like drinking and socialising.

Well...Elaine Bernard [The Program Executive Director] has squeezed every possible ounce of productive time out of us... lectures through the day, readings at night, the Harvard Trade Union Program is serious.

What we have learned over the last few weeks unfolds like a story...the story of the Labor is not a story that fits into any single lecture, nor a story that has been taught to us by a Professor...but only becomes clear at the end. Putting together the learning of the last six weeks...and applying our collective experience as union leaders...a narrative unfolds.

Unions are in a period of decline. It is true almost throughout the western world that union membership rates are falling, and with this decline, our power and our capacity to achieve outcomes also declines.

Worst - as the jobs in many traditionally unionised industries have disappeared, we have sometimes succumbed to the temptation to fight each-other over the remnants, rather than build power in new unorganized areas. This drains us, further accelerating our decline.

There are those that say that unions have fulfilled their mission - that they were needed at one time - but working conditions are so much better now.

But as the union movement has declined, inequality has risen. Despite growth, despite the prosperity of the developed world and despite the optimism of the New Economy.

But there is hope!

The fact is, that unions are needed today as much as ever - the struggle for social justice is a continuous one. Even to keep what has been achieved in the past, unions are required.

Unions are a certain feature of every free capitalist society. There was no law passed by which unions were created - they emerge spontaneously. Unions are a natural, legitimate and necessary part of the capitalist economy. Unions are a force that drives capitalist system to change for the better - ensuring that it evolves.

They mightn't like us - but like all bad tasting medicine, we are good for them!

There are telltale signs that the current system is struggling to renew itself. The Tech-Wreck has halted the nineties boom. The dishonesty and lack of values amongst the corporate elites, exposed by the Enron and WorldCom collapses, highlights underlying weaknesses.

We know that this is not the first period of decline for the Union movement. World events move in cycles - the environment changes, thinking changes, values change. The further the pendulum of history is drawn in one particular direction - the more powerful the inevitable counter swing.

Labor leaders need to recognise the current environment of crisis as an opportunity...not to be hidden or avoided...but to be discussed, debated, understood and dealt with. It is the harnessing of this sense of crisis that will empower union leaders to drive the reforms we know the Labor Movement needs.

A business as usual approach will condemn our movement to oblivion. Crisis drives change - so now is the time for our movement to reform - to regain the energy and idealism that it once had.

In this time of crisis we must unite and support each other as a movement... organizational rivalries must be put aside, our institutional barriers lowered. By working together, unions live up to the values that we promote to our membership: collectivism and solidarity. A united labor movement will always be a more powerful one.

Whether or nor things become more favorable in the short term, the challenge for the unions is to muscle-up and be ready to grow. Unions cannot afford to simply "stay on ice" until things get better, or "manage the decline", they need to be constantly experimenting, innovating and taking the fight up to the bosses and their allies.

The law is against us...dismissal of workplace leaders...banning of secondary boycotts...permanent replacement of strikers - the law supports the bosses.

If the law is to be changed then the Labor Movement must engage in a wide ranging social struggle...both in the workplace and in the community. Furthermore the gains of our members will only ever be safe when, through political action, we have achieved them for everyone...making unions as the voice of all working people.

Over the last six weeks we've been exposed to the ideas we need - organizing, campaigning around issues, thinking strategically, managing organisational change, building workplace networks, promoting leadership, educating members and shaping opinion.

There is no right answer - we must pick and choose what will work for our own organisation - but the message is clear, we need to break out of our comfort zone and re-discover the tactics that built the Labor Movement in the first place.

And we must do this remembering that our members want a better world - not perpetual revolution. Everything we do must have a purpose, it must be winnable...the tactics are to achieve an outcome not an end in themselves.

As we return to our organisations we go back enriched...having taken time out to re-evaluate...and re-charge.

I'd like to finish up with a the words of a famous Australian unionist - William Guthrie Spence, the founder of Industrial unionism in Australia - he said:

"The level-headed trade unionist of experience is the most practical man or woman in the world, and God knows the world has need of them to push on the work of social and political reform"

That was said in 1909 - but the words are as true today as they ever were.


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