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May 2003   

Interview: Staying Alive
CPSU national secretary Adrian O'Connell talks about the fight to keep the public service - and the union movement - alive.

Bad Boss: The Ultimate Piss Off
Wollongong workers on poverty-level wages are losing up to $5000 for taking toilet breaks, according to the union representing staff at a Stellar call centre.

Industrial: Last Drinks
Jim Marr looks at the human cost of the decision to close Sydney’s Carlton United Brewery

National Focus: Around the States
If Tampa told us that John Howard circa 2003 is the same spotted rabid dog from 1987, this week’s assault on Medicare confirms it reports Noel Hester in this national round up.

Politics: Radical Surgery
Workers are vitally interested in Medicare, not least because they traded away wage rises to get it. Now, Jim Marr writes, the Coalition Government is tearing apart the 20-year-old social contract on which it was founded.

Education: The Price of Missing Out
University students and their families will pay more for their education following the May Budget, writes Tony Brown.

Legal: If At First You Don't Succeed
Love is wonderful the second time around, goes the famous torch song. But is the same true for legislation? Asks Ashley Crossland

History: Massive Attack
Labour historian Dr Lucy Taksa remembers the general strike of 1917 to put the recent anti-war marches into perspective

Culture: What's Right
Neale Towart looks at a new book that looks at the failings of the Left, while reasserting the liberal project

Review: If He Should Fall
Jim Marr caught Irish folk-rock-punk legend Shane MacGowan at Sydney’s Metro Theatre. He was surprised but not disappointed.

Poetry: If I Were a Rich Man
Through a distortion in the time-space continuum, we have found a recording showing how people a few years into the future will deal with health care.

Satire: IMF Ensures Iraq Institutes Market Based Looting
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has agreed to monitor the Iraqi economy to ensure that the reintroduction of looting into the economy conforms with free-market theory.


The Soapbox
What May Day Means to Me
Reader Marlene McAlear penned this tribue to May Day and worker solidarity.

The Toast
Labor Council secretary John Robertson's toast to the annual May Day dinner in Sydney.

The Locker Room
The Numbers Game
In life there is lies, damned lies and sporting statistics, says Phil Doyle - but who’s counting.

Brukman Evicted
ZNet's Marie Trigona reports from the streets of Argentina in the rundown to last week's presidential election.

The Costs of Excess
Some tall business poppies had their heads lopped this week as the laws of economic gravity applied their always chaotic theory.


Solidarity Forever
Another May Day, another year gone, another year to look back on our history and celebrate the past and talk about how we can make our movement strong again.


 Mystery Men Behind Pan Bungle

 Charities Brace for Medicare Backlash

 Court Throws Out Cole Prosecutions

 Child Actor Dodges Broken Voice

 Rio Tinto: $40 Million for Boss, Eviction for Workers

 Child Care for Oldies Too

 Winning Poster Shouts at Freeloaders

 May Day Tragedy Claims Union Lives

 Westfield Cleaners to Down Mops

 Question Marks Over Nursing Home

 Burn Payout Highlights Compo Fears

 Costa Blows Whistle on Canberra Raid

 Hoops Bet on National Body

 Tear Us Down, Buttercup

 Activist Notebook

 Is Labor History?
 Bob Gould Sprays Gerard Henderson
 War and Peace
 A Strange Light
 A Little History
 Does It Have To Be?
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The Soapbox

What May Day Means to Me

Reader Marlene McAlear penned this tribue to May Day and worker solidarity.


"Comradeship" was the name Mike Dwyer gave his small sailing sloop. Mike Dwyer was a school teacher. Mike Dwyer was also a tangible, breathing definition of integrity, intelligence and dedication. Mike Dwyer died three years ago from cancer, middle aged. Mike Dwyer was President of the South Coast Labour Council for ten years. Mike Dwyer taught me at high school. Mike Dwyer was a trade unionist. Mike Dwyer was my comrade.

My father is Ted McAlear. He is a retired Secretary of the Waterside Workers Federation Port Kembla Branch. My father has that same integrity, intelligence and dedication. Dad remains a proud trade unionist. Dad is my comrade.

My parents, Ted and Patricia, chose to marry on May Day, 1953. On the first day of their honeymoon in Sydney they marched together down George Street with tens of thousands of other workers, amid grand floats variously witty, defiant and spectacular. Among elaborate banners, pipe bands, miners bands, marching bands - all a powerful and deeply moving manifestation of working class unity, solidarity - and comradeship.

Exactly one year later, on May Day 1954, my brother Ted was born. Ted is a trade unionist. I am a trade unionist. My partner Mark is an honorary union secretary. So, perhaps not surprisingly, my biggest weekend of the year, of any year, is the May Day weekend. It begins with the traditional Friday night 'May Day Toast', organised by the South Coast May Day Committee, followed by the Wollongong march on Saturday and the Sydney May Day March on Sunday. The 'May Day Toast' deserves explanation for it is a singularly and deeply respected part of the celebrations. The Toast is like a big noisy dinner party, an amalgam of stirring and upstanding workers anthems from the Trade Union Choir such as 'Solidarity Forever' and the 'Internationale'. A few passionate speeches and a 'Toast to May Day' are delivered over a buzzing atmosphere alive with the cheerful and slightly lubricated camaraderie of trade unionists, Labor pollies who haven't forgotten their party's history, and assorted philosophical fellow travellers. A sort of annual coming home of the Left. Attend one Toast and you'll understand the truism that 'the working class have a culture and the upper class have only envy'.

To be honest, the grand scale of the earlier marches has diminished since May Day ceased to be a public holiday - but not the relevance. Incalculable numbers of workers have been killed by police and the military in countless countries fighting for the simple right to march on May Day. The bravery of these workers, and exercising the right to march, should not be forsaken at any time. Conservative governments have always attacked workers wages and conditions because they are inconvenient costs that detract from profits. Nothing was defended successfully or gains made without hard industrial struggle. But with the ascendancy of the neo-conservatives in Bush and his biggest fan, John Howard, the very essences and rights of civil society Australians have long taken for granted - universal medical care, public education and the social welfare of the aged and disadvantaged, will need strong defending. And it will be workers and their unions who will be called upon to lead that defence for all Australians. And, of course, we will.

The 2000 Sydney May Day March was a significant day I shall always remember. I had the honour of joining my partner in the Firefighters Union (FBEU) contingent that was chosen to lead that march down George Street. Leading the workers on their grand procession is indeed a great honour. As we moved off I was overwhelmed with pride and found it difficult to hold back the tears.

My very first May Day was experienced from inside mum's womb. One of my most prized possessions is a photo of me at three years old riding high on a float, surrounded by flowers, at the feet of a 'May Day Queen'. Exquisite floats, that unions spent hours designing and decorating, transported a procession of aspiring May Day Queens. Money raised by the entrants was donated to the May Day Committee. My early memories included marking the days off the calendar as it approached, excited sleepless nights, and preparing my best clothes at the end of the bed for the hasty morning dressing up.

At the conclusion of the Wollongong marches sample bags full of goodies were handed out to the children whilst the older kids were entertained at Lang Park with the Battle of the Bands. These activities and the march marked the culmination of weeks of celebrations. There were varied events such as the sporting program that included darts, snooker, wrestling, soccer (Johnny Warren was a star) and rugby league competitions (Merv Nixon in his prime). Many a famous sportsperson played in May Day tournaments. And no one would miss the May Day Ball at the Town Hall. All would dress up in their finest clothes, the men in suits, the women in long evening frocks with elaborate hairstyles.

Whether the local or the Sydney march, at the end there is always Freddy Moore, clapping the workers in as he has done as long as I can remember.

Some things never change. Once again the anticipation and excitement is building for this year's celebrations. May Day's importance has not diminished - it is still about displaying your collective pride and working class dignity, your international solidarity with all fellow workers. And again we will move off together behind our unions' banners with our heads held high, a lump in the throat, a tear in the corner of the eye. Again, I will remember Mike Dwyer - and his boat - 'Comradeship'.


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