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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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Last Drinks

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


Trevor O'Hoy's dream of becoming Fosters boss of bosses, according to the business paqes, will swing on bottom line improvements from his decision to close a Sydney icon. Chris Hamilton, on the other hand, might trade in his blue workman's overalls and become Mr Mum to three young daughters.

"The fact is I might have to stay home for three years and look after the girls," the 16-year veteran of Carlton United's Kent Brewery says.

"My wife's a forensic scientist and if she went back to work she would probably make more money than I could get anywhere else. We've got three girls under five and she's on maternity leave but that might have to change. It's something we are considering."

Hamilton is one of 600 workers who will be having similar conversations with partners and families over coming months.

The Hamiltons have already shelved plans to extend their Concord home.

The closure call, announced from the Melbourne office of CUB's managing director O'Hoy, will affect thousands of Sydneysiders and the city they call home.

The vast Carlton United brewery, sprawling over five and a half inner city hectares, has been a landmark for near-on 170 years.

It assails the senses as you approach the city from the west. Eyes take in bricks, loads of them; noses get hops and barley; but, in recent years, middle class ears have had it with the sounds of hardcore industry in their increasingly-gentrified neighbourhood.

Interestingly, back in 1835, the brewery went up on that part of Broadway because it was out of the city-proper. That, and the fact that nearby Blackwattle Creek provided a steady stream of clean, clear water.

At its peak the Kent brewery churned out a head-spinning 30 million litres of beer a week. It employed all sorts, from apprentices and labourers to sparkies and boilermakers. In days gone by, tradesmen that history has been less than kind to, the likes of coopers and blacksmiths, would sign in every day.

In the early days, as Tooths, there were horses and liberal daily doses of arsenic, the accepted substance for cleaning out stables in those times.

Even when the Melbourne suits made their final decision the facility was still pumping out 22.5 million litres every week.

Some of the brand names - Rechs, KB, Tooths, VB, Fosters, Carlton, Cascade and Sterling - are as Aussie as a cold one on Friday arvo.

There had been talk of closure back in the mid-90s, around the time the last cooper, old Jack Rutledge, was walking out the gate after 47 years.

But workers and management got their heads together and figured out new, smarter methods of work to keep the place ticking over.

"We did a lot of things differently because everyone wanted the place to survive," Hamilton explains. "There was give and take but we didn't give away our conditions.

"They were fought for by people who worked here a long time before I did. They weren't really ours to give away."

Hamilton was like most of his workmates. His first reaction to the news was shock, especially at the totality of the closure.

From the final lights out, in 2005, CUB will brew nothing in New South Wales, although the state accounts for roughly half of its national sales of both packaged and draught beer.

Now that the news has sunk in workers are reflecting on good times and long-standing friendships

"This was a great place to work," Hamilton says. "I've really enjoyed my time and made a lot of good friends. We got on well with the Sydney management and tried to work together for everyone's benefit.

"The people are like family. I'm certainly not one of the long-serving workers. A lot of guys have been here 30 years and longer. We regard anyone who has done less than 10 years as a newcomer."

He has no doubt about his fondest memory of the place. It was when he met his wife, then a lab technician.

They figured it would be better not to live and work together so she became a drugs analyst.

"Jeez, you must have good parties," is a refrain they hear every time they reveal their respective occupations.

Also high on the positive list from the last 16 years have been the wages, conditions, comradeship and the always appreciated weekly allowance - equivalent to about one and a half cases of the employer's product a week.

The allowance took the place, as OH&S awareness grew, of the traditional schooner at morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and knock-off time.

The worst day in Hamilton's time at the brewery was undoubtedly Monday, April 14, when, after 167 years, the company called time on the oldest continuous manufacturing plant in Sydney.

But now the shock has worn off and people are getting their heads together, looking for a better redundancy settlement and help in retraining or finding alternative employment.

The company wants 40 scalps within a couple of months, another 60 by next February and the lights out by February, 2005, so the wrecking ball can do its thing.

A group of delegates from various unions, headed by site chairman Lincoln Tylee, will negotiate the nuts and bolts. Filtration operator Hamilton will be one of their number.

He doesn't mind a tipple and VB has long been his drop of choice although Crown Lager gets the nod when he has some celebrating to do. Right now he doesn't see Crownies on the menu.

But, if Hamilton could just pitch himself forward a couple of years, would he still see himself reaching for a VB after a long, hot afternoon over the ironing board?

"That's an interesting question," he admits, "I guess a lot depends on what happens over the next few months."


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