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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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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.


As a member of the Fraser Government John Howard worked to secure the death of Medibank - an act so significant for union members that the ACTU led a general strike of protest in 1976.

In 1983 Medicare was seen by the Labour movement as a foundation stone of the social wage component of the Accord process and in 1984 Medicare was introduced as a universal system for financing public health.

This week John Howard took out his rusty old scalpel from the 80s and started surgically dismembering this national treasure.

ACTU President Sharan Burrow flagged a national campaign against the Medicare changes, targeting politicians in marginal federal electorates when addressing a national meeting of health, union, welfare, church, and political groups in Melbourne today. (Read Sharan Burrow's opening address.)

'Medicare is a line in the sand for us,' she said.

Medicare was also high on the list of campaigning priorities when Sharan Burrow joined over 260 union reps at the Tasmanian delegates conference yesterday. This is the second time union activists across unions on the island have got together and they also focussed on the problem of hours in the workplace with guest speakers Katherine Heilor from ACIRRT and Barbara Pocock from the University of South Australia.

Tassie continues to be the scene of a novel deunionising strategy at Blue Ribbon products in Launceston where 19 meat workers have been picketing for the last month. They were given the flick after being treated as independent contractors by a labor hire company after being placed on traineeships with the promise of continued employment. Unions Tasmania Secretary Lynne Fitzgerald says its another trick to avoid collective bargaining and to deunionise the workplace. 'These workers have been given fantastic support from other unions and the local community,' she says.

The forces of darkness haven't got a monopoly on novelty and initiative in the apple isle though. The LHMU got well over 100 members to commit to activism in their upcoming wage campaign at Wrest Point casino after a phone and home blitz recently. Look for the Tassie LHMU delegation at next week's Organising Conference in Sydney. They're ready to tell everyone how they did it.

The May Day spirit is alive and well in South Australia. In fact the croweaters manage to stretch it out over a bloody week. A commemoration for the International Day of Mourning on Monday was followed by a well attended conference on OHS on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday some stroppy ASU members - labour hire workers on the clerks award - launched a campaign looking for permanent employment. Some of these workers have been in the same job as casuals for more than 17 years. A good reason for being stroppy. And on the Friday the Labor Council launched a leaflet on the Rights of a Pregnant Worker which goes into the 'Pregnant Women's Showbag'. (I have to fess up here to being a stupid white male. I didn't know women got a bag of goodies on their first visit for a check up when they're pregnant. And to have a leaflet in it from the unions outlining their rights is a brilliant idea!). On Saturday there's the May Day rally and then the LHMU launch their child care wage claim at the national early child care conference in Adelaide. And then on Sunday ... you get the picture, May Day/Week is a happening thing in South Australia.

Victorian workers turned out in big numbers on May 1 as they marched to demand 'Respect' for workers and an end to the Howard Government's attacks on their rights. Over 15,000 unionists marched on the Melbourne Magistrates Court earlier in the week to support Victorian CFMEU secretary Martin Kingham who was facing charges arising out of the Cole Royal Commission. They like marching in Melbourne. Keeping fit? Keeping warm? Keeping up the activism anyway. The yoof, as Roy and HG would say, are keeping busy too. The Young Unionists Network are holding a two day Planning Session today and tomorrow at Trades Hall with a focus on increasing the participation of young unionists.

In Queensland, the Bureau of stats came up with some interesting figures recently. Over two thirds of Queensland women take more than 26 weeks of Mat Leave. Three quarters use existing benefits - service leave, holiday pay etc. - to financially support themselves. 'Having a kid isn't a holiday,' says QCU Secretary Grace Grace. The message from up north is pretty clear for John Howard on this one. Get your act together! The banana benders also deserve a guernsey for the stats on union membership, bucking the national trend with their third consecutive year of growth.

Love'm, hate'm, (let's stick with hate'm) - you've got to give Rio Tinto credit for their sense of irony having their AGM on May Day in Perth. Western Australian workers didn't let the moment pass without a challenge with 3000 rallying outside in support of United Steelworkers in Utah who are the latest unionists under attack from the mineral giant. They were addressed by ICEM International President John Maitland, CFMEU WA Secretary Kevin Reynolds and Jock Ferguson. A few from the rally then slipped inside to ask some curly ones of the suits.

Solidarity Park opposite Parliament House in Perth is to be classified as a class a reserve preserving it like a national park. Unionists piled in there on May Day to celebrate the occasion with the usual revelry - bands, good times and the obligatory soapbox tub thumping speeches.

The ACTU Organising Centre is hiring very big bouncers and velvet ropes from Sydney nightclubs to put out the front of their megasuperboom Organising Conference in Sydney next week because its all sold out. That's right - oversubscribed, full, chocka. So anyone who didn't get their act together to register will have to join the other uncool losers in the queue.

The ACTU, in collaboration with the Australian is hosting a national conference on the Future of Work on Thursday 12 June at the Merchant Court Hotel, Market Street, Sydney. The conference will examine the changing nature of work, shifts in the labour market and the recasting of key institutions. The conference aims to address three questions - How is work changing in contemporary Australia? Why are these changes occurring? What are the key challenges for employees, employers, unions, policy makers, governments? It will look at the changes in hours of work, casualisation, wage inequality, balancing work and family, staffing levels and workloads. Paul Kelly (the journo, not the swan or the singer), Sol Lebovic (Newspoll), Liz Lukin (Essential Media Communication) Bob Gregory, Barbara Pocock, Michael Pusey, Heather Rideout, Greg Combet, Geoff Dixon, Geoff Polites, Helen Creed plus more will be contributing. To familiarise yourself with the issues visit the Future of Work on the ACTU Website.

Unions get a particularly good deal with the registration fees. Contact ACIRRT 02 9351 5626 or by email [email protected] for more information. Get in early and register cos we're expecting we'll need the bouncers and velvet ropes for this gig as well.

Note: for anyone objecting to my use of the terms croweaters or banana benders etc speak to the hand comrades, I'm a kiwi and I have to put up with worse. And a useless fact passed on to me by a Queenslander at the ACTU: more bananas are grown in Northern NSW than Queensland therefore the term is highly inaccurate.


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