The Official Organ of LaborNET
click here to view the latest edition of Workers Online
The Official Organ of LaborNET
Free home delivery
June 2003   

History: Nest of Traitors
Rowan Cahill uncovers a ripping yarn that could redefine the way we look at Australian involvement in World War II.

Interview: A Nation of Hope
Former PM Bob Hawke bemoans the demise of industrial relations but takes heart from the prospect of peace in the Middle East

Unions: National Focus
Noel Hester reports on a soap star rebellion, Howard’s plans to renuclearise South Australia, more historical atrocities in the north, the redundancy test case plus more in the monthly national wrap.

Safety: The Shocking Truth
It’s every power worker’s worst nightmare – and it happened to Adrian Ware. In a flash of voltage, his life changed forever, as Jim Marr reports.

Tribute: A Comrade Departed
From Prime Ministers to wharfies, the labour movement paid tribute to Tas Bull this week. Jim Marr was among them.

History: Working Bees
Neale Towart looks at a group of workers who got sacked so their boss could keep making the Bomb.

Education: The Big Picture
The NTEU’s Dr Mike Donaldson and Tony Brown join all the dots in the current debate around higher eduction.

International: Static Labour
Ray Marcelo argues there’s another side to the recent furore over Telstra’s use of cheap Indian IT contractors.

Economics: Budget And Fudge It
Frank Stilwell argues that Peter Costello’s latest budget plumbs fiscal policy to new depths.

Technology: Google and Campaigning
Labourstart’s Eric Lee argues the latest weapon for campaigning could be the humble search engine.

Review: Secretary With A Difference
Looking for a new job can be hard enough, without having to worry about sadomasochistic bosses and the threat of being spanked for forgetting to cross your ‘t’s, says Tara de Boehmler.

Poetry: The Minimale
The Labor Party leadership is in the news again, inspiring our resident bard David Peetz to song

Satire: Howard Calls for Senate to be Replaced by Clap-O-Meter
John Howard released a controversial policy statement today, arguing that the Senate be abolished in favour of a device measuring noise from the gallery of the House of Representatives.


It’s Our Party
Long time union watcher Nicholas Way looks at the changing dynamics between the industrial and political wings of the labour movement.

The Soapbox
Grass Roots
In his Maiden Speech, new MP Tony Burke argues that the ALP’s union links are nothing to be ashamed of.

Opinion Forming Down Under
Evan Jones condemns the mainstream’s media coverage of the War on Iraq and the damage it is doing to our national psyche.

The Locker Room
Location, Re-Location!
It’s all fun and games until someone loses a club, writes Phil Doyle


To the Victors The Spoils
Revelations that private American lawyers, rather than the ILO, will rewrite the labour laws of countries levelled by the American military vindicate the warnings of those concerned by US unilateralism.


 Rail Chaos Looms

 Electrolux Blows Fuse at Fundraiser

 ACM Loosens Handcuff on Democracy

 Sick Call on Mum’s Job

 Now For Industrial Shock and Awe

 Brian Miller – Working Class Hero

 Dynamite: Howard Handout for Rorters

 Family Case to Nurture Mothers

 Militants Lock Out Another 600

 Tipping the Turtle – Fijian Style

 Carr Goes Private

 Wages Blemish Sound Budget

 Westie Takes On Westfield ‘Hypocrisy’

 Eleventh Hour Reprieve for Women's Centre

 Activist Notebook

 In Defence of Cuba
 The Story in General
 Thinking of America
About Workers Online
Latest Issue
Print Latest Issue
Previous Issues
Advanced Search

other LaborNET sites

Labor Council of NSW
Vic Trades Hall Council
IT Workers Alliance
Unions on LaborNET
Evatt Foundation

Labor for Refugees


The Soapbox

Grass Roots

In his Maiden Speech, new MP Tony Burke argues that the ALP’s union links are nothing to be ashamed of.


Criticisms of the ALP, particularly in the Federal Parliament, have recently centred on the Party's connections to the unions, and in particular, the practice of choosing candidates from among union officials. As Federal Minister for Workplace Relations, Tony Abbott puts it, "the union link is the soft underbelly of the Labor Party."

In March this year NSW saw the election of five former union officials into the Carr Government - including Angela D'Amore from the Nurses Federation, Tanya Gadiel from the CEPU, Kayee Griffin from the MEU, Paul McLeay from the PSA and myself, an organiser with the Shop Assistants Unions. Is this proof that the Labor Party is getting too close to the unions?

The critics of trade unionists entering Parliament speak as though unionism was an industry, that it places people outside the "real world." Some in the Federal Parliament would argue that utilising a law degree to represent the same workers on the same issues, but charging them $200 an hour to meet in a solicitor's office, would somehow be more "real" than representing the employees through unions.

Trade unions are not an industry. Unionism is a movement; a movement which provides a gateway into every industry.

The new members of Parliament bring experience from the front line of the concerns and aspirations of nurses, electricians, council workers, public servants, fast food workers and shop assistants - areas that cover more than 700,000 NSW employees. It seems bizarre, therefore, to be attacking union officials for being out of touch with workers. A comparison of this day-to-day experience with the daily agenda of the Minister for Workplace Relations would reveal who's really out of touch.

What is clear from the Federal Government is that they have a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of union officials and what their job actually involves. I can dispute most of their claims through my own experience. As an organiser I didn't have an office. I didn't even have a desk. My meeting rooms were at Coles or Big W and my lunchroom was a shopping centre Food Court.

My days were spent listening to the concerns of checkout operators, of sales assistants, of fast food workers, of clerical employees. It involved listening, explaining their rights, teaching them how to fix the problems with the unfair roster changes, the underpayments, and providing representation.

The front line experience that union officials have brings a perspective that simply cannot be gleaned from statistics. Issues such as casualisation are generally viewed as being a problem in terms of underemployment. However, to take this example, there are other concerns that are not obvious to the public, but are understood and dealt with by union organisers.

In my work with the SDA I realised that some of the people at midnight union meetings of the night fillers, who fill the supermarket shelves while most people sleep, would be the same people working in coffee shops the next day. This trend towards taking multiple jobs to try to compensate for short shifts creates a whole new set of problems that have largely remained hidden in the public debate.

These people will often work overtime hours, but because they do so through multiple jobs will never receive overtime rates. Their total income may reach the superannuation threshold but they will fall below the threshold in one and possibly all jobs. The health and safety principle of a 10-hour break between shifts becomes meaningless. Any roster change doesn't only cause havoc for family responsibilities but also jeopardises the other jobs. And when annual leave requires simultaneous approval from two or three employers it's incredibly difficult for these workers to take a holiday.

Whether it's issues as specific as this or just the general understanding of how meaningless employment conditions become unless they are enforced, trade unionists bring an essential perspective to the Government.

Those who have sarcastically remarked, "just what Labor needs, another union official" don't realise how true the words they utter are.


Tony Burke is a former organiser with the SDA and was recently elected to the NSW Legislative Council.


email workers to a friend printer-friendly version latest breaking news from labornet

Search All Issues | Latest Issue | Previous Issues | Print Latest Issue

© 1999-2002 Workers Online
Workers Online is a resource for the Labour movement
provided by the Labor Council of NSW
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005

Powered by APT Solutions
Labor Council of NSW Workers Online