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August 2003   

Interview: The New Deal
US union leader Amy Dean expands on her agenda to give unions a real political voice

Unions: In the Line of Hire
Unions have lobbied and negotiated in a bid to stem casualisation and insecurity. Now, Jim Marr, writes they are seeking protection through a formal Test Case.

Culture: Too Cool for the Collective?
Young people are amongst the most vulnerable in the workforce. So why aren't they joining the union, asks Carly Knowles

International: The Domino Effect
An internal struggle in the biggest and strongest industrial union in Germany IG Metall has had a devastating wave effect across not just that country, but also the rest of Europe, writes Andrew Casey.

Industrial: A Spanner in the Works
Max Ogden looks at the vexed issue of Works Councils and the differing views within the union movement to them.

National Focus: Gathering of the Tribes
Achieving a fairer society and a better working life for employees from across Australia will be key themes at the ACTU's triennial Congress meeting later this month reports Noel Hester.

History: The Welcome Nazi Tourist
Rowan Cahill looks at the role Australia's conservatives played in supporting facism in the days before World War II.

Bad Boss: Domm, Domm Turn Around
Frank Sartor might have shot through but Robert Domm still calls the IR shots at Sydney City which pretty much explains why the council is this month�s Bad Boss nominee.

Poetry: Just Move On.
Visiting bard Maurie Fairfield brightens up our page with a ditty about little white lies.

Review: Reality Bites
The workers, united, may never be defeated but if recent episodes of Channel 10 drama The Secret Life Of Us are to be believed, this is not necessarily a good thing, writes Tara de Boehmler.


The Soapbox
Fighting Words
Craig Emerson gave what could be the most spirited Labor spray in a decade to the NSW Labor Council this month. Here it is in all its venom.

Out of Their Class
Phil Bradley argues that Australia's education system should not be up for negotiation in the global trade talks.

The Locker Room
The ABC of Sport
Phil Doyle argues that the only way to end the corporate madness that is sport, is to give it all back to the ABC.

Locks, Stocks and Barrels
Union Aid Abroad's Peter Jennings updates on the situation in Burma, where the repression of democracy is going from bad to worse.


The Secret Life of Us
The fact that casual workers are too scared to come forward and testify about the need for job security seems to prove their basic point � no matter how long or how well you work, you can never feel safe in your job.


 Tough Women Draw Line at Sacking

 Witness Protection Urged on IRC

 Max Swings Axe at Safety

 Sick Twist in Drug Testing

 Sacked Mum Goes to the Top

 Cuts Sour ADB Birthday Bash

 Howard Enlists Russians for Military

 Vic Workcover Invests in Worker Misery

 Public Hole in Power Shortage

 Whistleblower Sacking Sparks Zoo Walkout

 Truckie With Conscience Wins Back Job

 Indigenous Labour honours Tobler

 Asbestos Blocks Liverpool Road Works

 Activist Notebook

 Bullies in the Ranks
 It Is Still About The Members Isn't It
 Tom's Purpose
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The Domino Effect

An internal struggle in the biggest and strongest industrial union in Germany IG Metall has had a devastating wave effect across not just that country, but also the rest of Europe, writes Andrew Casey.


An abortive strike in eastern Germany - demanding a 35 hour week - collapsed in June, and throughout July the leadership of IG Metall has brawled about who was to blame.

This was the first time the IG Metall had lot a strike in more than 50 years - so the consequences of the defeat were dramatic and have become very public, especially as the union was in the middle of a handover of the leadership from one generation to another.

The generational change portended a new, more militant era as the former pliant and moderate leadership left the national stage.

The Social Democrat Chancellor, Schroeder, has used the historic collapse of the strike not just to lecture the in-coming leadership of IG Metall about the failure of militancy, but he has also used the cover of this union brawl to start tearing apart the social safety net welfare system, which has a 120-year history in that country.

Progressives throughout Europe are concerned that if the social safety net is torn away in Germany - the core supporter of this tradition - then it will be that much easier to attack it and kill it off in other parts of the EU.

The excuse in Germany for cutting unemployment payments, chopping medical and dental care, hitting at the incomes of pensioners and similar is an economic catastrophe with over four million unemployed - a rate in eastern Germany of nearly 20 percent.

The main opponents to these plans have traditionally been the trade unions - led by their version of the ACTU, the DGB. But most of the fight was led by its two biggest affiliates the public sector union - ver.di - and the manufacturing union - IG Metall.

Without a strong IG Metall the ability to organise and campaign against those who would attack the social welfare state has been severely hampered.

The DGB leadership is so concerned about the IG Metall brawl that, in a rare public comment on internal union matters, they have called for the dispute to be resolved and buried.

Ursula Engelen-Kefer, the chair of the DGB, called on IG Metall to find a quick solution.

Ms Engelen-Kefer said lessons had to be learned from the debacle there were too many numerous tasks remaining in eastern Germany to allow this dispute to continue to paralyse not just IG Metall but also the rest of the union movement.

But while in recent days the IG Metall has moved to paper over the split, the retiring president, Klaus Zwickel, left the union in a bitter huff - with loads of fireworks and smoke to attract attention to his departure.

He clearly blamed his former vice-president Juergen Peters for the failure of the 35-hour week strike in eastern Germany.

In a media statement issued as he left the union Mr Zwickel blasted his opponents saying the current chaos in his huge nearly 3 million member union was not caused by him: " Individuals who are not prepared to take responsibility for personal consequences for a serious political defeat for IG Metall are behind it."

The un-named individual was Juergen Peters who got the nod last year to take over as the leader of the union in October.

He has the reputation for militancy that his predecessor Klaus Zwickel has not.

Peters became designated successor in April after a close battle with the reform-minded regional leader Berthold Huber

But after getting the nod for the leadership job Peters was given responsibility for developing the strategy to bring IG Metall members in eastern Germany, the former German Democratic Republic, up to the same standards are their west German colleagues.

The easterners, despite lots of promises, were being paid less and worked longer hours.

While the strike won higher pay for workers in the steel industry, it failed in its main goal to win the 35 hour week which was achieved some years ago in the west of the country.

The big companies used unprecedented tough tactics against the union delaying and delaying negotiations. In the end they threatened to shut down all auto production plants, not just in the east but also across the rest of the country and other parts of Europe - allegedly because of the lack of auto parts coming from the eastern plants.

The stand-downs, and threatened job losses, caused a massive reaction among IG Metall members in the west - who form a majority of the union - and amidst this turmoil the strike came to an infamous end, and an unusual defeat.

Speculation about what this defeat meant for the new militants in IG Metall started almost immediately. Klaus Zwickel was quoted in the media suggesting he would change his mind about his retirement plans.

And some sections of IG Metall called for a special convention to try and stop Juergen Peters' planned step up to the leadership job scheduled to take place in October at the normal union convention.

Throughout July media headlines were dominated by stories about what Zwickel, Peters and others would do in the union and whether the special convention would go ahead.

After almost a month of paralysing manouvering - with attempts to lift Peters original opponent, Berthold Huber, into the top job the out-going Zwickel resigned.

And an accommodation has been reached which will see Peters and Huber working closely together at the top of IG Metall.

The demand now from the IG Metall membership and the rest of the union movement in Germany and across Europe is that the leadership work together to fight those who would undermine the more than century old social safety net tradition of that country.


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