Interview: No Ifs, No Butts
Unions: National Focus
Industrial: Fools Gold
Bad Boss: Bones of Contention
History: The Gong Show
Politics: The Hawke Legacy
International: Sick Nation
Economics: Closed Minds
Review: Mixing Pop and Politics
Poetry: One Size Fits All
The Locker Room
The Monk Off Our Back
North By Northwest
It was somewhere outside of Kempsey when the reality kicked in. Here we were on a day that owed more to February than July when a busload of people with one thing in common pulled up at a small Lions Club maintained roadside memorial.
For the driver of the bus, Arthur Cowling, it was a site of some significance. Arthur, who reckons he has literally driven over a million kilometres in his lifetime, spent 20 years based in Kempsey, where he drove for local firm Cavanagh's. He also had plenty of experience driving interstate buses, a lot for firms that have long disappeared such as Olympic and V.I.P.
The site is a memorial to the carnage that was the Clybucca bus crash, when 35 people lost their lives in the middle of a night in 1989 when a McCafferty's coach and a tourist coach went into each other.
Arthur was on TV after that tragedy, on Nine's A Current Affair. It was an event that obviously had a huge impact on the man whose current job was to cart a dozen or so union officials across the state over three, week long stints, carrying a message about workplace rights.
This job had, for the second time in his life, put the one time sparky back on the box again, this time as part of the 7.30 Report's coverage of the Your Rights At Work tour.
Another who featured on that 7.30 Report episode was Unions NSW employee, Dan Walton. By the time we were heading up the Pacific Highway Dan was looking every bit the tour manager.The sunglasses had been left behind, and had been replaced in Port Macquarie by a pair that would do either Starsky or Hutch proud. They were a valuable prop, as organising a five-day jaunt over a thousand kilometres to a dozen odd venues requires a sense of humour, and Dan did an impressive job.
There was plenty more to inspire than Dan Walton's fashion sense. From that first Sunday in Port Macquarie, where hundreds came out for a family picnic day and to send a message that their rights at work were worth fighting for, to five days later on a picket line outside the Williamtown RAAF base, good people, ordinary people, from all walks of life, were coming out of the woodwork, out the shadows, standing up and forming themselves into a voice that said, over and over again, "Our rights at work are worth fighting for".
People that lived in conservative communities on the mid-north coast came out during their lunch hour at Macksville, to the swimming pool carpark, eighty of them, to hear Unions NSW secretary John Robertson speak and sweat in the sun about what the Federal Government's changes meant for them and their communities.
Again at a sugar mill on the banks of the broad majestic Clarence River, in a park in Grafton, a mall in Armidale, even to the point where the bus was accosted by Country Energy workers at an unscheduled stop on Glen Innes, where they were keen to shake hands and get the drum on what was up.
The white Your Rights At Work core flute signs kept nagging away from power poles and trees in unlikely places as cows, green grass and sagging fence lines drifted past.
You couldn't miss the bus. Orange is not a subtle colour. Wide grins, smiles, waves and honking horns carried by in its wake.
When Tim from Big Brother joined the bus in Coffs Harbour momentum began to roll.
He was certainly a bigger attraction than local National Party MP and candidate for Moron Of The Year, Luke Hartsuyker, who attended the forum at Coffs Ex-Servies club to tell us that people who worked in tourism and hospitality were in a strong bargaining position.
After the audience picked themselves up and the laughter died down the convenor, an impressive chap from the Miscellaneous Workers Union called Steve Klaassen gee-ed up of the 100 plus crowd, who roared with approval when he asked at the end if they were going to fight for their working rights.
Hartsuyker left in a hurry.
Big Brother Tim ended up being mobbed by schoolkids in a Lismore shopping mall - on it's opening day - he nearly had his Your Rights At Work T-Shirt ripped off him at one stage.
Tim told the story, and radio, TV and newspaper after newspaper wanted to hear.
It was a story that everyone knew. In the economically depressed areas of the Northern Rivers, where boom times still seem to pass through the same families, already many were on less money, with no job security, living hand to mouth in many instances. This was a land where, after nine years of sound economic management by the Howard Government, there already is a working poor.
By the time we left the North Coast t-shirt weather and headed up to the tablelands there was a feeling that a message was getting through in these communities. A message that had a receptive audience that no amount of government spin could eradicate.
The government was telling people something that ran a hundred and eighty degrees from their day-to-day experience. The things we were saying made sense up here.
What sort of future were we creating for our children? Would this be the first generation of Australians that would leave a poorer legacy for their children? Who would benefit?
But in the end it wasn't about being Brother Robertson's Travelling Salvation Show, it was about building local community responses. Local organisations that could continue the fight to defend their working rights in their communities.
And this was a hit. By tour's end upwards of 30 committees across the state had formed. We even stumbled across one that had sprung up organically. How many more were there out there, standing up?
Time will tell, but the bright orange bus is just a small part in a bigger strategy.
One that isn't driven by talking heads out of Sydney or Canberra, but one that is driven by the hundreds of people who came out at night, or during their lunch hours. Many who admitted they had never been to a union meeting in their life.
People with kids, new shoes to buy, rent or mortgages to pay, bills, cars to run. Real people with real problems. Not abstract elements of some obscene abacus bandied about by the big end of town, but people, as good as and often better than the shallow carpetbaggers that pass themselves off as their leaders.
But these people were not acquiescing quietly to some dogma from Canberra. Rather, this issue has touched a bedrock. There was a definite sense that these communities had been through enough and that they were not in the mood to be taking this one lying down.
As Ross McLachlan, an electrician at Harwood sugar mill, told his workmates: "We've got to stick together on this one. We all need solidarity."
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