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November 2003   

Interview: Union for the Dispossessed
The Welfare Rights Centre's Michael Raper on 20 years of activism, the politics of punishment and how to make Australia egalitarian again.

Unions: Joel's Law
Building Workers have overcome powerful forces to push workplace safety back up the national agenda. But, Jim Marr writes, their "success" has come at an unacceptable cost.

National Focus: Spring Carnival
It must be spring: punting in Victoria, singing in South Australia, fighting in America. It’s all there in the national wrap from Noel Hester plus an Australian union movement rugby world cup class consciousness poll.

Bad Boss: Fina and Fiends
They sacked the job delegate, reinstated him after an IRC hearing, and sacked him again two weeks later. But that was just the beginning.

Industrial: The Price of War
Mass industrial action is brewing in Israel as the policies of the right-wing Sharon Government come home to roost, writes Andrew Casey.

Economics: Who's Got What
Frank Stilwell pours over the latest BRW Rich List to build a picture of the increasing gap between the haves and have-nots.

History: Containing Discontent
Racism against minorities has always been a stock in trade of politicans, writes Phil Griffiths

Review: An Honourable Wally
Most Australians probably look at our politicians and feel they could do a better job but when redundant meatworker Wally Norman gets the chance to find out he realises getting elected is a major hurdle, writes Tara de Boehmler.

Poetry: The Colours of Discontent
A thousand blossoms bloomed during the US President's spring-time colonial visit last month.


The Soapbox
Bush's Faith-Filled Life
The President's conversion, 'sense of divine calling' and struggle with sobriety are subjects of a forthcoming book, writes Bill Berkowitz

The Not So Smart Money
Phil Doyle is sick of big money ruining grass roots sport, and he’s taking his bat and going home.

The Westie Wing
The ongoing challenge for Labor members of parliament is to make what the Premier calls the ‘creative partnership’ between the Government and the union movement a reality, writes our favourite MP Ian West.

Behind the Junta
Saw Min Lwin, Secretary for Trade Union Rights/ Human Rights for the Federation of Trade Unions Burma (FTUB), outlines the struggle for workers in his country.


Governing the Corporates
Suburban branch manager Joy Buckland’s bid for a position on the ANZ Board raises important questions about the way our major companies are governed.


 Taskforce Sleeps As Cranes Crash

 Scabies, Filth in Upmarket Annandale

 ANZ Jumps For Joy

 Race That Couldn’t Stop Nangwarry

 Mandarins in $120m Disappearing Act

 BAT Stubs Out Junta

 Millions on Entitlements Line

 Workcover in Hold-Ups Gun

 Phoenix Rises … Again

 TAFE Takes To Thong Slapping

 Casual Work Is Health Hazard

 Activists Notebook

 Veterans' Compo
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National Focus

Spring Carnival

It must be spring: punting in Victoria, singing in South Australia, fighting in America. It’s all there in the national wrap from Noel Hester plus an Australian union movement rugby world cup class consciousness poll.


Ray Martin and A Current Affair took a break from diet stories this last fortnight and took up the plight of Ansett workers with two excellent, hard-hitting programs (on October 21 and November 5) attacking the Howard Government's profiteering from the $10 Ansett Air Passenger levy. Following the first story the ACA vote-line number ran hot in favour of ex-workers receiving the ticket tax money. Ray broke the news that the phone-in had generated more calls than any other in the history of A Current Affair, with 25,000 votes registered - and 97% of them in favour of the former Ansett workers. Thanks to all those who voted, and stay tuned for the third sensational instalment expected next week (November 10-14).

Seeking super cadets

The ACTU is supporting a Super Cadets program that is being coordinated by the Conference of Major Super Funds (CMSF). The cadetship includes 38 weeks working with an industry or public sector fund; 4 weeks off the job training and a 6 week placement with an employer or union. It is intended that cadets receive ongoing employment at the conclusion of the cadetship. Compulsory superannuation achieved by unions in the 1980s has been the single most important factor mitigating wealth inequality in Australia in the past 15 years, so working in super is a good way of making a difference. If you're interested visit the ACTU website for more information.

Aretha sings the vege blues

There were over 170 people from just about every union in the state at South Australia's inaugural organising conference this month. UTLC Secretary Janet Giles says the most important thing that came out of it was that all the state's unions gave a commitment to rebuild the union movement in South Australia and more importantly to do it together. 'Everyone got a lot out of it and enjoyed learning from other union's strategies and sharing their experiences,' she says.

The organising conference was followed by a brilliant awards night. The official line coming out of the UTLC was that the standard of karaoke was extremely high, with one of the highlights being an elvis impersonation by someone who looked remarkably like the LHMU's Mark Butler. (I digress: am I the only one who has a visceral fear of being asked to sing karaoke? I did manage to find another kiwi runner-in with a similar phobia and we hid at the back of the bar talking strategy (read rugby).

On the night a deserved award went to Mary Hajistassi from the NUW for organising a vegetable packing shed in Virginia just outside Adelaide. This workplace was a real horror story: the workers, predominantly labor hire and casuals with a fair smattering of refugees among them, had been subjected to some callous treatment from the managers. One woman had been threatened with a spanner in the face. Mary says the workers finally said enough's enough, came up with their own slogan - We Have Feelings, We Deserve Respect - plastered it on showbags, drink bottles, t-shirts and notepads which covered the workplace. They also started the day with Aretha Franklin's R-E-S-P-E-C-T when they arrived for work at 4.30 am. Singing is obviously a winning organising strategy in South Australia and the karaoke merely union training.

The organising tour rolls north

There seems to be a national organising circuit developing and it's got to be a good thing. A week after South Australia the Queensland Council of Unions held its inaugural Organising Conference. Over 200 activists got together to share up-to-date information and ideas about what unions are doing to address declining membership.

Key speakers included Michael Crosby from ACTU Organising Centre, ACIRRT's John Buchanan who talked about the Future of Work, Paul Goulter who gave some insights from the New Zealand trade union movement's experiences. Paul is a former Secretary of the NZTCU and now an ACTU advisor. There was also imput from the United States from Marilyn Sneiderman, Director of the Department of Field Mobilisation at AFL-CIO.

Queensland workers win better redundancy

Queensland workers have improved their redundancy entitlements following a decision of the full bench of the Queensland Industrial Relations Court. This builds on gains made by the Queensland Council of Unions in 2002.

Among the improvements are: an increase in severance payment to 16 weeks after eight years service and a redefinition of the operation of companies to avoid sham employer arrangements designed to avoid redundancy obligations. The offsetting of severance payments against superannuation entitlements is substantially limited and extensive consultation with employees must now occur when issues of severance or workplace change arise. This would include consultation with employees to avoid or minimise the effects of the changes and providing employees - in writing - with all information regarding changes.

The Commission has also left open the possibility for further improvements on issues such as access rights to redundancy for long term casuals and abolishing employer exemptions for business employing fewer than 15 employees. This will depend on the result of the federal redundancy case currently being run by the ACTU.

Victoria's union spring carnival

It's amazing how the spring weather in Victoria is absolute crap except on the big race days. It was 28 degrees on Caulfield Cup day, 27 degrees on Melbourne Cup day, and a scorcher on Oaks day. In between, nothing but never-ending grey misery. So Victorian unionists will be hoping the trends continue with a belter for the annual race day at Cranbourne on Sunday 9 November. Godolphin and Dermot Weld can't find the right type of horse for Cranbourne but the local nags are competitive and there will be plenty of (Victorian union) fashion - that's gotta be worth the trip! - free food, music, and loads of children's entertainment.

It's not all punting and preening in Mexico though. There's serious stuff going on as well - there's a rally and march on November 11 against the Howard Government's attacks on unions, Medicare and higher education. For more info go to the VTHC website.

Americans talk dirty about organising

Neale Towarte from the NSW Labor Council has put me on to two fascinating contributions to what is an increasingly robust debate in the United States about the way forward to union renewal in that country. The first is a searing analysis of the track record of US unions by Joann Wypijewski from the progressive paper, The Nation. The other is a spirited reply by Tom Woodruff from the SEIU who recently visited Australia for the ACTU Congress. Wypijewski's critique and Woodruff's response can be read on the web.

Bernadette Moloney from the CFMEU has also pointed out a very thoughtful and interesting article in the New York Review of Books by Tony Judt about the Middle East. It's a must read and is titled Israel - the Alternative.

The Australian Union Movement Rugby World Cup Class Consciousness Poll

It's down to the business end of the world cup and it looks like an All Black - Wallaby semi-final. I'm doing an informal poll on which team Australian trade unionists will be supporting. Let me know if you will be barracking for:

a. the wallabies - a team of inbred, upperclass, private school wallies

b. the all blacks - predominently a Maori and Polynesian working class team

Email me your choice at [email protected]


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