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Year End 2003   

Interview: Robbo’s Rules
Labor Council secretary John Robertson rules the line through 2003 and looks forward to a bigger and better year to come.

Unions: Fightback 2003
Tony Abbott, no less, summed up the tone of 2003 when he complained workers were frustrating his agenda, as Jim Marr reports.

Bad Boss: Madame Lash Whips Tony
Jim Marr explains how a local can manufacturer knocked off a quality field, including a notorious American call centre operator, in the race for Bad Boss honours.

Politics: United Front
Facing a new leader and new rules, Jim Marr speaks to key union players about the hot issues at January’s ALP National Conference.

Economics: Looking Back - Looking Forward
The year ends with the thought that 2004 must be better, writes Frank Stilwell in his annual review of all things economic.

International: Net Benefits
International editor Andrew Casey looks back on a year where workers stood up globally for services we once took for granted.

History: The New Guard
Who were Australia’s fascists in the 1930s and was John Howard’s father in the New Guard? Labour historian, Andrew Moore, uncovers some surprising information about Australia’s fascist past.

Poetry: What is the PM singing this Christmas?
Our Kirribilli spies, led by resident bard David Peetz, have been listening in on the PM's preparations for Christmas, and have recorded the Howard family rehearsing this new Christmas carol.

Review: Culture That Was
2003 saw the Howard Government signal its readiness to swap culture for agriculture in a free trade deal with the US and film maker George Miller lament that Aussie's had run out of stories to tell anyway, writes Tara de Boehmler.


The Guessing Game
We have consulted our regular list of mystics and gnostics to offer these throughts for the future.

Folk You Mate
Jan Nary looks at the role of workers songs in the upcoming National Folk Festival.

Shane Maloney – Crime Writer
For a crime writer whose books are set against a backdrop of unions and Labor Party politics, Shane Maloney confesses to little direct experience of either.

The Locker Room
Workers Online Sports Awards
Noel Hester and Peter Moss give their annual rundown of the good, the bad and the ugly in the world of sport.

The Web We Weave
Social Change Online's Mark McGrath's annual review of how unions are using the web to grow.


Backs to the Wall
How does one judge a year like 2003, when on the surface the powers of darkness – read Bush and Howard and union-busting bosses - can point to the scoreboard and claim ‘we won!’?


 No Joy for ANZ - This Time

 Nurses, Teachers Win Big

 Govt Coy on Sackings Threat

 NSW: State of Discomfort

 Fashion Police Collar Moe

 Telstra Picks Up Union Signal

 E-Missiles Strike White House

 STOP PRESS: Doubts Over Driver Test

 Juggler Catches Union Gong

 Chubb Beats Up On Own Guards

 Commuters Face Long, Hot Summer

 MUA Members Play Santa

 Bennelong Grinch Strikes Again

 G’day To Union Made Wines

 Activists Notebook

 Tom On Mark
 Looking The Otherway At Christmas
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Robbo’s Rules

Labor Council secretary John Robertson rules the line through 2003 and looks forward to a bigger and better year to come.

This time last year you were saying that your test for success in 2003 would be the way that Labor Council has been able to get their affiliates onto a campaign footing and to actually go out and run some constructive campaigns. Looking back on the year, how successful have you been?

If that is the measure, I would say that we have been marginally successful. We have got some unions that at the end of the year are running some pretty successful campaigns. I don't know whether I should name those unions but I can probably think of four or five that have run some pretty innovative campaigns during the year, and the signs are that next year there should be a few more on top of those that will be running some pretty effective organizing campaigns.

You have actually gone through a process of setting out some broader campaign objectives for 2004. Where are the areas that you want to see some activity?

I think there are two key areas. One is childcare. I think that there are three unions in particular that have got coverage in childcare - all of which are doing, and working reasonably effectively in that area. I think that Labor Council can add some value there by coordinating some of those activities.

The other area is building and construction, with the demarcation at the moment that has been reached between the CFMEU and the AWU in civil construction. This has really given us some great opportunities to go out and organize that sector, and it has been traditionally a sector, particularly in the rural areas, where the workers have been exploited and made to feel very vulnerable and are unable to bargain.

Rail, I think is an ongoing area, and again the really the rail unions are moving forward in that area. This year we have seen the start of the future based on developing a vision for the industry. I think it really seems that the unions are on the front foot in that area. And it puts them in a strong position to do some good things there.

How important has it been building up Labor Council's research capacity to go shift from reacting to change to creating its own agneda?

Well, it has been very important because it means that you are on the front foot most times. You are actually out there leading the debate, rather than reacting to responses from think tanks and industry leaders. I think that it puts us in a position where you actually start to harness the debate and to take the debate in a direction that we want to see it go. It then means that the other groups that are involved in those particular sectors are reacting to what we say. To a certain extent, if you are out there leading the debate, you are setting the direction and people are responding to your and I think that has been very effective.

The other thing is that it gives you the capacity to gain insights into things that might not otherwise have been looked at in any great detail, and I think in particular the focus groups that we commissioned during the year has given us an insight into what is actually going on in the broader community. Not just in relation to attitudes towards unions, but people's whole view on society, the wellbeing of their communities, and what their expectations are of work, which I think has vastly changed over the last 10 years.

How has your view of unions' place in the world changed this year as a result of some of that research?

It has changed to the extent that we have got to look at how we go out there and engage people. I think one of the risks for unions and people in unions is that there is a tendency to develop strategies without necessarily looking at what is going on . Unfortunately, the demands that are placed on most union officials mean that then the people they interact with most of the time are effectively other union people. So you get an insiders view of the world.

The outcomes of those focus groups have still got me pondering what we do next year in terms of some of the directions we take, and more importantly, how we actually go out and engage with the community, and how we are perceived and how we get our message out. Because clearly, those focus groups demonstrate that it is very difficult to get a message across just using the free media, because I don't think people listen to free media anymore.

There's too many voices, and so, how do you cut through it?

Well, I think that is right and at this stage that is one of the things that we wish to develop next year. How do we better get our messages out through the free media, or do we actually contemplate paying for ads, and if we do, how do they fit. For instance, the ads, if that was the concept, would be something that you would run in the context of campaigns that other unions are running on the ground, so that they are real life stories. The fact is that most people react to situations where there is a real person involved and they can relate to that particular set of circumstances and they can project themselves or their family into those set of circumstances. That is generally when people stand up and take note. So yes, that is one area that we have just got to look at doing better.

Politically, we have had a State election this year. A Labor government re-elected with a big majority. Has anything changed with the unions' relationship with the State Government?

Oh, I think it varies from area to area. I think we are getting along reasonably well, but things could always be better. I think by and large they are probably not as bad as they were a couple of years ago. I still don't think we get as much as we ought to get out of State governments, but there is always that conflict I think, when you have got a Labor government. They have got a whole different set of responsibilities when they are in government, some of which don't necessarily sit well with the union movement. But that said, we get reasonably good access now, with most Ministers give you a listening to, which is a start, and you can get access.

I think we have still got a long way to go in terms of being able to better influence and get the results that we would like - and we have developed some strategies this year. Things like back bench briefings, which have worked very well, and been very well attended, and I think allow a means for us to communicate with back benchers and actually have some influence within government. Likewise, we have been communicating with the ALP branches about the things that we are doing and what is important to us which has also given us a greater capacity to influence government and outcomes.

Is there a capacity to build that structure into relations with the Federal ALP as well?

I think there is. Obviously it is more difficult when they sit down there in Canberra. But I think it is possible. It may not be exactly the same as the one we have developed in NSW, but I think the communications between ALP branches and the Labor Council is effective, in the sense that it is doesn't just give you the capacity to influence State, but also allows you to influence some of the Federal MPs in those electorates. I think that is important We just need to work out a better communications mechanism with the back benchers who are MPs in NSW and develop that up as well.

Finally, I know that I ask you this every year, but what do you see as your benchmark for 2004?

I think 2004 will see an effective integration with the South Coast Labor Council, and certainly our Annual General Meeting will consider rule changes to recognize the South Coast Labor Council as a regional branch council, and I think that is terrific. That is one of the highlights of 2003. To have got to the point to have got an agreement to the rules I think is fantastic and having that bedded down by this time next year and working very effectively, will be a good test, and I think having run a campaign in that area will be one of the things that I would like to think we will have done successfully.

I would actually like to think that next year we will have half our unions actually growing. We have got a whole range of our unions that are now seeing significant growth and I think that by next year that it is not beyond possibilities that 50% of our affiliates will actually be growing, with net growth, which I think is pretty good. I think if we get to that point, that will be a pretty successful year.

On a personal level I would like to think that we'll have run effective campaigns in the area of childcare, or assisted in running campaigns in childcare and construction, and probably develop another few good research projects in some other sectors and start to push the debate in those areas as well.

And, of course, Trades Hall will almost be finished?

Well with a bit of luck it will be well on its way by this time next year, and that would also be very satisfying to see that come to fruition.


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