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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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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.


She's back - Judith Beswick and her can manufacturing outfit, Morris McMahon - have their names back in lights as winners of the second annual Tony Award.

Last time Beswick featured on our pages she threw a Queen-sized tanty, refusing to settle even though an agreement had been reached with AMWU representatives. The Clarence St lawyer wouldn't sign-off until Workers Online removed the announcement of her Bad Boss nomination from its website.

We complied but six months down the track experienced IR judges have put Morris McMahon back on our radar. Their unanimous vote saw the company beat off strong competition from TeleTech, Sydney City Council, Sunnybrand Chickens, Metro Shelf and building company, PTV, to walk away with the 2003 Tony.

NSW Labor Council secretary, John Robertson, said the company had "impressed" by

- rejecting employees' vote for a union agreement

- refusing to negotiate with their democratically chosen

representative, the AMWU

- busing scabs through picket lines

- secretly filming employees and their supporters

- offering lump sum inducements to lure workers onto non-union, individual contracts

- blocking the return of elected job delegates

"It was a textbook case of an employer attempting to break a union so it could erode wages and conditions and provide workers with only one choice - take it or leave it," Robertson said.

"It was a testimony to the strength and unity of the workforce, their union, and their many supporters that, after four months, they won a union-negotiated agreement and a fair pay rise."

For 16 weeks, employees determined to be represented by a collective, union agreement picketed the premises. There were claims and counter claims. The dispute entered mainstream news being cited as a "classic example" of the power imbalance created by the Howard Government.

Morris McMahon called in consultants, Professional Public Relations, to spin their line in the court of public opinion, while picketers were backed by other workers, including MUA members at nearby Port Botany and CFMEU activists.

But it wasn't just Labor Council who would pass judgement on the company and its tactics. Both the industrial umpire and the state's Industrial Relations Minister were moved to comment.

IRC Commissioner Munro was highly critical of Morris McMahon's behaviour. He lamented the federal system's failure to provide adequate redress.

Munro wrote that Beswick's company had engaged in "practise that is not fair labour process" and had "not bargained in good faith with representatives of the bulk of its employees."

It was, he said, "appropriate to place on record that in my view the company, by its bargaining conduct, has contributed to or engaged in a form of conduct that would merit sanction or prevention if relevant powers or defences were available".

At the height of the dispute, NSW IR Minister, John Della Bosca, pointed the finger at the company's refusal to deal with the AMWU. "This is", Della Bosca said, "despite the AMWU being a bona fide negotiating party under the federal Workplace Relations Act."

At the end, Morris McMahon's one unflinching ally was the then Workplace Relations Minister. When Tony Abbott fronted up to employees on the picketline he endorsed their rights to join a union and negotiate a collective agreement. By the time he had got back to his office, however, he appeared to have changed his tune.

"Given that the company is operating more or less successfully, why should it be forced to do a deal with a union, which it for some reason, I think some understandable reasons, has some animosity towards?" Abbott asked.

The Tony, of course, was struck to commemorate Abbott's belligerent defence of bad employers - "like a bad father ... etc, etc" . It was appropriate, then, that it should go to a company that used his laws and his public support to such ends.

Workers Online trusts Ms Beswick will get satisfaction from her Monk.


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