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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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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.


The ALP goes into this year's national conference armed with a new federal leader and revamped constitution. But, while the party is in the throes of change one thing remains constant - the ability of a looming federal election to concentrate the political mind.

ALP delegates will gather in record numbers at Sydney's Darling Harbour Convention Centre over the last weekend in January with ending the Howard years uppermost on their minds.

Workers Online approached unions from across the party's spectrum to present this snapshot of what labour expects from Labor in the build-up to a watershed year.

Social Infrastructure

Sharan Burrow, ACTU president:

"The timing of this conference gives us an opportunity for a clear articulation of what's needed to repair the damage done to Australia by seven years of the Howard Government.

"Medicare, public hospital funding, public education - from pre-school to university - childcare, transport and housing must head up the list of requirements for reinvestment in social infrastructure. A fair set of

industrial relations laws and the capacity to balance work and family with paid maternity leave, a right to part-time work following parental leave, flexibility in hours and childcare are essential to give working Australians a fair go.

"Rich Australia - now twice as wealthy as it was in 1981 - is failing working Australians. The growing inequality between the top end of town and

working Australians must be turned around. Rich Australia cannot stand by while one-in-six children are living in jobless families and pretend that we

are a decent nation.

"The ALP will provide a real choice for Australia where it supports services first, with universal bulk billing and properly funded public health, education and affordable childcare. Beyond that, the priority must be to ease the financial stress of low paid workers before consideration of tax relief for the better off."

Opportunity and Security

JOHN ROBERTSON: Secretary, Unions NSW.

"I think most unions are largely agreed on the important issues for our members and their families. We need fairness in our workplaces and a social infrastructure that provides opportunity and security.

"Work and family, paid maternity leave, secure employment and entitlements will all be on the agenda.

"It's becoming extremely difficult for a lot of Australians to balance work and family. Howard has been full of talk but nothing concrete has materialised. It's an area that provides a golden opportunity for Labor, under its new federal leader Mark Latham, to draw a clear distinction between itself and the current Federal Government.

"We need to address casualisation while taking into account the interests of legitimate employers and working people. The bottom line is building a system that will drive out the shonks who use casualisation to simply rip-off the most vulnerable in our community. Nobody needs them and it's ridiculous that, under the current regime, they can hide behind the skirts of competition policy. As unions, we believe Governments should incorporate labour standards and basic human rights into any trade agreement that Australia enters into.

"Mark Latham's election has brought genuine excitement to the political debate, inside and outside the ALP. People have tuned back in because Federal Labor is again registering on the political radar with a leader who has ideas and is prepared to go out argue for them with passion. This conference needs to build on that situation."

Health of the Nation

Craig Thomson, HSU National Secretary:

"Conference is an opportunity to agree on the policies and direction to pursue over the next three years.

"At the top of the party's policy priorities must be health and a commitment to strengthen Medicare, reform Commonwealth/State responsibilities in the health area and provide better funding for state hospitals.

"There also needs to be a commitment to addressing workforce shortages and wage rates in the health sector and boosting funding in critical areas such as aged care and mental health.

"From the HSU's point of view, there needs to be specific changes agreed on in the platform to address the crisis in aged care including improving the terrible wages and conditions in the sector and introducing minimum staffing levels into residential aged care facilities.

"The conference will also provide an opportunity to agree on an employment and industrial relations policy that focuses on job creation, allows workers a better balance between work and family life and reintroduces a fair industrial relations system.

"Labor needs a national policy on public, private partnerships that includes not introducing them in critical service areas such as healthcare.

"On a general note, it is critical that the party emerges from the conference united. Mark Latham's election provides opportunities that must be seized - opportunities to end internal fighting in the federal caucus, to put a new focus and energy into policy development and to broaden the party's appeal."

Repairing the Damage

Dave Noonan, CFMEU Assistant National Secretary

"Mark Latham has made a strong start as leader and this conference is an opportunity to build on that by clearly defining the party's positions on important social issues.

"We need policies that will turn around John Howard's determination to tear Australia apart by destroying Medicare; attempting to legislate unions out of existence; and denying future generations free and equal access to quality education and training.

"It's a conference so it's a place for debate but we are optimistic that debate will be directed at our priority - getting rid of this arrogant, divisive federal government.

"We are encouraged by the strong position the federal party has taken on the Building Industry Bill and hope that instead of getting bogged down in arguments over whether or not people earning $65,000 are too rich to deserve tax cuts, delegates will direct their attention to measures that ensure the top end of town pays its whack and sham operators are properly dealt with.

"Social policies are the key to rebuilding Australia and, to be serious about that discussion, we need to know where the funds to repair the damage are coming from."

Building the Nation

Doug Cameron, National Secretary, AMWU:

"We want national conference to reaffirm the commitment of the party to a nation-building agenda, with a focus on industry policy and skills development.

"Labor are the nation builders, and we believe the party has a responsibility, and an opportunity, to invest in an industry policy to build our manufacturing base in Australia. Workers also want to see our international trade agreements subject to social and community scrutiny.

"The Federal Government is pursing unilateral free trade agreements with a range of countries, including the US, with no proper consultation with the Australian people about the likely impact.

"Even the Federal Government's own Productivity Commission questioned the economic benefits of the USFTA, so we expect that the ALP will take a more

questioning and critical line.

The other important thing is a strong Labor stand on rebuilding a fair industrial relations system. The Labor Party must reverse the worst excesses of Howard's anti-worker and anti-union legislation. Australians deserve the right to collectively bargain, and the right to belong to a union."

Policy Initiatives

Bill Shorten, National Secretary, AWU:

"The elevation of Mark Latham to the Labor Leadership provides a new opportunity for the AWU and the union movement as a whole to help Labor develop a new agenda for all Australians which ensures that the union members and their families get a fair go.

"The AWU looks forward to working with Mark Latham in the future primarily because we believe that his intelligence, willingness to tackle the big issues and leadership skills are the right ingredients to make him the next Prime Minister of Australia.

"With the new leadership and the new format for the National Conference in January, we intent to raise a few new policy ideas that we believe are essential for Labor to adopt as a part of the Party's general manifesto at the next Federal Election.

"The AWU was proud to count the 250 Pan Pharmaceutical workers as a part of our membership. These workers were caught in the cross-fire between the Government and the company's incompetent management when Pan's manufacturing licence was suspended following the nation's largest ever medical product re-call.

"Unfortunately the attempts by the AWU and the workforce to rescue the company were stopped by a dubious coalition of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Chemists who exploited a loop-hole in the Corporations Act to overwhelm the votes of the workers and the small trade creditors on the floor of the various creditors meeting. Therefore, we will support measures at National Conference that ensure workers and small businesses can have a fair say when companies are placed into Administration. We will be also looking to back proposals regarding bargaining fees, better deals in Superannuation, and new ways to abolish AWAs.

"Whilst we believe that intervention in the ALP is one of the ways in which we can advance the rights and conditions of our members the AWU doesn't rely solely on Government for change in the workplace. What we are best at is getting out on the job, negotiating fairly and strongly for better wages and conditions, making sure that workplaces are safe and protecting job security. The face of the AWU is representing 140,000 members and their families in every part of Australia and just about every industry in Australia."

Low Wage Crisis

Jeff Lawrence, National Secretary, LHMU:

"Our members want to see a government elected that

understands the crisis of low wages and how that hurts all Australians. We believe that each elected ALP parliamentarian, at Federal and

State level, should pledge to confront this crisis as a priority issue.

"An open and wide-ranging debate on how this should be done is an imperative for the party conference. We are concerned that this question should not simply be put into the 'welfare-and-pensions' in-tray.

"The silencing of a healthy and vibrant workplace voice by the Howard government has done much to create the poverty jobs crisis. Increasing opportunities for unscrupulous bosses to avoid decent jobs by outsourcing work, increasing casualisation and forcing workers onto unfair individual contracts have all played roles in creating the problem.

Australian working families have had enough of Australian governments who dump on them by undercutting their right to organise in the workplace.

The ALP needs to work with the union movement to create an environment in which workers can freely organise around, and give voice to, issues of


"We are heartened that the new leader of the Federal party, Mark Latham, has already declared that confronting poverty is one of the issues that he wants to drive as a policy priority.

"We wish Mark Latham well - and want to come out of the ALP conference unified and united to win back power for working families by defeating the

Howard Government at the next election."


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