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August 2004   
F E A T U R E S

Interview: Trading Places
New ACTU International Officer Alison Tate cut her teeth delivering aid to developing nations through APHEDA. Now she is helping chart the global union agenda.

Safety: Snow Job
James Hardie has been drilled into our collective consciousness as a story of power, greed and immorality. It is also, as Jim Marr reports, a tale of human tragedy.

Politics: In the Vanguard
Damien Cahill reveals how neo-liberal think tanks have been at the forefront of the corporate assault upon trade unions and social movements in Australia.

Unions: Gentle Giant Goes For Gold
Donít get between Sydney sparkie Semir Pepic and a gold medal in a dimly lit alley, writes Tim Brunero.

Bad Boss: 'Porker' Chases Blue Ribbon
Perfect Porker, Darren Vincent, brings a history of meat worker shafting to this monthís Bad Boss nomination.

International: Cruising For A Bruising
Europeís big unions are bruised as they watch companies roll over some of their best-organised unionised workplaces demanding longer work hours Ė without any recompense, reports Andrew Casey.

History: Under the Influence
Was John Kerr drunk when he wrote and signed the letter dismissing Edward Gough Whitlam from the Prime Ministership in 1975? Geraldine Willissee investigates.

Economics: Working Capital
Where superannuation fits, where it fails and what we should we do about it. Neale Towart gives the tough answers.

Review: Fahrenheit 9/11
There's many a must see moment in Mike Moore's new flick but beating the propaganda machine at its own game wreaks havoc with wearied bullshit detectors, writes Tara de Boehmler.

Poetry: Bad Intelligence Rap
When Flood washed away the PM's sins, the truth was once again left high and dry.

Satire: Osama Bin Manchu
During a recent visit to an elderly relative in a nursing home, I was waylaid by an ancient gentleman who insisted I listen to what he had to say, writes Rowan Cahill.

C O L U M N S

Parliament
The Westie Wing
The Labor Governments in each State must take the lead to stop the abuse of corporate law in Australia in the absence of action from the Federal Government, as the Inquiry into James Hardieís has highlighted, writes Ian West.

The Soapbox
Cleaners Deserve Our Support
It's time the state's cleaners were given some support, loyalty and long service leave, writes Chris Christodoulou.

The Locker Room
Half Time At The Football
Phil Doyle wants to have his pie and eat it too.

Tribute
Faithful Servant
Frank Mossfield was one of the labour movementís quiet achievers. Former Labor Council secretary Michael Easson pays tribute.

Postcard
Lessons From East Timor
Just back from a study tour to East Timor, National Reserach Officer with the Construction division of the CFMEU, Ben Stirling, writes about the experience for Workers Online.

E D I T O R I A L

Tarnished Rings
As our athletes approach the starting line in Athens, it is interesting to reflect on how the world has changed since Sydney was the centre of a global group hug just four years ago.

N E W S

 Stink Rises from Hamberger

 ALP Embraces Collectivism

 Bully Drives Deckhand into Drink

 Fighter in Cancer Link

 Tunnellers Dig in for Safety

 Seconds Out in Newcastle

 Vale Josh Heuchan

 "Betrayal" Sparks Election Rethink

 Councils Wedge James Hardie

 Great Southern Death Rattler

 Libs Desert "War Criminal"

 Casuals Take Over

 ALP Star Hits The Waterfront

 Activists Whatís On!

L E T T E R S
 An Officer And A Teacher
 Tom Goes Asexual
 Road Rage At Work
 Democracy In Action
 Asbestos Bastadry
WHAT YOU CAN DO
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Politics

In the Vanguard


Damien Cahill reveals how neo-liberal think tanks have been at the forefront of the corporate assault upon trade unions and social movements in Australia.

In 1947, at the exclusive Hotel du Parc, on the slopes of Mont Pelerin in Switzerland, a small group of academics and economists gathered to discuss what they saw as the alarming growth of government intervention in the economy. Among them were Friederich Hayek and Milton Friedman, economists who would, for the next half century, be in the forefront of the neo-liberal attack upon democracy.

Those gathered at the meeting in Switzerland became known as the Mont Pelerin Society. During the remainder of the century it grew into an international network of neo-liberal activists dedicated to waging what Hans-Peter Martin and Harald Schumann in their book, The Global Trap, describe as a 'freedom struggle on behalf of capital'. Their targets were the welfare state and Keynesian economic planning.

Since World War Two, the struggles of labour movements around the world had forged a social consensus in many countries around the notion that governments had a strong and positive role to play in providing a fairer redistribution of the benefits of capitalist economic growth. For Hayek, Friedman and the others gathered in the Mont Pelerin Society, this was the enemy that had to be destroyed. Unlike many academics, Mont Pelerin members did not believe that words alone were sufficient to bring about change. Hayek urged the conference to 'train an army of fighters for freedom'. By freedom he meant private property freedoms - the freedom of capital to act without restriction from governments or unions.

Hayek's words were taken up with vigour by his Australian followers. From the late 1970s onwards, inspired by Mont Pelerin and other overseas organisations, Australian neo-liberals founded a series of think tanks and forums to promote free market ideology. What began as a disparate array of individuals and small groups advocating a fringe political viewpoint grew, within a decade, into a well-funded political movement - a radical neo-liberal movement. Most politically aware Australians would be familiar with the names of these radical neo-liberal think tanks: the Centre for Independent Studies; the Institute of Public Affairs; the Tasman Institute; and the H. R. Nicholls Society. For the past 25 years the radical neo-liberals have engaged in a sustained assault upon the welfare state, trade unions, social justice movements and the Left in general. Using terms like 'politically correct', 'special interests', the 'guilt industry' and the 'industrial relations club' the radical neo-liberals have demonised progressive causes. They argue that capitalist markets, when freed from government interference are the most efficient and most moral way of providing goods and services in society. And to achieve this the radical neo-liberals advocate deregulation, privatisation, marketisation, and massive cuts to government expenditure. A generally sympathetic media has helped them propagandise beyond their small, elite social base.

What enabled the radical neo-liberals to emerge from a small fringe movement into mainstream political commentators was the support they received from key corporate sectors in Australia. Such support should not be mistaken for philanthropy. Rather, Australian corporate leaders have funded what is a strident and ideologically fundamentalist because it has served their interests. A bit of explanation is necessary.

When the oil shock of 1973 triggered an international economic crisis, leading to high inflation and unemployment, many corporate leaders began to rethink the desirability of government commitments to full employment, market regulation and the provision of social services. Employers from the mining, finance, small business, farming and retail sectors, as well as the largest Australian corporations, (from 1983 represented through the Business Council of Australia), mobilised in order to put pressure upon governments to dismantle many of the institutions and social truths that had been taken for granted in Australia for decades: arbitration, tariffs, market regulations of all kinds and public sector spending.

Many employers were also concerned about the power of organised labour and the increasing corporate regulations resulting from the successes of the environment, feminist and Aboriginal rights movements.

In this context it is easy to see why corporations poured millions of dollars into radical neo-liberal think tanks. Funding the movement allowed key corporate sectors to ensure the circulation of radical neo-liberal ideas. It enabled the existence of groups who would take the attack up to environmentalists, trade unions and other non-profit groups who sought to curb the rapaciousness of Australian capital. That think tanks rarely reveal their funding sources meant corporations could remain at arms length from such ideas. This left the capitalists to pursue their own interests in a more favourable political climate.

The 'fighters for freedom' called for by Hayek in 1947 have been paid for by corporate Australia. And that investment has produced a good return. Whether it be attacking the 'left-wing bias' of NGO's and the ABC, downplaying the state of inequality in Australia, advocating 'vouchers' for education or glorifying the casualisation of work, the radical neo-liberals have been in the vanguard of neo-liberal capitalism. They have demonised neo-liberalism's opponents and naturalised its policy solutions. They have been in the vanguard of the transfer of resources from public to private and the transfer of power from labour to capital. This, after all, is what neo-liberalism is all about.

Dr Damien Cahill is an Honorary Research Fellow in History and Politics at the University of Wollongong and a Research Officer for Michael Organ MP. He has recently completed his doctoral thesis on the radical neo-liberal movement in Australia.


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