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September 2004   

Interview: True Matilda
Former senior bureaucrat John Menadue coordinated the group of 43 calling for truth in government; and now he has bigger fish to fry.

Politics: State of Play
Are all political parties the same? Workers Online tries to cut through the jargon to compare the major parties' approaches to key policy areas.

Industrial: Capital Dilemmas
Public Private Partnerships amount to privatisation by stealth. Or do they? Jim Marr investigates.

Unions: Rhodes Scholars
Tim Brunero discovers how the Electrical Trades Union is doing its best to ease the national apprentice crisis.

National Focus: Rennovating the Lodge
Noel Hester previews how unions will be fighting the federal election - on the ground and online.

International: People Power
Over the next four years there is a real potential a major struggle will take place for workers´┐Ż rights and the creation of truly democratic unions in China., writes Andrew Casey

Economics: A Bit Rich
Who Gets What? Why? And So What?, Frank Stilwell reviews the BRW's Rich List

History: Mine Shafts
It's 25 years since Nymboida passed the baton to United, writes Peter Murray

Safety: Sick Of Fighting
Former RAAF engineers could be sitting on a health time bomb, Tim Brunero reports.

Organising: Building a Wave
Community groups, unions and social movements all practice organising, wrties Tony Brown and Amanda Tattersall.

Poetry: Anger In The Bush(es)
How dare any Liberal suggest that the Prime Minister is a lying rodent! Resident bard David Peetz reports on the outrage that this slur has justifiably caused.

Review: The Battle Of Algiers
Tim Brunero writes The Battle of Algiers is a coldly objective, almost scientific anatomy of revolution.

Culture: The Word On The Street
Phil Doyle reports on how the Australian working class experience lives on through the words of the remarkable Geoff Goodfellow.


The Soapbox
Hail to the Metro-Sexual!
If the cultural shift required in the workplace to give greater security to working families was broadly accepted the ACTU would not be locked in an adversarial Work and Family test case argues Sharan Burrow.

The Westie Wing
In his latest missive from Macquarie Street our resident Parliamentary commentator, Ian West, walks us through issues around the PBS.

How Bush Lost His Wings
Tracking the National Guard Career of the Fatuous Flyboy from New Haven, Jeffrey St Clair.

The Locker Room
The Name of the Game
Phil Doyle wonders whether we are barracking for the sponsor or the team.

Women to Women
APHEDA-Union Aid Abroad is working to create opportunities for Palestinian women living in Lebanese refugee camps.


Interest Overboard
A tired, ageing government tries to scare the electorate into re-electing it on the basis of a lie. Sound familiar? Yep, John Howard is going to the polls again.


 Sprung: Howard Liberal with Truth

 Yanks Demand Racism

 The Greening of Labour

 Mums Move to Ease Squeeze

 Flying Kangaroo Goes to Water

 Health Warning for Bank Robbers

 Heritage Goes to Waste

 Freespirit in Hiding

 Offensive Toilets Threaten Pupils

 Telstra Dials Workplace Acquiescence

 P-Plate Nightmare for Young

 Free Loaders on Notice

 Funny Money Raises Interest

 Privatisation Debate Energised

 Activists What's On!

 Gold Gold Gold for Neolibs
 Co-operating At All Costs
 Fan Mail
 All Good Except You
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People Power

Over the next four years there is a real potential a major struggle will take place for workers´┐Ż rights and the creation of truly democratic unions in China., writes Andrew Casey

Union activists in Australia should ready themselves to support this democratic struggle, just as we backed the struggle of working people in South Africa.

A win for working people in China will be a win for working people in this country.

Workers Online readers should begin a debate as to what we can do to promote workers rights in China.

The key debate is do we support only independent workers rights organisers, the oppositionists, or can we work fruitfully with the official trade union structure.

The big event, which is leading to a major showdown over workers rights, will be the Beijing Olympics.

Human rights activists across the globe are well into the planning stages to build a protest movement to force China to open up and respect democratic norms before the Olympics' opening ceremony.

As the Athens Games closed Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report calling on China to redress the human rights crisis in their country before the Beijing Olympics starts.

The US-based HRW warned global businesses they should not associate themselves with the Beijing sportsfest if nothing has been done about workers' rights by the time of the Opening Ceremony.

HRW said that by 2008, China should reform its national laws and local regulations to comply with international labour rights standards and should effectively enforce them.

China's national laws prohibit workers from organizing independent unions, and do not explicitly protect the right to strike. Only one organisation, the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), can legally represent workers, and local authorities and Communist Party committees control its local offices.

The international global union movement led by the ICFTU can also be expected to improve its campaigning around workers rights in the lead up to the next Olympics.

A few well-placed protests in Athens, as the Greek games started, shows the ICFTU's campaigning abilities, in coalition with other community organisations, to highlight the sweatshops behind much of the Olympics sportswear industry.

And here in Australia another part of the struggle for Chinese workers rights will be focussed on the push for an Australia-China Free Trade Agreement which could undermine the rights of workers in Australia - and do little or nothing to improve the rights of workers in China.

While the Olympics - and the free trade agreement - becomes the anchor for an Australian and a global protest campaign Chinese workers are mounting their own struggles and ensuring their voices are heard.

There are many reports of self-organised workers protesting for pay, pensions and against management corruption - many of the leaders of these groups are grabbed by local police, beaten up and jailed.

I have written before for Workers Online about what some argue is an extra-ordinary loose underground movement of workers rights organisers who catch trains from city-to-city to help organise the voice of disgruntled workers who need help to focus their struggles.

Harsh crackdowns against the workers' leaders are failing to stop the worker protests. New people are always prepared to step forward to organise and lead new worker protests.

Just last week the internet was used to leak out reports of thousands of workers barricading themselves into a factory in China's fourth biggest city - Chongqing - to protest the corrupt sale of a state enterprise.

There are two or three major organisations, in Hong Kong and Western countries, set up to provide support and information about these workers' protests.

Many of them have an English-language presence on the web to provide information to potential supporters - such as China Labour Bulletin; Asian Labour News and China Labour Watch.

The Chinese government can see the crisis growing, they understand they must do something if they are to avoid violent outbreaks spreading and breaking down society.

Market pressures are also forcing changes in China because despite its huge population the booming eastern states of China are reporting massive labour shortages.

The word about poor working conditions, horrible pay, long hours and unsafe workplaces has filtered back to the inland villages.

Migrant workers from rural villages are owed a staggering 360 billion yuan (43 billion US dollars) by bosses who sometimes maker workers wait to be paid for jobs up to 10 years.

Chinese media recently reported a nationwide investigation which found 124,000 construction sites where peasants were toiling all day even though they were being paid late or never.

Increasingly the poor peasants are refusing to work in these unsafe places or for bosses who won't pay decent wages - recent reports show that the peasants would prefer to stay on their farms rather than migrate to the big cities if they know they will be mistreated

Beijing officials are now working on ways to tempt these peasants to travel to the big cities to help grown the economy - many admit this can only be done if workers rights are improved, unions are stronger and pay and working conditions are dramatically improved.

The crisis over workplace safety is one that is of particular concern and the government has opened itself up to international help from the ILO and other non-government organisations to improve OHS standard.

They also recently passed important HIV legislation to try to stop the spreading discrimination against workers with HIV.

But workplace safety in the nation's coalmines is at particularly horrific levels - approximately 313 people die per month in the coal industry. One estimate shows nearly 3 people die for every million tons of coal produced in China.

Australia's mining union, under John Maitland, has been a world leader in working with China's coal union to build new safety standards in that country.

The relationship between Western unions and the union movement in China is one that should be openly debated.

Many American unions argue that the democratic West should not co-operate with Stalinist state-controlled unions in China.

Some unions in Europe argue what could be called an 'entrist' policy. Work with the existing trade unions and help them reform from within themselves.

This debate is reminiscent of what happened in Eastern Europe as the Iron Curtain came down. American unions provided finances for new independent structures. Scandinavian unions working with existing official structures if they were prepared to reform from within. While other groups taking a hands-off attitude.

Certainly many people in the official trade union movement - the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) - realise that there is a need for change in the way workers are represented in their country.

There are some examples - especially in the south near the growing economic zones around Hong Kong - of official trade unionists acting in a very independent minded manner to effectively represent working people.

There are also examples of heroic lawyers who work out of run-down facilities and devote all their time to use the existing legal framework to defend workers' rights.

But the evidence is there that top trade unionist in the official structure are very angry that the new opening to the West has seen many foreign investors mistreating their workers and ignoring the existing laws about workers rights and trade unions.

The China Daily reported that Chinese unionists are complaining that many private and foreign companies have deprived workers of their rights to set up trade unions.

One of the most prominent foreign firms ignoring local trade union laws is the global union-hating Wal-Mart chain, which is opening retail stores across the nation.

Despite promises to the Chinese Government to obey local laws Wal-Mart is refusing to allow the ACFTU to set up state-controlled trade unions in their stores - and that's causing the American retail chain.

In bustling rich and lucrative Shanghai, the local city council has just rejected Wal-Mart stores' application to set up a branch in the city because the American company refused to allow trade unions.

The allegations against foreign comes from an investigation conducted by the ACFTU which says unions are needed to play an increasing role in protecting workers' legal rights.

"Basically, the companies are infringing on workers' freedom of association which is entitled by the Constitution," Jiang Nan, of the ACFTU told China Daily.

It is not just the athletes who must keep their eye on the glories that the Beijing Olympics offer.

Union activists in Australia should consider working with global allies on a strategy to make the Olympics work for the working people of China.

But we do need to create a debate about how this can best be done - should we work only with independent activists and international oppositionist groups or can we help improve local workers rights by working with existing structures and institutions.

Whichever path we choose a win for Chinese workers will be a win for Australian workers.


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