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October 2004   

Interview: The Last Bastian
AMWU state secretary Paul Bastian has been at the centre of the three year battle to bring James Hardie to account.

Unions: High and Dry
Jim Marr unpacks the recent High Court Electrolux decision to test whether the ruling matches the media hype.

Security: Liquid Borders
The Howard Government loves to trumpet its national security credentials but a close look at its record in shipping sinks the myth argues MUA’s Zoe Reynolds.

Industrial: No Bully For You
Phil Doyle reports on how bringing dignity and respect to the workplace is undermining bullies.

History: Radical Brisbane
Radical Brisbane extends the 'Radical City' series into the Red North. Two experienced activists, academics and writers turn South East Queensland history on its head.

International: No Vacancies
More than 1400 hotel union workers, members of UNITE HERE Local 2, are on strike at four major hotels in San Francisco, California, writes Andrew Casey.

Economics: Life After Capitalism
A situation that all anarchists dream of? Michael Albert has been more than dreaming., writes Neale Towart

Technology: Cyber Winners
Labourstart's Eric Lee looks at a good news story of global online campaigning that has delivered a victory.

Poetry: Do It Yourself Poetry
Teaser: Wondering why the polls are all over the place? Ask our resident bard and psephologist.

Review: Hard Labo(u)r
The Voice of Southern Labor highlights the role music played in the 1930's US textile strikes, but more than that it provides a lucid insight into the roots of modern capitalism and some truly organic organising, writes Tara de Boehmler.


True Lies
Labor Council secretary John Robertson argues It’s Time – for an IR reality check.

The Westie Wing
Much work has been done in the past to ease the plight of clothing outworkers in New South Wales. It's time to step up the pressure, as sweatshops and clothing contract work are thriving stronger than ever, writes Ian West.

The Soapbox
Who Started the Class War?
Evan Jones looks across the Australian political landscape and asks who are the real class warriors?

The Locker Room
First Past The Post
Phil Doyle is coming up in class and is all the better for recent racing

Westie Wing
Our favourite state MP returns for his monthly Macquarie Street wrap.

Positive Action
Australian unionists are helping give hope to Filipino workers living with HIV/AIDS.


The Premiership Quarter
After spending the past month with a decidedly sinking feeling, there’s a whiff of hope and expectation that the Howard era could actually be coming to an end.


 Kev Cooks the Books

 Black Hole In Libs Kids Plan

 Xerox Copies Waterfront Tactics

 Hardies Asbestos Woes "Snowballs"

 Air Fleet Grounded By Job Cuts

 Musos Lung For Better

 Customs Officers Declare

 Dumbing Down The Trades

 Pacific National Sidetracks Hunter Jobs

 Witch Hunt For Whistleblower

 Black Diamond Deaths Spark Mining Inquiry

 Pensioners Strip Over Pension Strip

 Activists What's On!

 Donkey Vote
 Problem Solved
 How To Run Society
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Hard Labo(u)r

The Voice of Southern Labor highlights the role music played in the 1930's US textile strikes, but more than that it provides a lucid insight into the roots of modern capitalism and some truly organic organising, writes Tara de Boehmler.

In the beginning there was a large group of US farmers who downed tools, cattle, and water pails to take up the promise of a better life on the raft of new cotton mills opening throughout the South.

At first they were happy, in awe of the electric lights and running water that eased their physical load, and were relieved their wellbeing was no longer as fickle as the seasons.

However the realisation soon dawned they had sold out their freedom for a life only as kind as their mill masters - and that many of these masters had little regard for the workers they had almost sole control over, other than for the profit they would bring.

These new bosses owned not only the mills, but often their homes, villages, and local businesses too. They controlled leisure activities through sponsorship, decided and collected the interest rates that saw many households trapped by debt, and kept a close rein on the words of the local parishioners.

One wrong move and a family could be made homeless, powerless and foodless, and entire communities could have their sporting and leisure activities suspended. Some mills demanded workers keep standing while eating lunch while others allowed no breaks at all. Health and safety was a lottery and conditions were minimal.

What hope then for these largely non-union workers that had so far proven virtually immune to mobilisation attempts?

According to Vincent J. Roscigno and William F. Danaher's latest tome the answer lay in the voices of workers that were beginning to sing through the early model radios that sat in an increasing number of homes.

Titles like Cotton Mill Colic, Spinning Room Blues, Weaver's Life, and Hard Times in Here, hint at the flavour of music being composed by disgruntled cotton mill workers for cotton mill workers.

Some of these musicians abandoned their employment to take up music full time and toured the mills singing to other workers. Their music filled the airwaves and in between they participated in interviews about the working conditions they had incurred. Their records sold out and the message gathered momentum.

According to the authors this music sparked an apparently spontaneous pulling together of cotton mill workers that began to mobilise en mass against their employers.

Union membership ballooned with minimal efforts on the part of organisers, walk-outs reached unprecedented levels and by 1934 they cumulated in a strike of 400,000 mill hands that remains the largest in US history.

Aside from being an engrossing historical account The Voice of Southern Labour is a triumph of research, pulling together the best efforts of a range of historians, sociologists, anthropologists, and academics, and using real life interviews wherever possible with surviving 'mill' musicians.

The book's few weaknesses include a rather too neat sidestepping of racial issues and a lack of an audio soundtrack. Among its highlights are the words to the songs which one can only imagine how they must have sounded - when put to music - to the ears of those who were living their lyrics.

The Voice of Southern Labor: Radio, Music and Textile Strikes, 1929-1934 is published by University of Minnesota Press. For more information visit

Serves Them Fine

New people in the year 19 and 20,
The mills run good and everybody had plenty.
Lots of people with a good free will,
Sold their farms and moved to the mill.
We'll have lots of money they said,
But everyone got hell instead.

It was fun in the mountains a-rolling logs,
But now when the whistle blows we run like dogs.
It suits us people and it serves them fine
For thinking that a mill was a darn gold mine.

Now in the year 19 and 25
The mills all stood but we're still alive.
People kept a-coming when the weather was fine
Just like they were going to a big gold mine.
As time passed on, their money did too
Everyone began feeling kind of blue.
If we had any sense up in our dome
We'd still be living in our mountain home.

Cotton Mill Man

The company taught us all the rules on how to work
the spinning spools
So the boss's son could drive a black sedan.
The company owned the houses and the company
owned the grammar school
You'll never see an educated cottonmill man.
They figure you don't need to learn anything but how
to earn
The money that you paid upon demand
To the general store they owned or else they'd take
away your home
And give it to some other homeless cottonmill man.

On a Summer Eve

If we love our brothers as we all should do,
We'll join this union, help fight it through.
We all know the boss don't care if we live or die,
He'd rather see us hang on the gallows high.


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