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Year End 2004   

Interview: The King of Comedy
John Robertson looks back on a year when his comic genius was finally realised.

Unions: Ten Simple Rules
Accepted wisdom has unions all but retired as serious players in the Australian game. A glance through the major industrial stories of 2004, however, suggests improved footwork, and a commitment to boxing clever, might herald a comeback, writes Jim Marr.

Politics: Rampant Indivdualism
CFMEU National Secretary John Sutton gives his take on a year when the political debate took a turn to the Right.

International: Global Struggle
Labourstart's Eric Lee looks back on a year when the struggles for labour increasingly crossed international lines.

Economics: Cashing in the Year
Look back in sorrow or look back in anger? By any standards 2004 has been a hell of a year, writes Frank Stilwell.

History: Grass Roots
Worker solidarity in Australia in the first century of invasion can give us inspiration and clues for our upcoming battles, writes Neale Towart.

Review: Cultural Realities
In 2004 popular culture shifted from reality television to reality movies, and swapped last year's light-weight subject matter for the slightly more substantial, writes Tara de Boehmler.

Poetry: Y-U-C-K
Workers Online resident bard David Peetz takes inspiration from The Village People for his latest prose.


The Crystal Ball
Workers Online consults a raft of leading psychics to find out what readers can look forward to in 2005.

The Soapbox
Scrooge Was Right
Christmas has been cancelled this year, writes our US correspondent Brooklyn Phil.

The Locker Room
The Workers Online Sports Awards
Continuing a tradition that dates back to the Twentieth Century, Phil Doyle dishes out the gongs for all things great and small in the world of sport during 2004.

The Westie Wing
Our favoutrite MP looks for a positive spin on the year at NSW Parliament


Beyond The Law
Despite the all-engulfing gloom emenating from our political wing right now, 2004 comes to an end on a strangely upbeat note for the trade union movement.


 Unions Make Hardie Pay

 Hadgkiss Gives Mourners Grief

 Mum Gets "Hopson’s" Choice

 AWAs Crash on Broken Hill

 No Fun in the Sack

 Tax Office Draws Blood

 Origin Prop a Union Hit

 Good Guy Wears Black

 Security Crisis at Sydney Airport

 Biscuit Bosses Crumble

 Ardmona Urged to Can Racism

 Bomber Predicts Big Bang

 Stolen Wages Cut

 Tomorrow the World…

 Bosses Sack WorkCover

 Activists What's On!

 Costa’s Hike Unfare
 Temporary Arrangements
 The Price Of Tea In China
 Cry For Me, Argentina
 Ho Bloody Ho
 Right Is Wrong
 Business As Usual
 All In The Family
 Swing Left Wishful Thinking
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The King of Comedy

Interview with Peter Lewis

John Robertson looks back on a year when his comic genius was finally realised.

Well John we're in the last days of the Labor Council of NSW. How will history remember it?

I think history will remember the Labor Council of NSW as an organisation that has been strong, a very influential organisation within the state of NSW and also nationally and I think that's a very good thing. It is also an organisation that has contributed a lot for working people, it has influenced a lot of outcomes through various test cases in its history, but like all things and all organisations its got to evolve and that's why next year we become Unions NSW.

What's been the response from your colleagues from the upper echelons of union and politics?

Overwhelmingly positive but there have been a few people that have been less than complimentary about it. Others have looked at it as an opportunity to distance the Labor Party from the union movement. Frankly, where I stand its not about distancing the Labor Party from the union movement or the movement from the Party, but its about how we project ourselves more broadly in the community and Unions NSW is a very strong image, it's a very strong name. It's the things that we stand for and the things that we value and see as being important and I think that's the advantage with the name. But as I say, you always have a few critics with these things. But overwhelmingly from our affiliates they've been very supportive of the name change. I think its been well received in the media. I think it'll be a name that puts us on a very good footing for next year.

It's been a bit of a strange year in that its been a terrible year in terms of politics but its been a successful year in industrial relations. How would you sum up 200?

I think that the union movement in NSW is actually stronger than it was than in the beginning of the year. I think that we've started to redefine ourselves and establish ourselves as a movement rather that needs to be taken seriously. I think if you look at the rail dispute I think what we did there and what the unions did there was a sign of things to come. The fact that we can embrace the community, that we can win these campaigns and we can do it with a broad approach with an industrial, community and media strategy has been one of the key things that comes out of this year.

There's some other good things Mental Health Workers Alliance, a great initiative where a group of unions start to work together. You've got the construction unions now starting to work co-operatively, recognising that that's the only way to grow the movement. Those sorts of things place us in good stead and I think there the strengths of the year.

One of the things that still need be worked on is the relationship with the Labor Party and the union movement - it is one that's strained. My view is that we, as a movement, need to establish respect and that is that the MP's, particularly, at the federal level, but also some at a state level; need to re-establish the fact that we need a relationship based on respect and I think that one of the traps that we've seen in recent years has been a view that if you pay affiliation fees to a Party that's sufficient to give you influence.

The relationship that we have with them should be one that's based on mutual respect. The changes to our name is relevant here because I think what it does is it says to unions that they've got to change the way we do politics. We have to demonstrate that we are prepared to stand up to governments of any persuasion if they are not necessarily adopting our views. But I think it can be done in such a way that there's a recognition that each of us has at times differing interests, that shouldn't impact on our relationship more broadly, but it means from time to time we will have to stand up to a Labor government and actually say that we don't think that what you're doing is right.

The fact is that we represent working people and we need to ensure that governments are held to account when it comes to issues that are important to working people. So we need to look at how we do politics. Things like the way money's is put into election campaigns as an example. Looking at who the candidates are that we support during election campaigns. Having candidates that are pre-selected that are for want of a better terms 'union champions'. People that are prepared to go into Parliament, into a Caucus or into a Cabinet and advocate for the things that are important to the union movement. There some of the things that are frankly lacking at the moment. That's a generalisation. There are some good people there. But by and large it's the thing that's lacking and these are the things that we as a movement have to look at. How do we get 'union champions' in Parliament?

Does Labor have a mortgage on union candidates or should unions be looking toward other parties like the Greens to represent their interests?

The reality is that whether we like it or not, our system is a system based on a two party system. You'll always have third party's hovering around. But they'll never be parties to any government. The fact is that the only way you can really make things happen is if you're in a governing party and I think to recognise that you can fiddle round the edges with other party's but the fact is that for us its got to be the Labor Party. So my views been very much about ensuring that we do end up with people in that Party as candidates who are prepared to advocate for things that matter to working people. I think one of the problems within the Party is that there's this view that the union movement doesn't represent anybody, we're only at 23per cent and therefore we're a rump. But the fact is that its still the largest single organised body of people in the country and its I think a body, or a movement that's got to be taken seriously. I think how we advocate for some of those issues needs to change but by and large I think that we shouldn't be treated the way we are.

I know its the end of a long hard year but what are you looking forward to in the coming 12 months

2005 is going to be a challenging year, because obviously the change in the Senate is going to change the whole dynamic of the campaigns. The language that we use in the campaigns is also going to be critical we seem to fall into a trap far too often of arguing about attacks on the union movement. The advantage that we had in the rail campaign and the way we've got to change the way in which is very much about these are attacks on working people. That's got to be how we structure it and how we run any campaign that we look at running, particularly on legislation, the conservatives will have advanced.

The other things for next year include, 'Working NSW' actually getting that up and running, commissioning the research. I'm actually very excited by this first project and about what work and the community, work and life will be like in 2025 and the impact that work on people's capacity to do what they do in the community and in the family. That will place us in an extremely powerful position in the coming years in taking up this debate about work and the fact that there are things that matter that you can do.

Professor Reich's visit certainly reinforced in my mind that we're right to advocate for these issues. His period and Labor Secretary under Clinton was premised on the fact that you can have social equity and you can have economic growth and the two aren't mutually exclusive. That is an argument that we still have win here but one that I think we can advance. The other is about the moral argument around regulation at work and the morals of deregulation and people working excessive hours and growth in casualisation.

Going back a bit, the key thing that I would say about the attacks we're likely to receive from the Federal Government I think that we have to be very strategic about how we run these campaigns. I think it's a trap if we fall into using the language of the conservatives. I think it'll be a trap if we run our campaigns in the way we've always run our campaigns with just rally's and those sorts of things I think we've got to be far more open to new ideas where we can embrace the community and get the community more involved. That's going to be challenging because there's always a tendency to have a rally, that always makes us feel good. We only look at how we engage our membership. If we're going to win these campaigns with the numbers in the Senate, the fact is that we're not going to win them just engaging our existing membership. We can win them. But we've got to do it by engaging our membership and the community at large.

So it's going to be a challenging year but frankly, I'm looking forward to dealing with it.

Finally, it was the year that the Daily Telegraph dubbed you the 'King of Comedy' and the description of you as being tactically challenged. Given you the end of the rail dispute. Would you like a final come back for the year?

Look, I just take that with a grain of salt, just one of those things being in the middle of a dispute and when you've got a media outlet that's running particular lines and angles you sort of except that. I don't think I am tactically challenged, largely because of the group of people I have the pleasure of working with at the Labor Council which is a creative bunch of people. The fact that the Daily Telegraph says I'm tactically challenged doesn't offend me too much, it's almost a badge of honour. So I'm very relaxed about being dubbed the 'King of Comedy'.


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