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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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Rampant Indivdualism

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


There are many with clear hindsight, in the aftermath of Labor's defeat in the October 9 federal election.

Australia's main construction union, the CFMEU, has refrained from participating in this debate. However, as a union which made a major contribution to Labor's election fund and the union with most to lose from a Liberal victory, it is perhaps time to make our views heard.

Beyond the commonly recognized reasons for Labor's defeat on October 9, there is the bigger question of the Party's poor and declining primary vote and the manifest problem of winning votes in outer suburban seats in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne etc.

One explanation for this is the growing individualism, first made popular by Reagan and Thatcher in the 1980s, which now finds fulsome expression in the Howard Coalition Government's policies in Australia in 2004.

This kind of individualism -- recently described by Mark Latham as 'self-reliance' and 'self-improvement' -- sees workers focused on competing with other workers, outsmarting the tax-man and striving to out-manoeuvre bureaucrats and government agencies they fear will burden them with regulation.

This idealized worker of the Ayn Rand school of social engineering views most of civil society's institutions as an impediment to self-progress.

Such people are familiar to us in the building industry: nearly 50% of Australia's manual construction workers are nominally sub-contractors of one kind or another.

A clear majority of these are forced to work under notional sub-contract arrangements, while employees at law. However, it's evident that some construction workers seek to work under individual sub-contract arrangements. The driver is the tax advantages available, compared to those under an employment relationship.

It is estimated that about one million Australians are now self-employed workers. Politicians generally, and Labor in particular, have to squarely face this issue, precisely because most of these 'contractors' are workers -- that is, they sell their manual and/or intellectual labour for the best price they can get.

Added to this burgeoning army of self-employed workers, is the (sometimes overlapping) army of worker-investors who play the negative gearing game with property and/or shares. Again the primary stimulus is tax advantage, encouraged by a deregulated financial sector capitalizing on a get-rich-quick mentality.

Many of these worker-investors directed their vote away from the ALP on October 9, because they were worried that their ability to service second and third mortgages (or investment loans) would be damaged by possible interest rate rises under a Labor federal government.

Statisticians number this crowd of tax-savvy individuals at nearly two million Australians. The majority are workers. Many are CFMEU members, or members of other unions, and many would have been rusted on ALP voters not so long ago.

The question is how the Labor movement deals with these tangible manifestations of individualism, championed successfully by the Liberals and their ideological friends in big business and the media.

Two answers suggest themselves.

1. We should not assume these tax-driven structures are intrinsic to the Australian economy or society. In fact, they are only as permanent as policy makers and civil society will tolerate.

2. We should not assume that the modern economy's 'new' workforce is off-limits to trade unions. The TWU, CFMEU and LHMU have organised self-employed workers for decades. Recent successful disputes at Foxtel and among roof tillers in Perth show these workers are not at all opposed to unionism and collective solutions.

Already, the greatest policy challenge for the ALP (and indeed the Coalition) is to maintain a fair taxation system -- particularly one that retains the basic integrity of treating workers equally, when growing numbers are opting out of conventional tax arrangements.

With a diminishing direct taxation base, something is going to have to give.

The Ralph Review of Business Taxation stated that clearly in 1999: "these practices (alienation of personal services income by the notional self-employed) raise significant issues of equity and pose a growing threat to the income tax base".

Will Australians have to re-adjust their expectations about what services governments will fund? Will indirect taxes (the GST) be the new revenue salvation? How will governments deal with public disquiet over the manifest inequities and distortions in the tax system?

To present the worker-entrepreneurs with the bad news in the short term would be political dynamite for either of the major political parties; but the challenge cannot be pushed away indefinitely.

The issue is the greater for the ALP, because these are former Labor voters. In searching for solutions, the ALP would do well to remember that trade unions can be a valuable ally in providing collective solutions and responses for people who are, and will remain, workers.


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