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May 2005   

Interview: Fortress NSW
NSW IR Minister John Della Bosca on how to win the battle for workers rights - and save the state system.

Unions: Fashions Afield
With new anti-sweatshop creations being paraded at this year's Australian Fashion Week, is equity the new black and are sweatshops the new fur? asks Tara de Boehmler.

Industrial: Pay Dirt
John Burgess argues that the flow-on effect from changing the minimum wage could be more than we bargained for.

Politics: Infrastructure Blues
With much attention given belatedly to the shortage of infrastructure, little attention has been given to the structure of infrastructure, writes Evan Jones

History: Big Day Out
Neale Towart looks back on the events that created the May Day heritage.

International: Making History
Hundreds of aid organisations, charities, trade unions and religious groups have formed a global alliance called � Make Poverty History�.

Economics: The Fear Factor
The solution to skill shortages is intelligent planning, argues John Spoehr

Review: The Robots Revolt
New kids flick Robot uses our electronic friends to teach audiences that inbuilt obsolescence is just a state of mind, writes Tara de Boehmler

Poetry: The Corporation's Power
The idea of a corporations power that could cure any ill has inspired our resident bard, David Peetz, to verse.


The Soapbox
May Spray
Unions NSW secretary John Robertson delivered the annual May Day Toast - and warned it is no time to be comfortable and relaxed.

The Locker Room
A Rucking Good Time
Phil Doyle reveals many things, some of them useful

The Westie Wing
Our favourite MP, Ian West, is back to regale us with inside goss and intrigue from the Bearpit.


Rights and Wrongs
Something unseasonal and hitherto untoward has been occurring up at Macquarie Street in recent weeks, a flurry of legislative activity around workers rights.


 Harmer FACS Families

 Brats Drive Bus Row

 Harsh Reality � Bella Turns Pink

 Rev Kev Blesses Bosses

 Workers Online Legit

 Howard Rides Kiwi Model

 Della Opts for Gaol

 Feds in the Dock

 Carr Race to Bottom

 Bosses Walk on Water

 Govt Gets Claws into Nurses

 Ion Faces Legal Probe

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The Soapbox

May Spray

Unions NSW secretary John Robertson delivered the annual May Day Toast - and warned it is no time to be comfortable and relaxed.


Attending the May Day Toast is a little like putting on a pair of well worn slippers - it's comfortable, familiar, makes us all feel good.

Who wouldn't feel good recalling the exploits of our fore bear - the way they stared down guns to march for the right for decent working hours?

The battles fought over 120 years - in shearing yards and mines, construction sites and docks, hotels and call centres - they are traditions that do not just deserve, but demand our respect.

Every year, we toast their memory, respect their achievements and attempt to squeeze some inspiration from their victories for our present day battles.

This year we do so at a time when the very movement they created faces its biggest ever test.

From 1st July, John Howard will have control of the Senate-power no politician has had in a generation.

You don't need to be a rocket scientist to know who his first target will be - Us.

We already know what some of his plans are:

Workers in firms of under 50 employees will lose their dismissal and redundancy rights

Building workers will lose their right to silence when being questioning, under the draconian legislation for the construction industry

And all trade unions will have their rights to organise and bargaining on behalf of workers severely curbed

And these are just some of the things we know are going to happen.

What else is on the agenda?

We've heard the Howard Government wants to take the AIRC's power to set minimum wage and set it themselves

o It's worth noting that if the Howard Government's claims had got up in minimum wage hearings since 1996 a minimum wage worker today would be $2300 per year worse off

He is committed to the further spread of AWA's - pushing unions out of negotiations and taking away workers' controls over their working hours

And he wants to launch a hostile takeover of the state industrial relations system, imposing the federal model of bare bone awards on more than one million NSW workers.

This is a once in a generation attack on our movement.

My question to all of you tody is what do we do about it?

Do we just get outraged? Take to the streets? Further marginalise ourselves?

Or do we use this as an historic opportunity to remake the labour movement.

We need to be honest with ourselves.

These laws are not the biggest threat to the future of the labour movement, we are.

While some unions are doing well, many of our unions are in a sad state.

Our political wing is in even worse shape - control of local branches is now being fought out by operatives on the public payroll.

And when we come together at ALP State Conference, we all get into our factional boxes and hurl insults at one another.

No wonder our political enemies can smell blood!

Now I know Unions NSW has been drawing flak in some quarters for not backing a general strike on 30th June.

We are accused of a 'deafening' response to the upcoming change - which may come as some surprise to anyone who has been within a five-kilometre radius of Unions NSW in recent months.

What has Unions NSW been doing?

We have been planning a campaign that is sustained and winnable - rather than protesting against legislation that will be passed. In some form or other.

We are implementing a long-term plan that focuses on: -

First raising awareness of the changes with the general community

Secondly holding Howard accountable for its impact

And finally, and most importantly, creating a platform to rebuild the union's industrial and political base.

None of this is about taking a soft option - In fact, it is about doing the hard yards - building momentum in the workplace and the community, rather than taking the easy route of marching down the streets for a single day.

I'll give you a brief overview of the scope of the Unions NSW campaign: -

A state-wide delegates meetings on 27th May - to equip rank and file delegates with the tools to lead educate their workmates and the community about the impact of these highly technical and legalistic changes

A week of workplace activity, culminating in the largest stop work meeting NSW has ever seen - beamed into every suburb and country town via Sky Channel on 1st July

On the ground political campaigning - targeting marginal seats and getting rank and file workers to actually knock on doors and engage with the public

Dialogue with churches, sporting and community organisations about the impact of the changes on workers' ability to be involved in community life

And Australia's largest ever family picnic to highlight the threats these laws pose to family life, at Sydney Olympic Park, 7th August, the day before Parliament resumes

And this is just the first stage - educating the broader public that their rights at work are under attack and making an all-out attack on unions is a massive political risk.

Unions NSW is working to a campaign budget of almost $4 million - that is the largest ever campaign funded by the union movement in this state.

If this program of grassroots, community activism equates to a 'deafening silence', then I confess.

But I do challenge those who see a lap of the city streets as the beginning and the end of the campaign to take a reality check.

Because, if they think this is a battle that can be won with a placard and a chant, they are kidding themselves.

This is a major attack on trade unions.

It comes at a time when our movement is exposed.

We need to be smart in our response.

We need to fight, of course.

But we need to do it in a way: -

That builds the movement, not marginalises it

That talks with the general public, not at them

And that makes unionism relevant to a new generation of workers, rather than expects those workers to accept our model

We need to get the support of the four out of five working people who aren't in unions.

That won't be achieved by adopting approaches that might have worked in the past but will not connect with working people today.

My hope is that in mending ourselves, we will also be able to withstand our external battle.

And that would be a victory that would do justice to this important tradition.

Happy May Day.


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