Interview: Battle Stations
Unions: The Workers, United
Politics: The Lost Weekend
Industrial: Truth or Dare
History: A Class Act
Economics: The Numbers Game
International: Blonde Ambition
Training: The Trade Off
Review: Bore of the Worlds
Poetry: The Beaters Medley
The Locker Room
After the Action
Power and the Passion
Mao and Then
The Third Way Hits A Dead End
Unfair For All
What Is To Be Done?
Black Hawk Up
The Lost Weekend
"There is no left wing or right wing anymore, there is only up wing and down wing" - Bob Dylan.
The ALP State Conference went head to head with the Sydney Hair Expo over the June long weekend, and at first glance appeared to come off a poor second.
The affair only rose to anything approaching tremulous heights at odd occasions, mainly off the back of organised labour.
Yes, the unions provided what spark there was to be had.
Ironically, the last few times the faithful gathered in that august auditorium debate centred on how was the party to follow the advice of the boys from marketing and politely dispense with the very people that had founded it, the trade union movement.
The discussion then was akin to the careful conversations families have when they are trying to arrange how to keep some declining relative away from the public eye to avoid embarrassment. It certainly shared the passionate vehemence of such discussions.
Now it turns out that the embarrassing great uncle is actually the key to the family's fortunes and everyone is queuing up to kiss the proverbial.
A party that appeared to have lost its soul in a bet one night with somebody from Campaign Palace rediscovered it in an unusual way. For one person in the back of everyone's mind had driven a hard bargain on the field and the troops were rallying. That person was John Howard, and his bargain was the looming changes to how and what we do at work.
It was a rusty affair. It had been a while. The same old faces tried to go through the same old motions but something wouldn't let them. Like a shipload of antagonists marooned on a desert island and facing ruin many grudges that would have led to heckles and catcalls four years ago were put aside. Contributions from opponents were met instead met with, at worst, ungruntled murmurs, polite silence and even applause a fair few times.
Everyone tried the usual argy-bargy on Saturday morning but their heart wasn't in it. The left started up a chant of "Eric's a Wanker", but that just raised a few wry grins from the protagonists. Such was the dearth of factional warriordom that the Sunday papers had to settle for the cardboard cutout trophy of Joe Tripodi as a doughnut boy being paraded up the centre of conference.
Perhaps the apathy was symptomatic of the real issue, which was explaining the community relevance of a party that still struggles to attract members. It would have been interesting to hear from some ideological actuary on the discrepancy between projected membership numbers and the blinding reality, but that didn't happen. Meanwhile there were 17,000 people over at Darling Harbour learning about spring curls, blow dryers and bouffants.
Bob Carr turned up on the Saturday, told us how great he was, received the obligatory standing ovation and did the meet and greet down the aisle like a relieved father of the bride for the TV cameras, and then left to get on with something more interesting - to him anyway.
Then, in the afternoon, something strange happened. Not once, but twice, ordinary working people wandered into the milieu of ALP consciousness raising.
The first was when Unions NSW secretary John Robertson delivered the inaugural (and it has to be said, poorly introduced) State Of The Union address.
Despite the ramshackle start - it followed the urgency motion on transport security - it soon built up a tempo, springing to life when Robertson introduced the locked out workers from Boeing, out on the grass for standing up to AWAs, they received a rousing and genuine ovation.
Then delegates settled in to watch the sobering presentation of the effect of Howard's proposed workplace laws.
Here was, as Ben Chifley had said at the same venue half a century ago, something worth fighting for. Besides, Robertson was hardly going to be welcome at the Hair Expo.
Later we heard from a textile worker who had driven down from Parkes to give an eloquent example of both his community's situation - over a hundred of his workmates were out on their arse with their jobs moving to China - and the sort of bright talent that exists in Australian workplaces. The sort of talent that was once harnessed by the Labor Party before they discovered the wonderful skills inherent in those that can sign up a few people at preselection time, or have some genetic disposition towards the ALP because of their parent's careers.
Speaking of which, Beazley dropped in on the Sunday, told us how great we all were, received the obligatory standing ovation and did the meet and greet down the aisle like the relieved father of the bride for the TV cameras, and then left.
While the politicians, especially Frank Sartor's haranguing arrival, didn't exactly cover themselves with glory, there was a notable exception in another comrade who would struggle at the Hair Expo, Peter Garrett.
His contributions were genuine, and showed a political maturity many of his colleagues could learn from.
The stirring moment sans industrial organisations came when Graham Freudenberg delivered a speech that said much more than I can accurately synthesise here. Seek it out. It will make your hair stand on end, unless your John Robertson or Peter Garrett.
By Sunday afternoon Johnno Johnson was raising points of order to sell raffle tickets, the Right had comfortably won the ballot, the pubs were filling up and the country delegates were homeward bound or shopping.
All in all it was an experience that left many whelmed but reflects the realpolitik, which is that the unions are leading this movement at the moment. The ALP had better catch up quickly; this is 2005 and the eighties, and its politics of wheeling dealing factional daleks, ain't comin' back.
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