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July 2005   
F E A T U R E S

Interview: Battle Stations
Opposition leader Kim Beazley says he's ready to fight for workers right. But come July 1, he'll have to be fighting by different rules.

Unions: The Workers, United
It was a group of rank and filers who took centre stage when workers rallied in Sydney's Town Hall, writes Jim Marr.

Politics: The Lost Weekend
The ALP had a hot date, they had arranged to meet on the Town Hall steps, and Phil Doyle was there.

Industrial: Truth or Dare
Seventeen ivory towered academics upset those who know what is best for us last week.

History: A Class Act
After reading a new book on class in Australia, Neale Towart is left wondering if it is possible to tie the term down.

Economics: The Numbers Game
Political economist Frank Stilwell offers a beginners guide to understanding budgets

International: Blonde Ambition
Sweden can be an inspiration to labour movements the world over, as it has had community unionism for over 100 years, creating a vibrant caring society, rather than a "productive" lean economy.

Training: The Trade Off
Next time you go looking for a skilled tradesman and canít find one, blame an economist, writes John Sutton.

Review: Bore of the Worlds
An invincible enemy has people turning against one another as they fight for survival Ė its not just an eerie view of John Howardís ideal workplace, writes Nathan Brown.

Poetry: The Beaters Medley
In solidarity with the workers of Australia, Sir Paul McCartney (with inspiration from his old friend John Lennon) has joined the Workers Online resident bard David Peetz to pen some hits about the government's proposed industrial relations revolution.

C O L U M N S

The Soapbox
State of the Union
Unions NSW secretary John Robertson lifts the lid on ĎThe Nine Myths of Modern Unionismí

The Locker Room
Wrist Action
Phil Doyle trawls the murky depths of tawdry sleaze, and discovers Rugby is behind it all.

Culture
To Hew The Coal That Lies Below
Phil Doyle reviews Australia's first coal mining novel, Black Diamonds and Dust.

Parliament
The Westie Wing
Our favourite State MP, Ian West, reports from Macquarie Street that the Premier is all the way with a State Commission.

E D I T O R I A L

After the Action
After a National Week of Action that has had everything from mass rallies in all capital cities to IR chat rooms opening on the Vogue Magazine website itís fair to say that the first objective of this campaign Ė to raise public awareness Ė has been achieved.

N E W S

 Don't Get Angry, Get Organised

 Feds Threaten Hardie Battlers

 Beasts of Bourbon Play Dog

 Churches on Workplace Mission

 Unions Are The New Black

 Muster Has Bosses in Fluster

 Workers Flood to Protests

 Official: Libs Donít Know Own Laws

 Schools Out For Uni Bosses

 IR Campaign Taxing Andrews

 Air Safety at Risk

 Carr Runs Over Lib Laws

 Aga Khan Workers Gaoled

 Activists Whats On!

L E T T E R S
 Workers Give In FNQ
 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
WHAT YOU CAN DO
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Politics

The Lost Weekend


The ALP had a hot date, they had arranged to meet on the Town Hall steps, and Phil Doyle was there.
 

"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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