Interview: On Holiday
Unions: One Day Longer
Industrial: Never Mind the Bollocks
Politics: Spun Out
Economics: If the Grog Don't Get You ....
History: Taking a Stand
International: The Split
Legal: Pushing the Friendship
Poetry: Simple Subtractions
Review: Sydney Trashed
The Locker Room
AFL-CIO Not The Only War
We Love Morris
A Readers Suggestion
The Westie Wing
I'm in the basement of Parliament, sitting with cleaners from a diversity of backgrounds, in a storeroom stacked to the ceiling with cleaning chemicals and agents.
There are no facilities, just the nauseating smell of sewage and kitchen waste coming through a tiny ventilation hole and mixing with the artificial sweet smell of detergents. There's exposed pipes overhead.
This subterranean storeroom doubles as a lunch room. The contract cleaners are crammed in, and they're washing down dry biscuits with tea.
Above them, directly employed cleaners are sitting in the subsidised cafeteria. Those direct employees earn eight pounds an hour.
The mostly migrant contract cleaners I'm sitting with can't go into the subsidised lunch room above them, they're not allowed. It's sort of ironic, they couldn't afford to eat there anyway. And most of them work at least two jobs.
Besides the appalling conditions, the contract cleaners get five pounds an hour, have no paid sick days, no superannuation, and just a third of the annual leave of their directly employed counterparts.
The difference between these two sets of employees is the unfolded vision of John Howard's mentor Margaret Thatcher. I'm in Margaret Thatcher's Britain, 2005.
Surveying the cramped scene, I'm thinking this is the endgame for the Australian workforce. One set of workers, the majority, invisible to the outside and without a voice, hidden underground.
Is this what John Howard might explain with a "Nobody can give a guarantee that no single individual is going to be worse off in the future." Or "Real wages have risen under blah blah blah..."
"Bob Carr just resigned."
"Yeah sure, good one."
I've got 48 hours to get back to Sydney.
I'm back in Caucus, Morris Iemma is talking about his parents labouring as machinists in clothing factories and metal factories throughout the 1960s and 1970s and later. Among the variety of jobs, Morris acted as the interpreter for George, his father, at interviews for jobs in factories. His mother Maria was also a nursing home cleaner.
Morris Iemma is the only nomination for Premier of New South Wales. And John Watkins will be the Deputy Premier.
Morris has indicated he wants to be judged on the work he does, not what he says he might or might not do. As he said, "Not just 'can do' but 'will do'."
And let's face it, we've got plenty to do in the next 20 months.
The Iemma story is one of a struggle by a family to sustain itself with food, clothing and shelter - the most fundamental building block of Labor politics.
I believe his experiences underpin his intellectual and political approach - from the time of his inaugural speech when he was defending workers rights against attacks from Fahey, Greiner and Chikarovski - to his inaugural statement as Premier-designate where he pledged his opposition to the Federal Industrial Relations attack and talked about the personal experience of his father's retrenchment in the 1980s.
In the observations and interactions I've had with Morris in my previous life as an LHMU Official working on the school cleaners campaign, when he was Public Works Minister, he showed a genuine capacity to listen and an empathy with the struggles and tribulations of workers.
Morris has indicated social policy - things like public and affordable housing, mental health and care and assistance for the disabled - as matters where if he can't point to progress, he will have judged himself to have failed.
Importantly, Morris has made a strong start as Premier on Howard's Industrial Relations attack, committing to use all powers at his disposal to fight for and protect the rights of workers and their families and communities in NSW.
Morris Iemma and John Watkins are our State leaders. They've committed to fighting the Conservatives and their divisive State and National agendas.
The NSW and Federal Conservatives will hit Morris and John with everything they've got. The Iemma/Watkins Labor Government has less than 20 months to impress. And we've got at least three by-elections in the coming months where people will want to vent.
But John Brogden has his own worries. Barry O'Farrell enjoys majority support in the NSW Liberal Party. The two of them will be trying to hold it together to see if they can get traction in this new state political environment.
John Howard knows Brogden and O'Farrell will hand over IR to him if they get a chance. There'll be no fight for workers and their families and their communities from the State Conservatives.
And I think with admiration and respect of those cleaners in the UK Parliament last month, and how they came to Britain with the hope of changing their lives. And how they ended up as contractors working underground eating lunch next to petrochemicals and cleaning agents in a room with no windows.
And how those cleaners got up one day and said "Stuff this, we didn't come to this country to live like this again, let's stand up and fight back, let's call the union, let's tell the world what these bastards are doing, and stick together."
They will win their struggle and live to tell their children the stories of the working class, and so too will we, here in Australia.
If you require assistance accessing information from a NSW Government Department or a Minister, or have feedback and ideas for speeches, or if you believe you know an issue that should be looked at by one of the Parliamentary committees, contact me at Parliament House on (02) 9230 2052 or email [email protected]gov.au.
|Search All Issues | Latest Issue | Previous Issues | Print Latest Issue|
© 1999-2002 Workers Online