||Year End 2005|
Interview: Back to the Future
Unions: A Real Page Turner
Industrial: The Pin-Striped Union
International: Around The World In 365 Days
Legends: Terrific, Tommy
Your Rights At Work: Worth Fighting For
Politics: The Year That Was
Economics: Master and Servant Revisited
Culture: 2005: The Year of Living Repetitively
Bad Boss: The Bottom Ten
Religion: Hymns from a Different Song Sheet
The Locker Room
Waves of Destruction
Free to Rat
Tax Cuts and Cockroaches
Proportion, Not Distortion
The Things People Say
In September this year, Doreen Borrow spoke to the Public Service Association's women's conference about her years of activism as a postal worker.
"I have stood on picket lines over many issues, marched, leafleted, and defended my workmates over many injustices," said Burrow. "I have been saddened by our defeats and rejoiced in the gains we as trade unionists have made
"Before I retired I was told by young women at my workplace that she hated unions. I said I was sorry to hear that and told her of the gains unions had made that she now enjoyed. I said that women once had to work for much lower pay than their male counterparts and her reply was that she would not have worked for lower pay. I told her she would have if she wanted a job and said I did not expect her to carry a red flag down Crown Street on May Day but that she should appreciate and respect the gains made by unions."
It was an appreciation that grew this year, not just in response to the federal government's agenda, but also because of the work unions do.
The death of Glen Viegas, father of Corey and Makayla, and wife of Andreia brought home the need for safety in our workplaces.
"Daddy doesn't live with us anymore. He hasn't for about four months," Andreia Viegas told a meeting of Unions NSW. "We miss him a lot.
"Glen has missed out on seeing Makayla crawl for the first time, he missed out on her first Christmas, her first birthday and he even missed out on Corey's first soccer game.
"Glen lives far away from us now, we don't see him anymore. We miss his voice, his touch, his jokes, we miss his funny smell when he came home from work and we miss his face."
"I know why daddy isn't coming home," Corey said. "Daddy died.
"He died at work because it wasn't safe."
As a counterpoint to that the Business Council of Australia produced a formula for its blueprint for prosperity, which is ((E+U)/POP) X (E/E + U) X (GDP/E).
Doug Cameron from the AMWU summed up the real state of the Australian economy:
"Our politicians seem content for us to dig up rocks, transport them around the world where they are turned into complex manufactured goods, and then buy them back with money borrowed from overseas. The result is that we now owe the world nearly $21 000 for every man, woman and child in Australia. In 2003 we had to export 150 tonnes of iron ore to buy one plasma television."
And it's more than just the economy.
"Socially, coming back what I really did notice was a dramatic reduction in egalitarianism," said Evan Thornley, Labor activist and co-founder of LookSmart. "You look at the spread between rich and poor, you look at the home ownership levels and you look at a whole lot of things, and that image is slowly becoming more and more of a myth,"
"The increasing demands of work, and the changing nature of work is affecting our ability recruit and retain members," warned John Restuccia, Surf Lifesaving NSW director of lifesaving, "It is fair to say the ranks of surf lifesavers in Australia are mainly from the lower to middle income classifications. Most of our active patrolling members are teenagers or people in their 20s or 30s.
"I am no labour market expert but this seems to be the group of people bearing the brunt of change in the nature of work, and labour market deregulation."
"Today, sadly, what are sold as family friendly policies are really market friendly policies," echoed newly elected Family First Senator Stephen Fielding. "Often it seems we live in a world where few values matter except those of the market."
And the market was writ large in the Howard government's new workplace laws, which attracted some admirers:
"All they want to do is the work they have to do, get paid and go to clubs," said Richard Daha, owner of Have If Off hairdressing salon in Parramatta and a supporter of the laws, of his staff.
"You've got to understand, they were all sitting on their arses for ten weeks with nothing to do. They all put on 5kg. When they came back to work on these machines they weren't work hardened," said the owner of Kemalex Plastics Richard Colebatch, after his workers braved bikies and threats in a ten-week battle against being forced into being contractors.
The union movement needed to respond to the assault:
"We need to be honest with ourselves," Unions NSW secretary John Robertson told the May Day Dinner in Sydney. "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 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."
It got results.
"She wanted to join a union" was the note on the first call to a WorkChoices Hotline call centre on October 30.
"If the bloke was selling vacuums I wouldn't buy one," said Ben Lister, from Energy Australia's West Gosford depot, who was part of a delegation that met with Liberal Member for Robertson, Jim Lloyd.
Lloyd admitted that reading the laws was not "humanly possible" but he said he would support them anyway as he was a "Liberal team player".
"I don't like it. I don't want an AWA. I want unfair dismissal protection," wrote "hornbaghead' on a messageboard on the Vogue Australia website.
"I would hope in the new legislation, our cherished tradition of solidarity, mateship and fairness would not be dealt a blow in the name of productivity and profits," said Parramatta's Catholic Bishop, Kevin Manning. "The test of a workplace relations system is whether or not ordinary workers have safe and healthy working conditions, wages sufficient to support themselves and their families with dignity."
"We just want to give our kids a safe environment and stability and many of us here are going to lose it," said Broken Hill disability care worker Mary-Ellen Crimp when confronted by an AWA. "Many of the staff here are young, with young families. We're all getting a lesson.
"My husband and I would have had to leave town, A majority, many young families, would have lost homes and cars."
"These are not alien Australians," said opposition leader Kim Beazley of union members. "They are our brothers and sisters. They are our mums and dads. They are our aunts and uncles. They are not an alien force or an enemy, although they are treated like that by our opponents.
"These people take responsibility not only in the workplace but in society as a whole. Go to any organised workforce anywhere in this country and you will find the people who run Little Athletics, the volunteer fire brigades and the volunteer components of the SES. You will find the people who run the local footy clubs, who collect for the Salvation Army and who are the sidesmen in the churches of this land."
Labor had found something that differentiated it from the government, as Senator Penny Wong pointed out:
"The Government's agenda is a hard, conservative and punitive agenda."
In the end someone had to acknowledge the bleeding obvious, as the government was bleeding:
"It seems obvious to me that the major reason for the turnaround in the Government's fortunes in both polls is the unease in the community about the workplace relations changes,'' admitted John Howard in November.
And Unions NSW secretary John Robertson summed up why this was the case.
"Do we want to be the first generation to leave our children with a weaker set of working rights than we inherited from our parents?"
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