||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
Your Rights At Work
Worth Fighting For
The debate about the future of the workplace has been a debate about numbers; according to the federal government their package will create 73,000 jobs, real incomes have risen 12%, $14 an hour prices people out of a job, and so on.
Despite all this, there is another set of numbers that are a bit more tangible; numbers that politicians, despite their denials, find very hard to ignore.
At the start of this year 60% of Australians approved of the way John Howard was doing his job, according to Newspoll, and 53% would have voted for the Liberal-National coalition at an election.
By years end, Newspoll was showing just 43% of Australians backing John Howard's performance and 54% now saying they would vote for the ALP.
It's no secret that this turnaround is a result of the Your Rights At Work campaign.
But we are still a long way before people give their opinion in the poll that matters, the next federal election, and Howard will deny that the polls influence him. Privately, he will be hoping that the campaign peters out before the next election, overtaken by the famous Australian apathy or pushed into the shadows by the war on terror or a neat bit of dog whistling.
Measured in terms of the statute books some will argue that the campaign hasn't achieved anything. WorkChoices has been passed and now we have to live with it.
But, with Howard in control of both houses of parliament, stopping the law's passage was always going to be a big call.
At the start of the year many would have thought that the sheer unfairness of what Howard was pushing would have been a good starting point to building opposition to his agenda.
What did emerge, though, when the campaign was tested, was that after 15 years of workplace reform people took the fact that the workplace was unfair as a given. The idea that Howard was going to make the workplace unfair was considered "old news" - for many Australians it already was.
What people did have was a vague idea that they had "rights" and they didn't like the idea of them being taken away. Hence the arrival in autumn of the Your Rights At Work: Worth Fighting For campaign.
From the start there were those that wanted the big bang; a general strike, industrial action, demos, the whole production number, with the idea that this "silver bullet" would put Howard on the back foot.
The problem with that strategy was it ignored the reality of Australia in 2005.
If Howard wanted to position unions as being irrelevant to the lives of most working Australians, then push through laws that decimated what campaigning ability they had left, he couldn't have got a better free kick than a national stoppage that turned into a fizzer and made the movement look hopelessly out of touch.
To make such an action work Australians needed to be informed, on side and motivated to take part. This was only going to happen with a concerted hearts and minds operation, spelling out the facts and making sure that our communities understood what these changes meant.
As the detail of what Howard, and his delivery man Andrews, were proposing began to leak out; as the cheer squads pushing these reforms; the Business Council of Australia, the National Farmers Federation, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and so on; started to put forward their wish lists, the union movement closed ranks.
The Howard agenda became a line in the sand.
The union movement, as one, adopted the Your Rights At Work campaign. The message began to go out into the community. Slowly at first, with the first delegates meetings in May, then by word of mouth into winter leading up to the week of action at the end of June.
People were standing up on peak hour trains, at soccer clubs, at barbecues and in pubs after work - spreading the word about what was happening. The wider public was disturbed, and wanted to know more, and the more they heard the less they liked.
An amazing array of opponents began to grow. From churches to sporting groups to economists, voices began to speak out about what Howard was doing.
The campaign was now touching everyone. It was no longer a case of John Howard versus the Union Movement; it had become John Howard versus working Australians.
It moved to the TV, with a series of ACTU ads that stuck in the public consciousness. Communities began to fight back as the growing word of mouth campaign rattled the government.
Politically it was becoming a case of "it's the workplace, stupid".
The one 'out' that Howard had was revealed with the London terrorist attacks. As long as Howard could appear as Warrior John then the changes in the workplace could be pushed into the background.
Even so, the public remained stubborn - they heard what the government was trying to do and they didn't like it. In the face of a movement that had turned to family picnic days as a form of protest, the feds decided to go on the front foot.
Unfortunately that foot was in their collective mouths at the time and the saturation taxpayer funded TV and print ads for WorkChoices bombed under a wave of hurled remote controls and embarrassing revelations about the cost.
By the time the legislation was introduced into parliament the government's campaign had become a farce. The ads were dropped and Howard, Andrews, Robb and all the usual suspects stopped the pretence of trying to sell the package. It was rammed through parliament as a fait accompli in an unedifying spectacle that did not flatter democracy.
So now they have the laws, but we have public opinion. We may have lost a battle with the Governor General giving his royal assent, but we have far from lost the war.
This is a fight we had to have. It will be a marathon, lasting at least for the life of this government. November 15 showed that we have hit a critical mass - the challenge now will be to take this into 2006 and beyond, and make sure that, at the end of the day, our numbers are the numbers that matter.
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