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April 2006   
F E A T U R E S

Interview: Head On
John Buchanan has been warning that WorkChoices would be a car crash. Now he surveys the damage.

Unions: Do You Have a Moment?
CFMEU Mining national secretary Tony Maher lets fly at the new industrial laws.

Industrial: Vital Signs
In his new book, Craig Emerson argues that destroying unionism will not be in Australia's long term interests.

Economics: Taxing Times
Frank Stilwell argues that there are progressive alternatives to the slash and burn approach to tax reform.

Environment: It Ainít Necessarily So
Don't let anyone tell you that jobs and the environment are opposities, argues Neale Towart.

History: Melbourneís Hours
Neale Towart reluctantly pays homage to Victoria's celebration of the eight hour day.

Immigration: Opening the Floodgates
John Howard is deciding more and more foreign workers should come into this country - without the rights of citizenship, writes John Sutton,

Review: Pollie Fiction
For someone barely 25 years Sarah Doyle has an enviable track record in theatre behind her.

Poetry: The Cabal
Poetry returns to Workers Online with this rollicking ode to employer power.

C O L U M N S

Politics
Democracy in Action
Former NSW Premier Neville Wran's speech to commemorate 150 years of responsible government.

Politics
The Westie Wing
There has been activity aplenty in the NSW Parliament this month, reports Ian West.

The Soapbox
From Chaver to Cobber
John Robertson, Unions NSW Secretary, hosting Passover at Sydney Trades Hall discovers the first comrades followed a bloke called Moses.

Postcard
Postcard from New Orleans
Mark Brenner surveys the long-term impact of Hurricane Katrina on the regions workers.

The Locker Room
My Country Right Or In Lane Five
Phil Doyle observes the golden shower at the recent Commonwealth Games, and asks what it means for the last great unpredictable drama.

Obituary
Vale Bill Hartley
Unlike some of his comrades, Bill Hartley never departed from his position as a radical nor did he die rich in assets, writes Bob Scates.

E D I T O R I A L

The Cowra Clause
The plight of the Cowra meatworkers is a fitting illustration of the way the new industrial laws will fundamentally shift the balance of relations in the Australian workplace.

N E W S

 Abattoir Boss Slaughters Andrews

 More Slaughter in South Australia

 Pickets Won't Face Cannon

 Teens Win Thousands

 Praise the Laws

 Where The Bloody Hell Is Our Contract?

 Building Crusade Raids Pockets

 Workers Shows Its Hand

 It's All Yellow, Mine Barons

 Lismore Nine Breaks Ranks

 Uber Bosses Clean Up

 Howard's Skills Solution: Sack Apprentices

 Spineless Companies Block Safety

 Boxall in Sickie Backflip

 Activist's What's On!

L E T T E R S
 Crap TV
 Social Action
 French revolution
 Fan Mail
 Belly Spreads The Word
 All Out!
 Lying Lies And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them
 Help Wanted
WHAT YOU CAN DO
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Postcard

Postcard from New Orleans

- from counterpunch,org

Mark Brenner surveys the long-term impact of Hurricane Katrina on the regions workers.

Six months after Hurricane Katrina, the Gulf Coast struggles with a new challenge-who will do the rebuilding? The region is awash in clean-up and reconstruction projects, but with more than 1.5 million people displaced by the hurricane, ready hands are in short supply.

In many areas, the tight post-Katrina labor market has already had stunning effects-construction jobs regularly advertise starting pay of $15 an hour or more, and a gig at Burger King might land you a $6,000 bonus.

But even with tight labor markets, workers in the region are finding conditions-and organizing against those conditions-challenging.

UNDER THE GUN

The hurricane has created enormous problems for the Gulf Coast's union workers. Waste Management Inc.-one of the largest waste services companies in the United States-is one such example. The company handled trash pick-ups for the city of New Orleans before Katrina.

But after the storm, FEMA took over garbage collection for the city and Waste Management secured several lucrative subcontracts for debris removal.

In the process, the company dumped its unionized workers and replaced them with temps. Waste Management even set up a camp just north of the Huey Long Bridge for its temp laborers.

Similar problems have emerged for bus drivers in New Orleans, where service remains at less than 20 percent of what it was before the hurricane and at least 500 employees are expected to be permanently laid off.

"We've got so many issues down here," remarked Mike Parker, a 13-year streetcar operator and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1560 member who has been driving a bus since he returned home. "Since FEMA is paying the bill the company says we're emergency workers. We've got no seniority, and whenever it benefits them the company says we have to follow their policy. But when it benefits the operators against the company, then they say FEMAcontrols it and they hold up their hands like they can't do anything."

Meanwhile shipyard workers in Avondale, Louisiana and Pascagoula,Mississippi have been pressured by Northrop Grumman to re-open their contracts, not due to expire until 2007.

Although the Pascagoula workers refused to reopen, Avondale workers agreed, hoping to close the wage and benefit gaps that exist between the two sites. Pascagoula shipyard workers currently earn more, largely because Avondale was organized more recently, after a bitter struggle with shipyard owners.

Avondale workers voted four to one February 7 against a proposal that would have shifted health care costs to members, substituted bonuses for increases in base pay, and extended the life of the agreement by several years.

MIGRANT WORKERS SUFFER

Conditions across the Gulf Coast have also prompted an unprecedented influx of Latino workers into the region. This largely immigrant workforce has frequently been shortchanged by the tangled web of contracting and subcontracting that emerged in the cleanup effort.

"It's really survival of the fittest out there--the raging, unregulated free market," noted Bill Quigley, lawyer with the New Orleans-based Loyola Law School Legal Clinic. "Since the hurricane we've really seen a meltdown ofwage and hour laws, OSHA laws, and practically every other standard that exists for work in this country."

Quigley's colleague Luz Molina has been involved in several lawsuits trying to reclaim unpaid wages and help workers injured on the job. She agreed with Quigley's assessment. "It's a feeding frenzy. The money is going to the big corporations and not to the workers. There is no quality control and no oversight of who they are contracting with."

With more than 30,000 Latino workers flocking to the Gulf Coast after the hurricane, tensions with local residents have been running high.

"Certainly, people are upset because the money that is being spent on housing out-of-state workers could be used for rebuilding housing and housing local folks who want to return to the area and work," commented Stephen Bradberry, the head organizer for New Orleans Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.

"But there is no side of this 'blame game' that benefits the local worker being locked out of the job," continued Bradberry, "or the undocumented worker getting mistreated, all for the sake of these contractors putting a few more dollars in their pocket."

DISASTER PROFITEERING

Indeed, employers on all sides of the rebuilding efforts are doing all they can to line their pockets. Northrop Grumman's demands for concessions, for example, have nothing to do with offsetting the cost of post-Katrina rebuilding. Although Grumman estimates damage to its Gulf Coast facilities in excess of $1 billion, the company stands to receive more than $2 billion of FEMA relief under President Bush's plan.

In October Bush asked Congress to redirect $17 billion in FEMA funds to other federal agencies to assist in disaster recovery. With its slice of that money, the Navy has already promised to increase the payments on Grumman's existing contracts to cover reconstruction costs.

It is not surprising that Northrop Grumman is being tended to so well, given the fact that the company and its executives contributed more than a million dollars to Republican causes during the last election. And the pattern of political payback stretches well beyond the defense industry. The list of large contractors for hurricane clean-up and temporary housing is a Who's Who of politically connected corporations.

"There is an outlandish amount of money coming into the region," noted Ishmael Muhammad, organizer with the People's Hurricane Relief Fund. "But the money is not getting to people who have really suffered."

"I see it every day when I'm driving my bus," Parker said. "When I go by the casinos, they are breaking up perfectly good concrete and paving to put down this fancy brick. Go down another mile and it looks like the hurricane just hit yesterday.

"They find money to break good ground up and can't find money to get the power turned back on."

SURVIVORS' PLAN

But amidst the chaos and corporate giveaways, grassroots activists continue to fight for a different vision of the Gulf Coast.

"They are really building a huge problem for themselves by not letting people come home," Muhammad said. "They aren't funding a redevelopment plan that includes poor folks or people of color.

"But the survivors are developing a plan, and their plan is focusing on the communities that the city is saying don't need to come back."

Others are also working to prevent future rip-offs. "The immigrant workers are doing the job," said Frank Curiel, an organizer with the Laborers. "The only way to protect them is to organize them."

With six organizers on the ground and more on the way, the Laborers are already responding to this opening. "We are positioning ourselves for the future." noted Darren Johnson, an international rep working out of the New Orleans local. "We hope to turn the tide in the South."

Mark Brenner is co-director of Labor Notes .


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