The Official Organ of LaborNET
click here to view the latest edition of Workers Online
The Official Organ of LaborNET
Free home delivery
May 2006   

Interview: Out of the Bedroom
Reverend Jim Wallis is leading a crusade to take the moral debate into the public arena.

Industrial: Cloak and Dagger
The Howard Government has begun a series of workshops to sell its WorkChoice vsision. Sean Ambrose sneaked through the doors for Workers Online.

Unions: Lockout!
Jim Comerford’s eyewitness account of the 15-month Lockout of 10,000 New South Wales miners in1929-1930 records the inside story of Australia’s most bloody and bitter industrial conflict

Legal: The Fantasy of Choice
Professor Ron McCallum argues the WorkChoices laws are built on a fundamental fiction.

Politics: Labor Pains
Labor has dealt itself out of the crucial workplace relations debate by failing to articulate a credible policy alternative to Howard’s new WorkChoices legislation, argues Mark Heearn and Grant Michelson

Economics: Economics and the Public Purpose
Evan Jones pays tribute to John Kenneth Galbraith, a big man who never stopped arguing that economics should serve the public good, not create public squalor.

Corporate: House of Horrors
Anthony Keenan takes a tour of Sydney’s notorious, Asbestos House, courtesy of Gideon Haig.

History: Clash Of Cultures
Neale Towart with a new take on Mayday through the words of a punk icon

International: Childs Play
An ILO report into Child Labour shows some progress is being made to curb this gobal scurge .

Culture: Folk You Mate!
Phil Doyle dodges Morris Dancers to find signs of Working Life at the National Folk Festival in Canberra over the Easter Weekend.

Review: Last Holeproof Hero
Finally, a superhero who has worked out how to wear his underpants. Nathan Brown ogles V for Vendetta


The Soapbox
Albo's Meltdown
Labor's environment spokesman Antony Albanese argues that Chrernobyl is one reason why the ALP should stand firm on nuclear.

The Locker Room
A Sort Of Homecoming
Phil Doyle plays to the whistle.

The Westie Wing
Our favourite MP, Ian West reports from Macquarie Street on some strange collective acction.


Contract With Australia
If WorkChoices is the legislative expression of the Howard Government’s ideological hatred of unions, the Independent Contractors Act is the product of an altogether more dangerous form of ideological zealotry.


 Andrews Axes Safety

 Plant Fission for Cost Savings

 Spotless Bosses Blame Howard

 Aussie Bushman Pronounced Dead

 Who's Smirking Now?

 Yellow Bosses See Red

 Amber Light on Howard's Way

 Secret Police Spook Mum

 Wally Pollies Set for Cracker

 Qantas to Parachute In Pilots

 Unmask the Puppeteers, Union Demands

 Cleaners Mop Up

 Cane Toads Hop Into Johnny

 King of Onkaparinga Cries Poor

 Activist's What's On!

 Restaurant a Rip Off
About Workers Online
Latest Issue
Print Latest Issue
Previous Issues
Advanced Search

other LaborNET sites

Labor Council of NSW
Vic Trades Hall Council
IT Workers Alliance
Unions on LaborNET
Evatt Foundation

Labor for Refugees



Clash Of Cultures

Neale Towart with a new take on Mayday through the words of a punk icon

Who Gives You Work and Why Should You Do It? asked The Clash in one of their many classic songs, The Call Up.

Some years earlier Joe Strummer and Mick Jones had expressed their view of work slightly differently (in New Boots and Contracts) but with a similar message:

You gotta drag yourself to work
Drag yourself to sleep
You're dead from the neck up
By the middle of the week

Face front you got the future shining
Like a piece of gold
But I swear as we get closer
It look more like a lump of coal
But it's better than some factory
Now that's no place to waste your youth
I worked there for a week once
I luckily got the boot

Here I go again. In a line that WorkChoices makes accurate (from Career Opportunities):

If they wanna get me, well, I got no choice

Precarity is a theme that has been developed around May Day in Europe, at least since 2000 as they face up to what workers in Australia also now see as the normal notion of work: casual, part time and precarious. At the same time, the opposite of precarity is regular wages and stable housing. But this supposed 'opposite' to precarity is often just another version of it. The privileges of enjoying this material security is at the cost of everything else - your time, life, energy, integrity, creativity and autonomy."

The precarity network has spread to many countries, but the theme remains the same. A quick look at shows the call:

This Mayday we call for freedom of movement across borders for everyone and the right to stay and work in the country of their choosing, with access to all the benefits and freedoms available to that population. We reject an immigration system which allows the movement of goods but not people, of the rich but not the poor; which forces migrants, refugees and asylum seekers into a choice between destitution and illegal, often dangerous work.

The precarity group called on all self-organised workers, migrant workers, non-unionised workers, agency workers, cash in hand workers, dole claimants, free-lancers, work rejecters and all of those who fall outside of traditional union organisation to join our autonomous bloc on the TUC march. To make Mayday a day where the invisible claim a common voice.


Precarity stretches beyond work. It includes housing, debt, general instability, the inability to make plans. We can talk about the subjugation of life under capital, not just the subjugation of labour under capital. Precarity is an instrument of control; it is enforced by those with power upon the powerless. We can't choose how we want to live. It engenders competition in social life. It forces us into a Darwinian "struggle for existence" on a social level. Precarity is the basic condition of individuals in capitalist society. It divides us, and limits opportunities to get together. People are disempowered and social relations break down.


No. Flexibility maybe, but not precarity. The idea of flexibility does open up some possibilities. However these are limited to "certain sections" of the working class (young, childless etc.) rather than a choice available to all. Our creativity in resisting full time wage labour has been appropriated by the restructuring of the labour market. In the 1970s many revolutionary workers refused the "job for life" and demanded free time from work for social activity and the liberation of the human mind. The restructuring of work and the smashing of many unions in the 1980's leading to the kind of precarity we experience now was capital's response. Where does our creativity in resisting full-time waged labour end and appropriation begin? Should preservation of the welfare state and a job for life be our ultimate goal?


The opposite of precarity, as it is presented to us, is regular wages and stable housing. But this supposed 'opposite' to precarity is often just another version of it. The privileges of enjoying this material security is at the cost of everything else - your time, life, energy, integrity, creativity and autonomy. Capitalism creates insecurity to force us into this state of dependency that makes it difficult to think outside the system. Production of precarity is inextricable from re-production of the social relationship that is capitalism. Generalised insecurity is a tool of social control. A generated state of emergency (eg the Terrorism Act) mirrors the insecurity in the new precarious work regime.


We need to develop a network of struggles, collectivising those individual acts of resistance and establishing social support and solidarity. We want to avoid the dead-end focus and sterile tactics of the old left around job security, and we need to transcend old ways of organising such as unions that can't work with more transient kinds of employment. In a situation where work is transient, and many of us move from job to job, and work in places with a high turnover of employees, or for agencies where we never meet our boss; it is no longer enough to organise in the workplace, we must create networks of resistance on a social level & find new forms of collective struggle.

Unions are learning to organize precarious workers but they are not dealing nearly well enough with a precarious planet.

The final lines of The Call Up push us to another way of thinking:

At fifty five minutes past eleven
There is a rose...

It is 55 minutes past 11 for the humans on this planet, and May Day the day in human history when the workers, the maginalised and oppressed have gathered to celebrate their release from the shackles of work, if only for a few hours, or to protest their continued immersion in an industrial oppressive system that traps us into a capitalist system that is now signaling that it will destroy the planet as we know it rather than sacrifice the right for the few to exploit the many.

Workers and peasants have suffered many defeats in the years since the working classes began May Day marches in the 1880s and 1890s. But they have not stopped organizing and generating new waves of resistance. The resurgence of alternatives is happening in Latin America, following the defeat of the Sandinistas (Again, The Clash celebrated their initial victory on an extraordinary triple album) after the years of violence and boycott inflicted by the Reagan Administration. The Zapatista revolt, begun in 1991 was the first signal of the rise of the precarious against 'El Norte'. Hugo Chavez is using his oil revenues for the people, to the horror of the US. The Venezuelans have also come to the aid of Cubans, and the results of elections in Bolivia and Chile (the Friedmanite horror that began in 1972 finally overcome perhaps) show a rising confidence and demand for a new way, not one that cements precariousness or that cements regimented factory labour, whether in an office, on a farm, at your home or on the street, but one that allows people to be productive in the truest sense, with their creativity released from the bonds of their bosses, to imaginer a build a world that can survive and thrive.

That many around the world see Chavez's approach as a way forward is highlighted by Tariq Ali in the current New Left Review:

Chávez has visited the major countries in every continent, embarrassing some of his hosts by demanding a global front against imperialism. His hour-long interview on al-Jazeera had an electric impact on 26 million Arab viewers. It received the station's largest ever email response-tens of thousands-with the bulk of them posing a simple question: why can't the Arab world produce a Chávez?

If we demand less than this, then our world will whither and die, as the coral reefs are already doing as our seemingly insatiable demands for more move the planet to the brink.

Unions have carried the working class banner for many years, but to continue to do so requires giving "power to imagination" as the May 68 slogan said. To demand, as that early May Day speaker William Morris put it, Useful Work instead of Useless Toil embraces a denial of the power of the energy industry, the military powers and those who seek to deny workers everything but a right have a job with whatever conditions an employer wants.

May Day has always been a truly international celebration and protest against the industrialization of our lives and we must continue to make it a space to demand, as the French protestors of May 68 did, "No replastering, the structure is rotten."

May Day is our window to open a new way of seeing and acting that we need to leap through to chart a new course for a better world. We need to redefine work to re-imagine the world.

See these spaces for a clearer picture:

May 68 info and outline at

Precarity and EuroMayDay: and

For the lyrics of The Clash:

Tariq Ali's excellent "Mid Point in the Middle East is at


Work, Industrial Relations and Popular Culture Conference
Monday 25 September 2006, Brisbane

Work and Industry Futures QUT, and the Department of Industrial Relations Griffith University are convening a one-day conference that explores Work, Industrial Relations and Popular Culture.

David Pope, ( the cartoonist behind the Heinrich Hinze cartoons will be Keynote Speaker with his presentation "Is the pen mightier than s356? Cartoons and Work"

We welcome any paper that explores the manner in which popular culture is used by unions, management or policy makers or alternatively, how work and industrial relations is represented within popular culture.

Sub-themes for the conference include:

  • Policy, Influence and Modern Mediums
  • Which is Reality, Work or TV?
  • Popular Music: Is it the End of the Working Class Man?
  • Working in the Movies: What do we see?
  • Popular Culture as a Teaching Tool.

    Call for Papers.
    Abstracts are due 14 July 2006
    Full papers are due 11 September 2006
    Location; Southbank, Brisbane.

    The convenors would welcome participants to submit proposed titles earlier to assist in preparations. For further information please contact Keith Townsend ([email protected]) or David Peetz ([email protected])

    Rekindling the Flames of Discontent: How the Labour and Folk Movements Work Together


    The Brisbane Labour History Association is holding a Conference/Dinner/Concert on Saturday 23 September. This event will explore the historical relationship between the labour movement and the folk movement in Australia with a particular emphasis on Queensland.

    Why? To celebrate the history of the interaction between the Folk and Labour movements, and promote its longevity.

    When? Saturday 23 September. Conference from 1pm. Concert from 7pm.

    Where? East Brisbane Bowls Club, Lytton Rd, East Brisbane, Next to Mowbray Park

    It is still in the formative stages, but to date the following are confirmed:

    1-5pm CONFERENCE (will include music with the presentations):
    Doug Eaton on John Manifold & the Communist Arts Group in Brisbane, Brisbane Realists
    Bob & Margaret Fagan on Sydney Realist Writers
    Mark Gregory on trade union & labour songs/music, nationally/internationally
    Lachlan & Sue on international perspectives

    5 - 7pm Drinks followed by DINNER

    7 - 11pm CONCERT
    Combined Unions Choir
    Bob and Margaret Fagan
    Mark Gregory
    Jumping Fences
    For more information contact the BLHA President Greg Mallory on [email protected], or Secretary Ted Reithmuller on [email protected], or Dale Jacobsen on [email protected]


    email workers to a friend printer-friendly version latest breaking news from labornet

  • Search All Issues | Latest Issue | Previous Issues | Print Latest Issue

    © 1999-2002 Workers Online
    Workers Online is a resource for the Labour movement
    provided by the Labor Council of NSW
    Last Modified: 05 May 2006

    Powered by APT Solutions
    Labor Council of NSW Workers Online