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August 2006   

Interview: A Life And Death Matter
Macquarie Street and Canberra are squaring off over safety in the workplace, NSW Minister for Industrial relations, John Della Bosca, explains what's at stake.

Unions: Fighting Back
When John Howard's building industry enforcer started threatening people's homes, one couple hit the road. Jim Marr met them in Sydney.

Industrial: What Cowra Means
The ruling on the Cowra abattoir case highlights the implications of the new IR rules, according to John Howe and Jill Murray

Environment: Scrambling for Energy Security
Howard Government hypocrisy is showcased in its climate change manoeuvring, Stuart Rosewarne writes:

Politics: Page Turner
A new book leaves no doubt about whether the faction came before the ego, Nathan Brown writes.

Economics: The State of Labour
The capacity of the state to shape the political economy and thus improve the social lives of the people must be reasserted, argues Geoff Dow.

International: Workers Blood For Oil
A new book by Abdullah Muhsin and Alan Johnson lifts the lid on the bloody reality of US backed democracy for Iraq's trade unions

History: Liberty in Spain
Worker Self-Management is good management. The proof in Spain was in Catalania, Andalusia and continues in the Basque Country, as Neale Towart explains.

Review: Go Roys, Make A Noise
Phil Doyle thought he'd find nostalgia, but instead Vulgar Press' new book, Maroon & Blue is a penetrating insight into the suburban mind under stress.


The Locker Room
Ruled Out
Phil Doyle plays by the rules

Tommy's Apprentice
Chapter One - Tommy and "The Boy"

Westie Wing
Ian West wonders what might happen if the NSW Coalition actually did win power next March at the State elections.

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Fighting Back

When John Howard's building industry enforcer started threatening people's homes, one couple hit the road. Jim Marr met them in Sydney.

Bernadette (right) with husband Mal (far left)

Bernadette Peters has had a crash course on the world of hard hats and tough men that her husband occupies every day.

And from all reports, she passed her induction with flying colours.

Bernadette and Mal Peters have just returned to their Rockingham home, south of a Perth, after a whirlwind trip along the continent's east coast.

In Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane they talked to thousands of people at dozens of meetings about the federal government's determination to scapegoat Mal and 106 workmates from the Perth-Mandurah rail project.

There were CFMEU delegates meetings, site meetings, public meetings, media interviews and even a session, in Melbourne, with ACTU leaders.

"I didn't say much during that one," Bernadette admitted. "I let Mal do the talking."

For her husband, the veteran of years at the pointy end of industrial relations in the west, it was pretty much business as usual.

To Bernadette, who for 30 years of marriage has been content to play mother, grand mother and cleaner, it was an eye-opener - about herself as much as anything else.

"For 20 years I have been a part-time cleaner because that suited us when the kids were young," she said.

"I have never done anything like this before. It's frightening, getting up and speaking in front of people. It's not me.

"I just keep saying - please Dad help me to do this. It's something I have to do and I know you would support me if you were still here."

She puts three decades of support for Mal's industrial activity down to being the daughter of Scottish coalminer, John McCann, and the values that were part of her upbringing.

That, and the fact it's brought her and Mal a home and helped keep the family together.

"Disputes are part of life in the construction industry," she says.

"They have caused blues between us because the men don't get paid but the bills still have to be paid. You just hang in there.

"Families know, when they go on strike, it's either about safety or their working rights.

"When you look back, they fought for everything we have got but this dispute is bigger than anything we have been through.

"We are ordinary people who don't have money sitting around to pay massive fines and there are a hundred other families in our situation."

The Peters knew things had changed right after John Howard passed his Building Industry Improvement Act, setting up a standing Commission with coercive powers.

More than 150 investigators, for the most part lawyers and retired federal coppers, were set loose in a bid to cow construction workers into industrial submission.

The investigators can order them to attend secret interrogation sessions. Failure to turn up, answer any questions or provide sought documents, can mean jail time.

The Commission can also prosecute individuals who take industrial action, even if issues are long resolved and companies don't want a bar of prosecutions.

Shortly after the laws came into effect, Mal Peters and his workmates were warning wives and girlfriends not to open doors to strangers.

Then, on the night of July 6, agents for the Commission launched a series of late night raids across suburban Perth.

They left in their wake, 107 writs signed by anti-worker activist Nigel Hadgkiss, seeking fines of more than $28,000 against individuals who had struck in support of sacked union delegate, Peter Ballard, three months earlier.

Several of Mal's workmates say successful prosecutions will cost them their homes.

For Bernadette Peters, and a number of other wives, that makes it core women's business.

"The company can sack the union delegate but the men can't stand up for someone who represents them. That's not Australia," she says.

"Of course we will back them up because they were doing the right thing.

"The only people who can see anything wrong with that are Leightons and John Howard."

It's the message she delivered over and over again. Even when Commission agents were snooping around.

Within 24 hours of the Peters' outlining their case at Sydney University, investigators wanted to know how long they spoke, who they talked to, and whether or not they drifted into the employer's time.

In the face of that level of intimidation, she said, support had been encouraging.

"It was really, really good. Everywhere we went, people were great."

Safety delegate, Mal, is worried for colleagues who stood up to be counted. With Leightons-Kumaigi laying people off, and the federal government strengthening the hand of aggressive employers, there's concern about WA's notorious industry blacklist.

Unpacking their suitcases in Rockingham, they weren't quite sure what the future held for their extended family of Mum, Dad, son, daughter and baby grandson.

Their 17-year-old had broken his arm in a weekend footy match and, being a subbie, wouldn't get any income until he was back on the job. And a friend had been on the phone with news from the rail project.

"They've taken Mal's shed away, we don't know if he's got a job to back to," Bernadette said.

"He's going in tomorrow, I suppose we'll find out then"


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