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December 2006   

Interview: Flying High
The Australian international Pilots Association has rejoined the ACTU and president Ian Woods is taking it into new airspace.

Unions: TUF on Toll
As transport giant Toll expands across the region, unions are working together to boost their bargaining power, writes Jackie Woods.

Industrial: Forward to the Past
Anti-union building laws draw their inspiration from a century ago, writes Neale Towart

Economics: Debt and the Economy
Household debt is at record levels. Interest rates are rising. Production of real things is not increasing. The military generates most demand. How long can it go on?

Obituary: The Charlatanry of Milton Friedman
Evan Jones busts some myths about the grand-daddy of free market economics

Environment: Low Voltage
Nuclear Power and Prime Ministerial Pronouncements are seriously short of a few volts, writes Neale Towart

Legal: The Fair Deal
Anthony Forsyth proposes a social partnership agenda for Australia

Review: A Little History
The Little History of Australian Unionism is exactly that; fifteen thousand words on the topic, writes Rowan Cahill.


The Soapbox
Address to the Nation
ACTU secretary Greg Combet's speech to the National Day of Action

The Westie Wing
Ian West recalls a time when the earth was flat, unions ran the country and Honest John Howard was the workers’ best friend.

Sick System
Punitive IR laws and a commercially-driven workers compensation scheme are conspiring to bully injured workers, writes Dr Con Costa.


Seven Year Itch
For the past seven years, over 335 issues, Workers Online has been chronicling events in the labour movement and passing our judgments on all things union.


 Global Campaign for Jailed Iranian Union Leader

 Bully Tactics Can’t Dull Protests

 Which Bank Slashes Work Rights?

 Sunday’s The Day For Future Rallies

 Carmel Saves Job, Loses Bonus

 Case Dismissed: No Justice in WorkChoices

 China (S)trains Procurement Policy

 Contracts Out on Sole Traders

 Car Companies Do The Dirty

 Historic Case Restores Security

 Final Hurdle for Medibank Sell-Off

 One Reader, At Least
 Boss With a Heart
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Low Voltage

Nuclear Power and Prime Ministerial Pronouncements are seriously short of a few volts, writes Neale Towart

Howard and his cypher Switkowski repeated state that nuclear is the only option. They deliberately ignore the facts whilst stating that they are the only ones who are talking about the issue rationally.

Solar and wind is capable of supplying a base load. Nuclear power will not have enough impact on carbon generation to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Switkowski talks about the increased costs to make nuclear economically competitive but he and the government don't mention studies such as one conducted by AGL, Frontier Economics and WWF Australia published in May 2006 finds that a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation in Australia can be achieved by 2030 at the modest cost of $0.43/week per person over 24 years. (as reported by Jim Falk in Crikey on 22nd Nov) A detailed study, A Clean Energy Future for Australia, by Hugh Saddler, Richard Denniss and Mark Diesendorf, identifies methods by which a 50% reduction in greenhouse emissions from stationary energy can be achieved by 2040.

There is an equally impressive body of overseas research, one recent example being the RAND Corporation report released on 13 November which concludes that renewable energy could produce 25% of the electricity and motor vehicle fuels used in the US by 2025 at little or no additional cost.

Solar power is the coming thing because of government policies in Japan and Germany both energy intensive economies which have nowhere near as much sun as Australia.

Hopeful data come from the investment banker Travis Bradford. MIT Press has just issued his first book, Solar Revolution, which argues at great length and in great detail that we will soon be turning to solar panels for our power, in part for environmental reasons but more because they will soon be producing power that's as cheap -- and much easier to deploy -- than any other source. This is a fairly astounding claim -- the conventional wisdom among environmentalists is that solar energy lags behind wind power by a decade or more as a cost-effective source of electricity -- but he makes the case in convincing fashion.

During the last decade (as Janet Sawin of the Worldwatch Institute has previously described), Japan has heavily subsidized the purchase of rooftop solar panels by home owners. The Japanese authorities began to do this, in part, because they wanted to meet the promises they made on their own soil at the Kyoto conference on global warming, but also, Bradford suggests, because they sensed that the industry could grow if it were encouraged by an initial investment. Within a few years, the subsidy had the desired effect -- the volume of demand made both manufacturing and installation much more efficient, driving down the price. Today, the government subsidy has almost entirely disappeared, but demand continues to rise, for the panels now allow homeowners to produce their own power for the same price charged by the country's big utilities.

Government policy and innovation. Both possible here but neither encouraged by a government that is in the pocket of the coal and now the nuclear industry and which has seen solar panel technology n move to China.

Wind power is also in the mix. The only objections to it have been pathetic environmental ones such as impacts on bird life (as if the bird life and any other life are not under enough threat already from the alternatives to wind power - ie carbon generation and the global warming and ecological disaster they are bringing. As The Australia Institute reports "Overseas research indicates that the mortality rate for birds and bats from wind turbine collisions is low - typically less than five birds and five bats per turbine per year. If this rate is used as a rough guide, it would suggest that less than 2,550 birds and 2,550 bats currently die each year in Australia as a result of collisions with wind turbines. By comparison, an estimated 8.5 million birds died each year in Queensland alone in the late 1990s as a result of land clearing. While care should be taken in the siting and operation of wind farms, the risks to biodiversity should not be exaggerated and must be weighed against the potential for wind farms to contribute to reducing the severity of the impacts of climate change."

It has been estimated that Britain would need 54,000 big wind turbines to meet its needs, as if that huge number simply ends the argument. (The lack of adequate notes in this book makes checking sources laborious.) But in fact the Germans are adding 2,000 windmills annually, and nearing 20,000 total. Some object to the sight of them scattered across the countryside, and others are enchanted. In any event, whatever one's opinion of wind power, it's not at all clear that a crash program of building atomic reactors makes sense. Most of the economic modeling I've seen indicates that if you took the money intended for building a reactor and invested it instead in an aggressive energy conservation project (one that provided subsidies to companies to modify their factories to reduce power use, for instance), the payoff in cutting back on carbon would be much larger. The same story applies here.

The Australia Institute has looked at the facts and fallacies of wind power talk. They have found

"Wind energy is competitive with all other sources of renewable energy. The evidence indicates that if electricity generators were required to internalise the costs of pollution, it would also be competitive with coal- and gas-fired power stations. Economies of scale and technological improvements are likely to continue to improve the efficiency of wind energy, with projections suggesting that wind energy could be competitive with gas- and coal-fired power generation by 2020."

Couple this with the of research that the Apollo Alliance in the US has done through the University of Wisconsin (as reported in Workers Online in ????) on the types of skilled jobs and manufacturing opportunities available. The sorts of trades skills that would be needed even with the installation of solar panels for hot water, let alone electricity would be a wonderful addition to the skill base of the nation and the world as we encourage others to use renewable energy sources. Renewable for skills, jobs and the planet. Nuclear for the corporations, the greedy and those who seek to retain power of all kinds in few hands. Ecological sustainability is linked inextricably to a change in power relations and the class structure.

Wind Farms: The facts and the fallacies. October 2006, A Macintosh and C Downie at

How Close to Catastrophe? by Bill McKibben at


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