The next six months are shaping as a grim time for the environment based on recent events.
While Julia Gillard and Christine Milne duke it out over jobs or the environment, Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke appears to have lost his reformist urge and has been overwhelmed by his attempts to reconcile the schizophrenic impulses of his party.
Which at times wants to be seen as the friend of the planet, or the workers, but never the same thing at any one time.
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When big institutions fall, they can go down hard, and quickly. Only five years ago, the nation’s peak union body, the ACTU, was at the white-hot centre of the political debate, waging one of the most successful campaigns in its long history. Its anti-WorkChoices Your Rights at Work campaign was the single-biggest factor in the defeat of the Howard government at the 2007 election.
Your Rights at Work created a model for shifting opinion on public policy in modern Australia, blending grass-roots organisation with free media and skilful advertising. In 2010, the mining industry picked up the model and ran with it, knocking off federal Labor’s super-profits tax proposal.
But the ACTU’s 2007 success is increasingly looking like a last great hurrah. The recently-installed ACTU secretary Dave Oliver this month all but abolished the campaign and communications unit that had played a crucial role in helping the ALP into office only two elections ago.
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All my life I’ve been a massage slut.
Instead of pledging fidelity to one practitioner or technique, I’ve been a total tramp. One day I’d be getting my gear off for a Balinese hot rocker (in Ubud, everybody must get stoned), and the next I’d be baring my Chinese acupoints like no-one’s business.
I blame my addiction on once having lived near the massage epicentre of Nimbin where the oils are always essential and the “body work” is usually accompanied by quartz healing feathers powered by reincarnated dolphin vibrations.
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For over 100 years unions have been the anchor for the Australian Labor Party. Without the weight of the two million-strong union membership the party floats away or gets out of touch with ordinary Australians.
Political junkies will get a fix this week when the ALP’s national conference kicks off in Sydney.
The debates over gay marriage and uranium sales to India will get breathless media coverage. But behind this the union movement will be steadily pursuing a united agenda to push for the rights of working Australians.
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Sometimes a change creeps up so stealthily that you hardly notice how far it’s gone. That’s how I feel about insecure work, something that used to be restricted to small part of our workforce, but has now spread, like the crown of thorns starfish, to trap millions of Australian workers.
Today, the reality is that 40 per cent of Australians are in some kind of insecure work.
That’s the combination of people who are casual (which is a quarter of the workforce alone), on short-term or other contracts, and in labour hire, as opposed to the normal definition of permanent jobs – with all the conditions and entitlements that come with them – that were the norm until a few years ago.
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It seems that everyone is having their say on the impact of a carbon tax on low income earners, except low income earners themselves, the “ordinary” Australian workers on very modest rates of pay. I’m not referring to the $150K “middle-class battlers” of the Budget debate fretting over mortgages and private school fees, but the 20 per cent of the Australian workforce in low paid jobs, who may be taking home just $25K or $35K, and for whom a poorly designed carbon tax may be one blow too many to the family budget.
United Voice represents over 120,000 of Australia’s lowest paid workers in industries like aged care, child care, cleaning, hospitality, tourism and security. We know what “cost of living” pressures really mean, because it is our members whose low pay forces them into making tough decisions like forgoing doctor’s visits or no longer buying meat, even on a full-time wage.
When there’s already nothing left at the end of the week - and while many of our jobs remained casualised and insecure - what will a price on carbon mean?
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You can’t understand the history of social progress in Australia without understanding the union movement.
Unions have been the way in which ordinary Australians have made their voice heard in Government.
The way in which workers from shearers and nurses to factory workers have got together to build a common cause and combine their strength.
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Each year the debate over the minimum wage seems to be dominated by people who’ll never have to live on it: economists, politicians, business lobbyists, and, I have to be honest, union
We can all forget that a dollar means different things to different people. That for one of the 1.4 million Australians on a low wage an few extra dollars a week can be the money that keeps the lights on, pays the rent or buys new shoes for a fast-growing child.
Last week the ACTU lodged its minimum wage claim - $28 extra per week for a full time worker.It’s not a big ask when you think of the rise in electricity prices, fuel costs, rents and other expenses.
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We’ve had factional thugs and faceless men, dishonourable rats and bloodsuckers, slap-downs and sabre-rattling – union officials have hit the front pages over the past week in all their rhetorical glory.
We’ve even declared war on shiny arses, although I have to admit I’m still not entirely sure what a war on shiny arses is.
But the most startling thing to me is that these exchanges have made front-page news. A bit of argy-bargy between union leaders, politicians and bosses is fairly standard practice in Australia. And some colourful language in the mix is nothing new. It’s called open, democratic society.
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It is not fashionable for a member of Gen Y like myself to care about equal pay for women. So the Australian Services Union equal remuneration case currently before Fair Work Australia should perhaps hold no great interest for me. Equal pay was won in 1969 and equal pay for work of equal value in 1972, long before I was born.
I am apparently of the post-feminist era, and most of my friends have been to university, perhaps even more of the women than the men. At 26, I have watched the boys I went to school with complete engineering and IT degrees and the girls finish teaching, social work or arts.
Perhaps this observation should not bother me. I do not doubt that my friends are excellent at their chosen professions. The problem I have with this scenario is the gap in their respective salaries.
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The average executive salary is 100 times more than the average worker’s—and widening—according to ACTU figures. We’re told that bank CEOs’ loot-bags are bulging with the run-off from excess rate rises and capricious ATM fees.
But like so many social issues, the real battleground may be taking place outside of the political and news-based arena. It’s the mainstream popular media where opinions can be shaped and slippery messages fed to the young and the passive.
Ten’s “Undercover Boss Australia”—recently renewed for a second season—is a prime example of cynical corporate interests being delivered as “entertainment”. And yet it gets a free pass in the cultural debate over workers’ conditions, pay rates and CEO salary obscenity. In an environment where popular media isn’t considered to be worth serious discussion, we’re just expected to lap it up, not to talk about it.
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Our national political conversation is littered with words that have lost their meaning: ‘fighting for peace’, ‘protecting our borders’, ‘truth in sentencing’, the list goes on.
When it comes to the economy – ‘productivity and flexibility’ are two more benign, if somewhat bland, words that have been abused so horribly it is now tough to remember what they originally meant.
Often I read the commentary pieces in newspapers about these issues that make grand claims about the virtues of productivity and flexibility, a panacea to every business problem, a self-evident good.
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During my childhood, 1957 and 1958 were “the two good years,” the were the only years my working class redneck family ever caught a real break. And that break came because of organized labor. After working as a farm hand, driving a hicktown taxi part time, and a dozen catch as catch can jobs, my father found himself owning a used semi-truck and hauling produce for a Teamster unionized trucking company called Blue Goose.
Daddy was making more money than he’d ever made in his life, about $4,000 a year. The median national household income at the time was $5,000, mostly thanks to America’s unions. After years of moving from one rented dump to another, we bought a modest home, ($8,000) and felt like we might at last be getting some traction in achieving the so-called “American Dream.”
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