Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

The ACTU’s new president
Michele O’Neil has her sights set on the Turnbull government


The big guns are being wheeled out for the next election, and new ACTU president Michele O’Neil is in command of one. O’Neil is an impassioned campaigner, from standing up against sexual harassment as a teenager, to rallying 150,000 Melburnians against the second Iraq war, to now fighting on behalf of 1.8 million union members to “change the rules” in Australia’s workplaces. Unashamedly militant, O’Neil gave a strong speech to the ACTU congress in Brisbane, which belied the low 15 per cent of the workforce that belongs to a union. “Our movement is too few,” she said, adding that there is “nothing inevitable about decline. If you don’t believe we can grow, you’re in the wrong room”.

O’Neil has herself sewn labels onto jumpers and slaved away at a bank of knitting machines. She’s spent the last 28 years working for the textiles clothing and footwear (TCF) union, ultimately steering it into this year’s amalgamation with the maritime union and CFMEU to form the monstrous bête noir of the Coalition, the CFMMEU. O’Neil has an interesting take on the significance of her old industry, where she had to reach out to ethnic outworkers, often in regional areas, to take on global brands:

“Insecure work, outsourcing, sham contracting, casual and labour hire, these are not new for the people I’ve been representing. The TCF industry was capital’s great laboratory to test this neoliberal model, the literal ‘cutting edge’ of globalisation. We now see that model in every industry with contract teachers and nurses, outsourcing of public servants, slave-like conditions in agriculture and among sex workers, rampant wage theft in hospitality and retail. This shift must be fought. In the TCF industry we changed the rules, to win supply chain transparency and impose obligations on those brands at the top, for the conditions of those workers at the bottom, and rights for unions to enter workplaces with no notice. We need to now earn those rights, and more, for every worker in this country.”

As reported widely today, a formative experience for O’Neil was being sexually harassed by a supervisor when she worked as a waitress when she was 14 years old. She had joined the union, and it helped her confront the man. “As a union member,” O’Neil said yesterday, “you are never alone. Unionism, at its core, is about workers sticking together.”

One of five feminist sisters, O’Neil’s bio records how she was politicised by a childhood visit to the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra, and fought for years against apartheid. O’Neil was an organiser for the Victorian Peace Network and this address she made at the Valentine’s Day rally against the Iraq war in Melbourne in 2003 – part of worldwide rallies that weekend, which collectively drew millions in what has been described as the largest protest in history – shows she can give a speech:

“We’re here today because we oppose the war in Iraq. We’re here today because we oppose the use of nuclear weapons on innocent people. We’re here today because we actually know that a war is likely to create a million new refugees. A war is likely to create as many as half a million casualties – innocent people killed as a result of a crazy fervour. We’re here today to oppose this war regardless of what the UN security council says. And we’re here because we know that a slaughter is a slaughter, whatever the UN has said about it. We’re here today because we know – we know in our hearts and we know in our guts and we know in our brains – that this war is wrong!”

O’Neil is a fighter. After acknowledging her storied predecessors in the ACTU presidency, from Bill Kelty to Ged Kearney, O’Neil put the movement squarely in the corner of the low paid, and swore to represent every member of every union: “I’ll never forget who pays my wages, that it’s ordinary working people who put some of their hard-earned money into joining a union and being part of our collective”. Then she set her sights on the Coalition: “We will defeat this government. We will change the rules. We will grow our movement, and remember there is no power greater, anywhere beneath the sun.”

At a press conference in Brisbane today, ACTU secretary Sally McManus and former treasurer and ALP president-elect Wayne Swan fronted the media, opening with the message that Australia needs a pay rise. McManus dialled the militant union rhetoric down a little: “We don’t want to see an outbreak of strikes,” she said. “We want to see an outbreak of pay rises”. Asked about the immigration debate that has resurfaced this week, McManus steered a middle course: “Migration has led to prosperity in our country. It has.” Then she turned the focus to the one-in-ten workers employed on temporary work visas, often without a genuine skill shortage (especially in regional areas), often casualised and vulnerable to exploitation, happening “right under Peter Dutton’s nose”.

More fairness or lower immigration; which will it be?

since this morning

The Age reports that the Victorian Labor Party has been rocked by allegations of widespread branch stacking, rigged preselection votes and illegal money-making activities.

NSW Labor will use rare parliamentary powers, not used since 1917, to try to expel former Liberal MP Daryl Maguire from the state parliament, forcing a by-election in his seat of Wagga Wagga.

Paul Shetler, the former head of the Commonwealth’s digital transformation agency, has told the ABC that if he were Australian he would probably opt out of the government’s online health database. The Australian has reported [$] that Health Minister Greg Hunt was trying to stem the flow of people opting out, which had reached 20,000 within a day.


The Australian National Audit Office has found major flaws in the data collection method used in the evaluation of the $18 million cashless welfare card trial. In a report the ANAO said it was “difficult to conclude” whether social harm including alcoholism and violence were reduced.

The Courier-Mail has reported that Adani has cleared the final hurdle for its controversial mega coalmine in Queensland, with funding secured for a vital rail link.

The former head of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, Oliver Yates, has described the Coalition’s national energy guarantee as having “no benefit” to emissions, and says that state and territory governments should not support it in its current state.

by Richard Cooke
Tired of Winning
Goat rodeo in Helsinki
As American diplomacy reaches a new low, perhaps it’s time to start looking for the upside

by Bronwyn Adcock
Sick on the inside
Our corrective services struggle to cope with the mental health requirements of inmates

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is a contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly. He is a writer and journalist who has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including Boganaire: The rise and fall of Nathan Tinkler.

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