Saturday, December 24, 2011

UnionsNSW: Public ownership of energy assets

Unions NSW has reiterated its support for public ownership of energy assets, in light of the Federal Government's recent white paper.

The White Paper outlined a preference for private ownership of energy assets.

Unions NSW Secretary, Mark Lennon said the domestic and international experience of privatisation showed it was not in the community interest.

"Since energy assets were privatised in Victoria, there hasn't been a single dollar invested in base load generation," Mr Lennon said.

"Privatising a natural monopoly like energy makes no sense, it's simply a license to gouge the community.

"South Australia privatised it's energy industry in 1994 and by 2002, energy prices had increased a whopping forty per cent.

"On the key issues of prices, safety and reliability public ownership is the only option."

"Public sentiment and community expectation is settled on this issue and both State and Federal governments needs to keep that in mind."

"Minister Ferguson has taken the wrong road on this issue."

AFL-CIO: Victory for unemployed

John Boehner and his caucus of Tea Party obstructionists in the House of Representatives finally accepted political reality. Yesterday, they announced they'd join with 89 out of 100 senators from both political parties who’d already voted to renew unemployment aid for two months—with no cuts and no strings attached.

This is an enormous victory. Thanks to you, 2.8 million jobless Americans will have a brighter holiday season—and a helping hand over the next two months. Not an easy time. Not a handout or a free ride. But a lifeline and a chance that you made possible.

In the fight to extend aid for the jobless, the 99% went on the offense against the 1% politicians. And we won. And if working people keep it up, we’ll score more victories and build a better future. Not every time—two steps forward, one step back. But look around. People all across the country are saying our economy and our democracy are out of balance. And they’re winning the public debate.

I hope you’ll take some well-deserved time this holiday season to rest, reflect and recharge. Because in 2012, huge challenges will keep on coming. And we’ll need you ready to start early, act often and work harder than ever.

I wish all the best for you and your family, for our unions and for our nation this holiday season and in the year ahead.

In Solidarity,

Richard L. Trumka
President, AFL-CIO

Thursday, December 15, 2011

NSW: Teachers vote for further industrial action

December 15, 2011 14:05:45

State school teachers in New South Wales have voted to take further industrial action during stop-work meetings that disrupted the second-last day of the 2011 school year.
Teachers met for two hours from 9:00am (AEDT) to discuss last week's wages decision by the state's Industrial Relations Commission (IRC).

The NSW Teachers Federation says the IRC's determination of a 2.5 per cent a year is unacceptable and would amount to a salary cut in real terms.
Federation president Bob Lipscombe says members voted overwhelmingly in favour of taking further action in 2012 if the Government does not return to the negotiating table.

"We're hoping and we'll persist with that, but what we're saying is and what teachers across NSW said overwhelmingly today is if that doesn't work, if the Government isn't prepared to do that then they're prepared to take further action in this campaign," Mr Lipscombe said.
"I guess the message that the Government needs to take or understand from today's action is that teachers are absolutely determined."

Education Minister Adrian Piccoli condemned the action even before it began, saying it was illegal and unjustified.
"Next week there are two pupil free days where the union could have taken this action, but instead they deliberately chose to inconvenience parents and disadvantage students and I think it is going to make parents very angry," Mr Piccoli said.
The Minister says the union is openly defying an order from the IRC last week not to take more industrial action.

But Mr Lipscombe said before the strike that the Government has stripped the IRC of its powers, leaving teachers with little choice. The Government passed legislation earlier this year capping public sector wage increases at 2.5 per cent a year, unless cost savings were delivered first.
"The IRC's hands are very much tied by the State Government's legislation passed earlier this year," Mr Lipscombe said.
"If we're to gain any increases above and beyond that 2.5 per cent without adversely affecting our students learning conditions then this Government has to sit down and negotiate with us. To date they're shown no real interest in doing that."

Opposition spokeswoman Carmel Tebbutt says today's action is the third round of industrial action in state schools since Barry O'Farrell became Premier.

"I think the time has well and truly come for the minister to take control of this dispute," Ms Tebbutt said.
"Offer the teachers a decent salary and make sure that our schools can get back to what they should be about and that is teaching and learning."

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hindsight: William Cuffay

ABC Hindsight Tuesday 20 December 2011 2:00PM

William Cuffay in Newgate Gaol 1848
In 1848 William Cuffay, the son of a freed slave, was arrested and transported to Van Diemen's Land by a government fearful of revolution that was sweeping through Europe. Aged 60 Cuffay, a tailor and leader of the London Chartists, was campaigning for the right to vote as part of the first mass working class movement in the world. His transportation to Australia didn't end his political activity. He continued to organise and agitate for democratic rights in Tasmania for another 20 years until his death in 1870, at the age of 82.

Cuffay's Chartist legacy is today enshrined in parliaments in Britain and Australia. His lifelong political activism remains an inspiration to those who believe in workers rights, human rights and democracy. Although Cuffay died a pauper, newspapers in three states -- Tasmania, NSW and Victoria -- published obituaries. One observed that his grave had been 'marked', should a memorial to him be built at some future time. The memorial never transpired, and Cuffay was forgotten in Australia and Britain. But now there's a move to build one -- or perhaps even a statue!

see also
'Cuffay, William (1778–1870)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, 2011

MUA Picket Line At Port Kembla


Management at POAGS Stevedores are taking reckless safety risks on the waterfront through the use of union-busting scab labour at Port Kembla.

Overnight, the company took the dramatic step of helicoptering in scab workers - including companyaccounts and industrial relations managers - into Port Kembla in a cynical attempt to undercut industrial action by locking out 130 MUA stevedores.

MUA picket Port Kembla
The non-union employees were given a scant 20 minute induction before beginning a 12 hourshift on the wharves, endangering both themselves and those around them.

MUA Assistant Secretary, Warren Smith said POAGS' latest gamble with safety reinforced the company's poor record.

"Last year two POAGS employees died at work but rather than address the MUA's concernsabout safety, the company is resorting to 20 minute inductions for scab stevedores," Mr Smith said.

"The MUAwill not back down from its campaign to ensure our members work in safe conditions where their lives and livelihoods are not threatened.

MUA Southern NSW Branch Secretary Garry Keane said safety would not be compromised.

"Rather than bargaining in good faith, POAGS is declaring war on its workforce and in the process, recklessly endangering safety on the waterfront," Mr Keane said.

Mr Keane said the Port Kembla POAGS stevedores are the lowest paid in the country, despite one third of the company's profits coming out of the Illawarra port.


POAGS has prevented wharfies from entering its sites at Fremantle and Bunbury, claiming it is unsafe to continue operating while the work bans are in place.

POAGS and the Maritime Union of Australia are negotiating a new enterprise agreement. Employees are seeking an 18 per cent pay rise over three years, but the company has offered a 12 per cent increase.

POAGS was formerly known as P&O Ports.

The company is chaired by Chris Corrigan, who was in charge of Patrick Corporation during the 1998 waterfront dispute.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Wikileaks: Walkley Award 2011

Wikileaks was awarded the Walkley Award for Outstanding Contribution to Journalism for showing a courageous and controversial commitment to the finest traditions of journalism: justice through transparency.

The Walkley trustees said: “WikiLeaks applied new technology to penetrate the inner workings of government to reveal an avalanche of inconvenient truths in a global publishing coup. Its revelations, from the way the war on terror was being waged, to diplomatic bastardry, high-level horse-trading and the interference in the domestic affairs of nations, have had an undeniable impact.”

Iran: Ebrahim Madadi re-arrested

7 December 2011

The ITUC was dismayed and incensed to hear today that Ebrahim Madadi, a courageous trade unionist and Comrade from Vahed Syndicate in Tehran, was re-arrested today after being freed only last Thursday. A move welcomed by the international trade union movement

ITUC General Secretary, Sharan Burrow, said :”this can only be interpreted as yet another crass and cynical move by the authorities to distract attention from the serious violations of trade union rights in Iran immediately prior to the ILO Regional Asia Pacific Conference which just concluded in Kyoto”.

It is absolutely shameful on the part of the regime to ‘play’ in this fashion with the lives of people and their families, for no other reason than the exercise of their fundamental human and trade union right to represent the legitimate aspirations of other workers.

ITF general secretary David Cockroft added: “We don’t yet know if this arrest is a bureacratic error or an attempt to punish Ebrahim – but either way it’s an unacceptable infringement on his rights and liberty. Like the continuing imprisonment of the increasingly ill Reza Shahabi it is an injustice that is crying out to be righted."

The ITUC will continue to denounce the callous shenanigans of such dishonourable and discredited thugs.


Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Japan: Whaling funding attacked

Conservation groups have criticised the Japanese government for funding this year's whaling mission in the Southern Ocean with money from the country's earthquake and tsunami recovery fund.

In all, $US28 million has been set aside to help protect the fleet.

The Japanese Fisheries Agency says it is a legitimate use of the money as whaling towns affected by the earthquake and tsunami will benefit.

But Junichi Sato, from Greenpeace Japan, says it is a tenuous link.

"It's not related to the recovery at all. It is simply used to cover the debts of the whaling program, because the whaling program itself has been suffering from a big financial problems."

The Australian Environment Minister, Tony Burke, said it was not appropriate to spend any money on Japanese whaling.

He said: "I don't think it's appopriate for any money to be spent on Japanese whaling.

"Regardless of where money's coming from our position is really simple. There's no shades of grey here.

"We believe the Southern Ocean is a whaling sanctuary and all whaling that occurs there is wrong."

Australia Network remains public

The government yesterday announced the ABC would permanently hold the $223 million contract for the Australia Network, ensuring that it remains in public hands.

Julia Gillard today said the government believed initially it was appropriate to take the 10-year contract to tender.

With the tender process terminated, it was appropriate the public broadcaster be given the contract, Ms Gillard said.

"This is an important arm of soft diplomacy for Australia," she told reporters in Canberra.
"Many other nations around the world that have comparable services have them associated with the public broadcaster."

Australia Network Chief Executive - Bruce Dover said:

"An assured future for Australia Network with the ABC means we will now be able to develop an integrated, cross-platform content offer for overseas markets. In a fiercely competitive and crowded global market for broadcasting, this will make it easier for audiences to find and use our services in a format that best suits their particular needs at any given time.

We will continue to provide the very best of high quality Australian content - children's programming, education, lifestyle, culture and world class documentaries as well as calling on our extensive international news resources to report from the region, to the region - across all platforms."

NSW: Public staff cuts deemed unfair

PSA 07 December 2011

A group of public servants have won back their right to redeployment after the Industrial Relations Commission declared their forced retrenchments ''unfair''.

The decision means 29 public servants who were retrenched under the O'Farrell government's new policies have 12 months to find other positions within the public service. Otherwise, they will be given three months' written notice and improved severance pay - a payment of three weeks per year of service to a maximum of 39 weeks.

In a judgment delivered this week, the commission said the state government's policy for managing ''excess employees'' was unfair under the Industrial Relations Act 1996.

The NSW Government has been dealt a significant blow after the NSW Industrial Relations Commission this week declared unfair its policy that allows public servants to be forcibly retrenched, the Public Service Association said today.

The decision means that the 29 public servants who were about to lose their job without any real opportunity to be redeployed within the public sector now have 12 months to find a suitable position, as per the 2008 policy.

It also puts under a cloud the treatment of public sector workers declared excess in the future.

"Since the O'Farrell Government was elected eight months ago, we have seen a vicious attack on the rights of workers in this state, and this week's decision highlights that the Government's actions are unfair and unacceptable to its workforce," John Cahill, General Secretary of the PSA said today.

"Fair workplace arrangements are necessary in this state, and the O'Farrell Government has with its changes taken away workers' rights.

"The court has said that the unfair 2011 policy that deals with excess employees is actually in breach of NSW public sector employment laws as it makes little, if any, attempt to redeploy excess staff into other jobs.

"As such, the policy has been declared unfair and will not apply to the workers who were being represented in the action.

"Instead, the 2008 Excess Employee Policy will apply to these people until the end of July 2014.

"With these orders, the court is sending a clear message that you cannot forcibly retrench people when there is other suitable work available within the public sector."

VIC: Nurses workplace community rallies

Nurses, midwives, their families, patients and supporters are invited to attend the following Community rallies to save and improve nurse/midwife ratios

Royal Women’s Hospital/Royal Melbourne Hospital - Sunday 4 December, 12 pm – 2 pm
Eastern – Maroondah Hospital - Monday 5 December, 12 pm – 2 pm
Southern – Clayton Monash Medical Centre - Monday 5 December, 12 pm – 2 pm
Sale Hospital -  Tuesday 6 December, 3 pm – 4 pm
Barwon – Geelong Hospital -  Tuesday 6 December, 11 am – 1.30 pm
Colac Hospital  -  Tuesday  6 December, 3 pm – 4 pm
Latrobe Regional Health -  Tuesday 6 December, 11 am – 1.30 pm
The Alfred Hospital - Wednesday 7  December, 12 pm – 2 pm
Peninsula – Frankston Hospital – Wednesday 7  December, 12 pm – 2 pm
Western General Hospital – Footscray - Thursday 8  December,  12 pm – 2 pm
Sunshine Hospital - Thursday 8  December,  12 pm – 2 pm
Ballarat Base Hospital  - Friday 9  December, 12 pm – 2 pm
Wodonga Base Hospital – Friday 9  December, 12 pm – 2 pm
Mildura Base Hospital - Friday 9  December, 12 pm – 2 pm
Royal Children’s Hospital - Saturday 10  December, 12 pm – 2 pm
Wangaratta Hospital - Saturday 10  December, 12 pm – 2 pm
Northern Hospital – Epping / Broadmeadows - Monday 12 December, 11 am – 1.30 pm
Seymour Base Hospital – Monday 12 December, 3 pm – 4 pm
Warnambool Base Hospital / Lyndoch – Monday 12 December, 12 pm – 2 pm
Austin Health /Mercy Heidelberg – Tueday 13 December, 12 pm – 2 pm
Orbost Regional Hospital - Wednesday 14 December, 12 pm – 2 pm
Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre - Wednesday 14 December, 12 pm – 2 pm
St Vincents Hospital - Wednesday 14 December, 12 pm – 2 pm
Eastern – Box Hill Hospital - Friday 16 December, 12 pm – 2 pm
Southern Health – Dandenong / Casey Hospitals - Friday 16 December, 12 pm – 2 pm
Werribee Mercy - Saturday 17 December, 12 pm – 2 pm
Goulburn Valley Health - Saturday 17 December, 12 pm – 2 pm
Tweddle Child and Family Health Service - Monday 19 December, 12 pm – 2 pm

ACTU: Apprentice pay increase

06 December, 2011 | Media Release

Federal Government support for a pay increase for apprentices is a good first step towards improving the appalling apprentice completion rate.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said unions were pleased the Government had recognised that low pay was a major contributor the apprentice drop-out rate of 50%.

Unions also welcome the commitment to lift training standards, through more funding for mentoring and support services and action to harmonise standards across the country.

“This is a good first step to address the currently poor completion rate for apprentices,” Ms Kearney said.

“Unions look forward to a review of apprentice wages by Fair Work Australia next year to address the appallingly low wages trainees currently receive,” Ms Kearney said.

“We also welcome the review announced today to investigate targeting employer incentive payments to ensure bosses are using them for genuine training, and not simply to subsidise wages.

“The current completion rates for Australian apprenticeships are unacceptably low at an average of 48% and the only way to boost the number of skilled workers in our community is through better wages and training.

“Apprentices have told us that the poor remuneration is a key reason they don’t complete their apprenticeships.”

Ms Kearney said training and skill development should be a shared responsibility between Government, industry and unions, individual employers and apprentices and trainees themselves,” she said.

“Unions have previously called on the Government to consider the panel recommendation for an employer contribution scheme to support the funding of a steamlined training system and are disappointed this has not been taken further. Employers must take their share of responsibility in ensuring as a nation we can meet our future skill needs through apprenticeships and traineeships.

“The resources sector in particular needs to improve its support for apprentices, with a major Government report last year calling for the sector to significantly increase the number of apprentices it employs in order to match its share of trade employment and reduce its reliance on temporary migration.”

Ms Kearney said unions also welcomed the announcement of the new Australian Apprenticeships Ambassadors, which aim to boost the status and profile of apprenticeships.

Monday, December 05, 2011

CELAC established

Leaders from 33 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean on Saturday approved 22 documents, officially signing into effect the formation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) as the new leading regional bloc.

The leaders also elected Chile's President Sebastian Pinera as temporary president of CELAC until the group's next summit, which is scheduled to be held in Chile next year.

Concluding two days of summit talks, the upbeat group of Latin American leaders praised the formal constitution of CELAC as a historic milestone in regional development and pledged to remain united in order to gain maximum power and influence as a block in world affairs.

"Unity is the road ahead. A lot of people think that you can be faster when you move alone, but the truth is that together we will come much further," said Pinera in closing remarks."This 21st Century will be the century of Latin America and the Caribbean," said Pienera, adding he would take on leadership of the forum with "a lot of responsibility and a lot of hope" and called on the region's leaders to look toward the future with vision.

Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's president and summit host, hailed the formal establishment of CELAC as a forum where Latin American and Caribbean nations would be able to hold meetings independently from other world forums and maintain their regional sovereignty in front of pressure by world powers such as the United States.

"No more interference, enough is enough. We have to take shape as a center of the world power and demand respect for all of us as community and for each one of our countries," said Chavez.

With the creation of CELAC, which includes all countries in the Americas except the United States and Canada, Latin American leaders want to establish a forum similar to that of the Organization of American States, but without the political influence of U.S. foreign policy.

Pinera called on member countries to join forces and make quality education possible for CELAC countries' 600 million people, fight against poverty and multiply investments in science and technology.

Among the 22 documents signed is the key document named "The Declaration of Caracas," which calls for a joint action plan to be established for CELAC along with the relevant working programs and the procedures for the operative work of the group.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

ALP: full marriage equality vote

A 10,000-strong crowd converged on the Labor Party National Conference to demand marriage equality.

It was an incredible moment.

As the crowd rolled in, ALP delegates to the Conference voted in favour of a platform change proposed by Rainbow Labor. Now, for the first time, Labor party policy supports full marriage equality. The crowd went wild – thanking both grassroots campaigners like you and those brave individuals who have fought for this change from within.

Today’s change sends a message to all gay and lesbian Australians that finally our nation’s governing party considers their love and relationships equal.

But while today shows Australians have removed discrimination from their hearts, we cannot rest until we also remove it from our laws.

That’s why our focus now turns to the each and every MP in Parliament. Within months they will be debating whether or not to end marriage discrimination and when the legislation is introduced, the ALP will be allowed to vote with their conscience. We look to Tony Abbott’s Coalition to do the same. Many Liberal MPs believe that it’s not for the Government to limit the freedom of Australian adults to marry the one they love and our challenge is to make this a majority view.

Respected gay rights campaigner Rodney Croome told today’s crowd how, in his home state of Tasmania, his love was illegal until a few short years ago when homosexuality was decriminalised. He told the crowd that the impossible happened when these discriminatory laws were overturned, and Tasmania became the first state of Australia to support marriage equality.

Qantas Families’ Day

An Australia-wide action day will bring together Qantas airline workers and their supporters in a show of strength against plans to outsource jobs overseas.

The Qantas Families’ Day, which is taking place on 3 December, will see more than 600 volunteers and six national trade unions – including ITF affiliates the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), the Rail Tram and Bus Union and the Transport Workers’ Union of Australia (TWU) – distribute over 200,000 leaflets. Activists will also be spending the weekend lobbying the Australian government to protect skills and jobs in the country’s aviation industry.

In Australia, ITF president and MUA general secretary Paddy Crumlin, stated: “Today is about putting people first: workers and their families. Not profits, or cost cuts, or offshored profit centres. Instead the Qantas workers and the Australian unions, backed by our friends around the world, are laying out an alternative model, of the kind that keeps Qantas as an example of all that’s good about safe flying.”

Tony Sheldon, TWU general secretary, said: “The Qantas Families’ Day brings together Qantas workers and their Australian neighbours and friends to defend jobs and reject the ruthless cost cutting and offshoring that could leave them without work and the rest of us without a national airline.”

For more about Qantas Families Day see

Click here to visit the ITF’s campaign page.

ACTU: Improve worker rights

02 December, 2011 | Media Release
Workers will have enhanced rights to bargain for better pay and conditions and secure jobs under changes to the Labor Party's national platform adopted at the National Conference.

The Labor Party has committed to a more effective bargaining system and a more activist role for Fair Work Australia in the promotion of good faith collective bargaining, says the ACTU.

“The recent actions of Qantas management demonstrated the need for more balance in the workplace system to protect workers’ rights,” said ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence.

“The reckless and provocative action by Qantas to ground its fleet and threaten to lock-out its entire workforce has highlighted the need for a more activist and even-handed industrial umpire and better access for workers to arbitration when employers refuse to bargain in genuine good faith.

“Qantas put the spotlight on a pattern of behaviour in which employers only pay lip service to the notion of collective bargaining and never have any real intention of reaching agreement.

“This can go on for years, with no circuit-breaker apart from the type of provocative action we saw by Alan Joyce, which has been endorsed by big business.

“Workers should be able to seek secure jobs and better pay and conditions without threats of lock-outs, big fines or punitive legal action, the use of strike-breakers or thugs to physically disrupt peaceful picket lines, or other extreme actions.”

ACTU President Ged Kearney said the platform endorsed by the National Conference today would build on the improvements to workplace rights delivered by the Fair Work Act.

“The Fair Work Act was established on the principles of good faith bargaining and unions have urged the Labor Party, whose core values centre on the rights of working Australians, to focus on this through its future platform.

“Labor must not only hold strong against a new wave of employer militancy that is threatening the livelihoods of working Australians, but dedicate itself to building on the gains from the Fair Work Act.

“We are calling on Labor to commit to improve rights and entitlements for all Australian workers, including the 40% who are employed as casuals, on fixed or short-term contracts, in labour hire and other non-standard forms of employment and do not have secure jobs.

“Harmonious and productive industrial relations are achieved through genuine negotiation and engagement with workers and their unions, not by making them the enemy.”

Friday, December 02, 2011

UK: Strike of a generation

Seumas Milne, Wednesday 30 November 2011

It was the wrong time to call a strike. Industrial action would inflict "huge damage" on the economy. It would make no difference. Public sector workers wouldn't turn out and public opinion would be against them. Downing Street was said to be "privately delighted" the unions had "fallen into their trap".

The campaign against today's day of action has been ramped up for weeks, and in recent days has verged on the hysterical. The Mail claimed the street cleaners and care workers striking to defend their pensions were holding the country to "ransom", led by "monsters", while Rupert Murdoch's Sun called them "reckless" and "selfish".

Michael Gove and David Cameron reached for the spirit of the 1980s, the education secretary damning strike leaders as "hardliners itching for a fight", and the prime minister condemning the walkouts as the "height of irresponsibility", while also insisting on the day they had been a "damp squib".

But up to two million public employees, from teachers and nurses to dinner ladies, ignored them and staged Britain's biggest strike for more than 30 years. The absurd government rhetoric about gold-plated public pensions – 50% get £5,600 or less – clearly backfired.

It's not just the scale of the strike, though, but its breadth, from headteachers to school cleaners in every part of the country, that has set it apart. Most of those taking action were women, and the majority had never been on strike before. This has been the "big society" in action, but not as Cameron meant it.

And despite the best efforts of ministers and media, it has attracted strong public sympathy. The balance of opinion has varied depending on the question, but a BBC ComRes poll last week found 61% agreeing that public service workers were "justified in going on strike over changes to their pensions".

Of course that might well change if the dispute and service disruption drags on. But the day's mass walkouts should help bury the toxic political legacy of the winter of discontent – that large-scale public sector strikes can never win public support and are terminal for any politician that doesn't denounce and face them down.

The Tory leadership is unmistakably locked into that Thatcher-era mindset. Not only did George Osborne's autumn statement this week respond to the failure of his austerity programme by piling on more of the same for years to come, it was also the most nakedly class budget since Nigel Lawson hacked a third off the tax rate for the rich in 1988.

Any claim that "we're all in this together" can now only be an object of ridicule after Osborne coolly slashed child tax credit for the low paid, propelling 100,000 more children into poverty, to fund new bypasses and lower fuel duty.

And by announcing a 16% cut in public sector pay and benefits by 2015 along with a loss of 710,000 jobs, the chancellor declared war on his own workforce. Add to that the threat of less employment protection to sweeten privatisation deals and an end to national pay scales, and Osborne couldn't have made a stronger case for industrial action.

Public service workers are right to strike because that's the only way they can defend their pensions from Osborne's 3.2% raid and the only reason the government has made any concessions at all. They are also protecting public services from a race to the bottom in pay and conditions which can only erode their quality.

And far from damaging the economy, which is being dragged down by lack of demand and investment, the more successful they are in resisting cuts and protecting their living standards the more they will contribute to keeping it afloat.

But today's strike and whatever action follows it isn't just about pensions. It's also about resisting a drive to make public service workers pay for a crisis they have no responsibility for – while the bloated incomes of those in the financial and corporate sector who actually caused the havoc scandalously continue to swell.

When real incomes are being forced down for the majority, as directors' pay has risen 49% and bank bonuses have topped £14bn, that's an aim most people have no problem identifying with. Across the entire workforce there's little disagreement about who's been "reckless" and "greedy" – and it isn't public service workers.

As one Leeds gardener on £15,000 a year told the Guardian, striking was the only way to get the desperation of the low-paid on to the agenda of the wealthy: "they just don't have any idea of what it's like to live on pay like ours".

Cameron and Osborne's strategy from the start has been to divide the public sector workforce from the rest, hammer them to win extra market credibility – and convince private sector workers they'd be better off if education and health service pensions could be driven down to the often miserable or nonexistent level of most of the private sector.

The Conservative policy minister, Oliver Letwin, gave a taste of what else they have in mind when he told a consultancy firm that public services could only be reformed with "some real discipline and some fear".

But it looks as though ministers may have miscalculated. The message of striking public service workers chimes with the public mood. Private sector Unilever workers have just voted to take industrial action to defend their own pensions.

A crucial factor in the dire state of private sector pensions – and the wider wealth grab and mushrooming of inequality over the past generation – has been the decline in trade union strength. The fall in union membership since the 1970s is an almost exact mirror image of the runaway increase in the share of national income taken by the top 1% over the same period.

That is the common experience across the world wherever neoliberal capitalism has held sway, as are the attacks on living standards and public services, strikes, occupations and riots that Britain has had a taste of in the last 18 months. Which is why today's walkouts have attracted support from Nicaragua to Bangladesh.

One strike isn't, of course, going to force the government to turn tail. After Osborne's pay and jobs battering, the likelihood must be of more industrial action, with no guarantee of success. But today was a powerful demonstration of democratic workplace strength – which offers a chance to begin to turn the tide of a generation.

Vic: Health Executive pay scandal

Victoria's top health executives were given a 46 per cent pay rise last financial year, worth more than $57,000 each.

The increase has infuriated nurses, who are locked in a wage row with the state government, which is offering a basic 2.5 per cent pay rise, plus any negotiated productivity savings.

The Victorian Department of Health's annual report shows its 47 executives were paid an average of almost $180,975 each last financial year, compared with $123,614 the year before.

It was by far the biggest increase in the state bureaucracy, with executives typically given 15 per cent more pay across 11 government departments, excluding bonuses.

Australian Nursing Federation state secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick said it was disgusting, with the average pay rise for each executive enough to employ a nurse with eight years experience.

''The thought that comes to mind is pigs around a trough,'' she said.

The shadow minister for industrial relations, Tim Pallas, said it was incumbent on Premier Ted Baillieu to explain why government executives deserved pay rises far in excess of that being offered nurses, teachers and other public servants.

''While the Department of Health is looking to lock out nurses, its department executives have each happily pocketed a 46 per cent increase in total remuneration,'' he said.

''Mr Baillieu wants to keep down wages of hard-working nurses and cut nurse numbers, yet he is happy for departmental executives to receive significant salary increases well above the government's 2.5 per cent pay offer for public sector workers.''

ACTU Fringe event 2 December

Thursday, December 01, 2011

UK: 2 million strike for pensions

Services across England, Scotland and Wales ground to a halt in the strongest show of union strength in a generation.

Schools, courts, museums and job centres were paralysed in the 24-hour strike which also brought extensive disruption to transport, hospitals and government departments.

In Scotland over 300,000 workers took to the streets while in Wales an estimated 170,000 walked out in opposition to the brutal cuts.

Rallies up and down England drew tens of thousands - and received the overwhelming support of the public.

Speaking at a rally in Birmingham TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "On this unprecedented day when 30 unions have members taking action together we are sending a crystal-clear message to the government.

"That we are strong, that we are united, and that our campaign will go on until we secure justice and fairness for every public servant."

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "The government is carrying out a massive raid on pensions which is a reflection of its unrelenting mismanagement of the economy.

"Suffering and misery are a price the government wants us to pay - this is an all-out attack on public services."