Carlo's Corner: Victory for workers' rights as Paul Howes resigns

Saturday, March 29, 2014
Howes stepping down from heading the AWU is victory for AWU members, especially those at Qantas.

These are dark times, so we should celebrate what victories come the way of working people facing the brunt of the Abbott gang's “kick everyone and their dog” strategy.

And so we should celebrate the big win for workers' rights with media star, would-be politician and part-time Australian Workers Union national secretary Paul Howes' announcing his resignation from the union movement.

The union movement will no longer be burdened by a man who argues that many workers are too well-paid and unions should not rush to oppose Abbott's industrial relations “reforms”.

No wonder Liberal education minister Christopher Pyne has urged Howes to keep contributing to the “public debate”, saying Howes “certainly has a lot more ideas about the future of Australia and what needs to be done about policy than the current crop of people who currently represent the Labor Party”.

With his loud anti-worker views, praise from leading Liberals and close connections to the corporate world, Howes certainly has no fear of starving. But it remains unclear what his next step will be.

It may be that a stint in well-paid corporate management will prove a prelude to another tilt at parliament. He could even end up running for the Liberal Party, which, in terms of honesty in packaging, would at least be a step forward.

But in the first place, Howes stepping down from heading the AWU is victory for AWU members, especially those at Qantas. After all, Howes, the man tasked with representing them, is engaged to be married to Qantas executive Olivia Wirth.

But maybe we should not make too much of the issue. Sure, some cynics might say this is a clear case of a conflict of interests — of literally “sleeping with the enemy” — but I can't really see the issue. It is not like there's any big developments at Qantas its workforce need worry about.

No need at all to be concerned with having a genuinely independent representative without very close personal ties with the management board seeking to sack about 5000 of them.


Abbott has only been prime minister for about half a year, but he has already achieved some remarkable things -- and not just the reintroduction of a feudal aristocracy. The most notable, on top of securing a negative approval rating, is inspiring huge grassroots protests against his government in cities and towns right around the country.

Up to 100,000 people marched against his government in the March in March protests over March 15-17. Such large protests so early into a government's life are unheard of in Australia in recent decades.

You might think this was newsworthy, but you'd be wrong. The breadth and depth of the March in March protests were matched in impressiveness only by the mainstream media's efforts to ignore them.

There was some coverage on TV news, and the odd online article, but when the Sydney Morning Herald managed to give coverage to the St Patrick's Day parade in its hard copy, but not the larger, 10,000-strong March in March protest, it was merely mimicking mainstream papers across the country.

Understandably, this caused a bit of anger. Enter Jacqueline Maley, who wrote a self described “small (and, in hindsight, rather sniffy and unkind) report” for the SMH website.

Maley wrote: “The lack of coverage of March in March probably had something to do with the fact that, like so much left-wing protest, it was unfocused.”

But it was not unfocused. It was focused quite clearly against Tony Abbott's government. The hint may have been in the call out by organisers to protest Tony Abbott's government.

But fair enough, the St Patrick's Day parade that the SMH saw fit to publicise was clearly focused on just one issue: getting drunk.

Well, getting drunk and wearing green, so that's two things. OK, getting drunk, wearing green and pretending to be Irish. So three things, but three things easy to comprehend for an audience which SMH apparently believes is so feeble-minded it lacks the intellectual capacity to cope with protesters raising more than one injustice at a time.

The reason March in March raised so many issues is because Abbott's government has launched attacks on so many things. If Maley wants protests against Abbott to stick to one issue, rather than criticise protesters, she’d better ask Abbott to kindly refrain from kicking the shit out of more than one sector at any given time.

Maley complained: “The speakers and protesters had a grab-bag of complaints, from asylum-seeker policy to gay marriage to fair trade.”

Yes. That would be because these are all issues about which Abbott is really pissing people off. The implication is they are somehow not connected, but they quite clearly are — if only because the same people are responsible.

This might suggest there might be a reason the same people who are responsible for, say, policies destroying the Great Barrier Reef, are also privatising health care, pushing a “free trade deal” and demonising asylum seekers.

This is a government committed to serving corporate interests — the beneficiaries of expanding coal exports at the expense of the environment, or attacking workers' rights, or signing pro-corporate trade deals.

Asylum seekers make great scapegoats and a handy distraction — while also turning a buck for corporations contracted with taxpayers money to run the refugee prisons.

You cannot simply separate out the issues people raised at March in March. They are bound up with the same problem — this government serves a tiny corporate elite, not the people.

Had Maley stopping sniffing and tried listening, she would have realised that is why so many people are so fucking angry.

From GLW issue 1003