We had an impressive lineup of three speakers, on the general topic of retired unionist groups and how to engage their membership.
Mary Yeager (Unions NSW). Mary worked with Todd Pinkerton on the Federal Marginal Electorates Campaign. She spoke about the value of retired unionists groups and is keen to learn more about how the Vintage Reds operates and the range of issues we get involved with, including State/ Territory and Federal elections. She sees real value in working at the local level and in getting more local VR type groups formed in many areas of Australia. Her current focus is on helping to organise groups in the Blue Mountains, Central Coast, and Robertson.
Janine Kitson (Combined Union Retirees) outlined the work she is undertaking with Mary to refresh and expand the scope of current and emerging retire unionists groups, and to get them to work in a more activist role.
Todd Pinkerton (Unions NSW) thanked the Vintage Reds members who were active during the lead up to the recent Federal elections, especially in the Gilmore and Eden-Monaro electorates. Unions NSW wanted to pursue engaging retired unionists groups in future union campaigns: promoting fair pay, job security and working conditions.
There followed a comprehensive discussion about what the VR had to offer, their campaigning experiences and what worked during the recent elections. Critical issues were raised including some historic information about campaigns in Eden-Monaro working for the 2007 ‘Your Rights at Work’ Campaign. That campaign was well resourced by the ACTU; in Eden-Monaro the ALP Candidate Mike Kelly was elected. It was important for VR activists not to represent a political party when campaigning with unions. A good letter writing campaign and door knocking worked well and gave the campaign more of a local presence – Kelly picked up 4 booths in Eden-Monaro that had not gone to the ALP in the previous election.
Dr John Falzon is well known, in particular for his role as national CEO of St Vincent de Paul from 2006 to 2018. He is a social justice advocate and a member of the Australian Services Union. A man of many talents; on this occasion he joined us to speak about the housing crisis. We also took the opportunity to discuss with him the election outcome.
…You can’t keep society going without working people. We’ve noticed that the people we tend to refer to as ‘essential’ are often actually amongst the lowest paid and the most insecurely employed. We’ve noticed that you can’t do public health if you haven’t ensured that people have safe housing. And that if we can’t expect someone who has just lost their job due to the pandemic to live below the poverty line on JobSeeker, then how can we expect anyone else to?
Tom is an old friend of the Vintage Reds and we were delighted to hear him speak on his recent book (published last month) which he has co-authored with Chris Bonnor, Waiting for Gonski: How Australia Failed its Schools. (photo courtesy of Canberra Writers Festival)
Here we must confess with regret that notes from this Vintage Reds meeting have not survived. In their absence, here are two reviews of this excellent book:
“There was plenty of excitement across the political divide when the Gonski review into educational funding was released in February 2012.
Led by businessman David Gonski, and commissioned by the then-Gillard Government, the review was designed to reform school funding and lift outcomes for less privileged students through a new needs-based funding model.
It contained 41 recommendations, including an increase of $5 billion per year to schools funding with one third of it to come from the Commonwealth, and a fairer funding framework, including a “per student” funding standard.
Ten years on, some are saying the Gonski review has failed and that, since it was commissioned, educational outcomes have gone backwards.
Vintage Reds were happy to welcome Roslyn to speak on the Disability Royal Commission.
Advocacy for Inclusion is a grassroots advocacy group, located in the Criffin Centre in Civic, providing individual and systemic advocacy, and training services, for people with a disability.
Roslyn is working with the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability, as an individual advocate for people with disabilities to encourage and enable them to make a submission to the Royal Commission. She outlined how this works and some of the difficulties faced by those wanting to make their views, experiences and advice heard.
The Royal Commission started its work in 2019, has six Commissioners and grew out of evidence of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation. The Terms of Reference are broad and the work has been extended to September 2023.
Roslyn’s presentation and her responses to questions were warmly received. There was some discussion about the overlap with the Aged Care Royal Commission.
Photo: Keegan Carroll, Canberra Times, July 2021: Advocacy for Inclusion policy officer Stacy Rheese, ACTCOSS head of policy Craig Wallace, Women with Disabilities ACT chief executive Kat Reed, & Mental Health Community Coalition boss Bec Cody.
Jane T introduced Dhani Gilbert, an indigenous activist and 2018 Young Canberran Citizen of the Year, who was also more recently named the 2021 ACT Young Woman of the Year. She spoke on the significance of NAIDOC Week.
Dhani is a Kalari Wiradjuri woman from central New South Wales. In this part of the country the main river systems are the Lachlan [Kalari], the Macquarie [Wambuul], and the Murrumbidgee; and then further south, the Murray [Milawa]. Dhani spent her childhood living on these traditional lands, and at the Tent Embassy in Canberra. Both her parents are activists and Dhani considers she has activism in her DNA!
Dhani is currently studying at the ANU, in her second year of a double degree in Science and Environmental Sustainability. She is also undertaking a certificate course in Indigenous Culture and Language through Charles Sturt University in Wagga. In her spare time, she is the co-chair of the Aboriginal Youth Advisory Council in the ACT!
This year’s theme for NAIDOC is “Heal Country”. Dhani discussed First Nations ways of caring for country. Theirs are the best ways to manage the Australian landscape. Certain landscapes require particular inputs to thrive. The goal was to work within the landscape to maintain the ecology, especially the rich fauna. Dhani spoke of ‘cultural burning’ vs ‘hazard reduction’ and bushfire, as an example of traditional management of country. ‘Cultural burning’ is a ‘cool burn’ which preserves seeds, allows for green shoot regeneration and provides escape routes for animals. Bushfires are ‘hot burns’, destroying all before them and providing little means of escape for animals, and little feed for those animals which do survive. Like the land, Dhani noted that First Nations people have a lot of resilience.
Dhani spoke of ‘seven generations planning’ – important in today’s decision making, as decisions made today will impact seven generations down the line – good or bad.
Jane welcomed Matthew Harrison (Secretary, UnionsACT) who spoke on Injured Workers.
Matt started with an overview of occupational health and safety (OH&S), a very important part of the union movement. Unfortunately the data don’t give a good picture of what’s happening. Bosses are still behaving badly and putting profits before people’s welfare. The data are hard to find, and hard to line up to make use of. [Jane: Worksafe Australia used to keep data.]
The most recent data come from 2019. Only deaths at work are counted; not deaths to and from work, or by natural causes at work, including cancers or suicide (a particular concern of the CPSU). Most deaths are men, and blue collar jobs predominate. The age group most at risk is 55-64, followed by 45-54. There were no workplace deaths in the ACT in 2019; some since. Nationally there were 43 deaths. The NT and Tasmania have low rates; NSW has the most.
Transport is the area with most deaths (including postal workers and warehousing); vehicles in general were a huge source of injuries and deaths.
There are big holes in the system: people are scared to report an injury; people are told by their boss that a report would prevent promotion; non-English-speaking people are oblivious to risk they can’t read about; there are bad OH&S practices everywhere. Injuries which keep people from work less than 5 days are not reported; but this can be a serious injury all the same. And mental stress is of course extremely under-reported.
Professor Amin Saikal is a specialist on the politics, history, political economy and international relations of the Middle East and Central Asia. He has been a Visiting Fellow at Princeton University, Cambridge University and the Institute of Development Studies (University of Sussex), as well as a Rockefeller Foundation Fellow in International Relations (1983-1988). In April 2006, he was appointed Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for service to the international community and to education, and as an author and adviser.
Jane welcomed Amin, who spoke to us in the Tradies’ Club dining room.
Amin’s summary of his talk: The US, Iran and the Gulf
The Joe Biden administration faces numerous domestic and foreign policy challenges. On the external front, one of them is how to deal with Iran. Biden has indicated the reduction of tension between the two sides, which had been inflamed by Donald Trump, as a priority. Yet, both parties have serious demands, which will make the process of reaching a mutual accommodation of interests arduous, but not necessarily insurmountable.
The main points of concern for Washington are Iran’s nuclear program, missile capability and regional influence. Spurred on by these issues and by like-minded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and some Gulf state leaders, especially Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Mohammad bin Salman, Trump pursued a policy of ‘maximum pressure’ and nurtured an Arab–Israeli front against Iran. He demanded a renegotiation of the 2015 multilateral Iran nuclear agreement (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA), a signature achievement of his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama. Trump cancelled America’s participation in the JCPOA, imposed crippling sanctions on Iran, beefed up US military deployment in the Gulf and threatened Iran with ‘obliteration’.
As could have been expected, Tehran remained totally defiant. In retaliation, it withdrew some of its commitments to the JCPOA, and accelerated its uranium enrichment.
However, Trump’s approach failed to produce any positive results. While sharing Trump’s concerns, Biden wants to de-escalate tensions with Iran. In so doing, he would remove a sore point in America’s relations with three traditional European allies and signatories to the JCPOA—Britain, France and Germany, which have strongly wished to see the continuation of the agreement—and focus more on Russia and China as the main diplomatic and strategic battlegrounds.
Jane introduced our Guest Speaker, Dr Elizabeth Reid, who spoke on the topic “A Feminist Perspective: Trans Issues”. Elizabeth is a well-known Canberra-based feminist and academic, and a proud member of the Vintage Reds.
photo: www.abc.net.au, 2020
Her talk was followed by a lively discussion. Here is Elizabeth’s paper which was the basis for her talk:
Notes for A Feminist Perspective on Trans Issues
The relationship between feminist and transgender politics and theory is surprisingly fraught, especially in the USA and the UK.
Transgender activists may insist on the introduction of regulations governing the use of pronouns, especially in universities and government bureaucracies, demand access to women’s facilities, such as women’s toilets and changing rooms, and/or demand to participate in events organised exclusively for women (sporting, musical, etc.).
The relationship is becoming increasingly oppositional in Australia also, as can be seen, for example, on placards that read ‘Trans women ARE women’.
This is not a recent tension. As far back as 1973, Robin Morgan said in a speech:
I will not call a male ‘she’; thirty-two years of suffering in this androcentric society, and of surviving, have earned me the title ‘woman’; one walk down the street by a male transvestite, five minutes of his being hassled (which he may enjoy), and then he dares to think he understands our pain? No, in our mothers’ names and in our own, we must not call him sister.
Yet, trans women say they are women because they ‘feel female’, that they have ‘a man’s body but a woman’s brain’, because they are women ‘trapped in a man’s body’.
One trans woman said to me: ‘If men were allowed to be pretty, I probably would not have transited’.
This is how they make gendered sense of themselves.
Some of the key terms and issues in this tension will be outlined and discussed.
For a whole year from mid-2019 to mid-2020, Hong Kong was rocked by mass demonstrations and street violence.
At its height, two million out of Hong Kong’s population of seven million marched in a huge demonstration against a proposed extradition bill. The international press heavily covered the mass protests; but what the press has not covered is the birth of a new trade union movement from within this political and social movement.
The protests, and the new unions, were led by a generation born a few years before and after 1997, the year when China gained sovereignty over Hong Kong, a British colony for 150 years. Hong Kong was to be governed by a constitution known as the Basic Law, which guaranteed that for the next fifty years Hong Kong’s neoliberal capitalist system and civil liberties would not be tampered with by China’s authoritarian regime.
It did not turn out this way. In the past two decades China gradually began to intervene in Hong Kong politically, instigating increasing resistance from the Hong Kong populace in the form of mass rallies. This led to the Umbrella Revolution of 2014 in which the central business district was occupied for months by protestors. When it was suppressed, the protesters left behind a huge banner declaring “We’ll Be Back!”
John is a retired ANU history department academic whose PhD was a history of the Federated Ironworkers Association. He was a foundation member of the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History. He has written on the AWU and on the topic of Strikes; and a more recent work is Losing Ground: Grazing in the Snowy Mountains, 1944-1969.
In the 1950s and 1960s, all Australian universities taught labour history. But by the early 1970s, this was no longer true. Why had it been so popular? Why did it then decline?
A few things should be mentioned about the popularity of labour history in these years.
In 1930 W.K. Hancock wrote a short history of Australia, in which he characterised Labor parties as parties of “initiative”, and conservative parties as parties of “resistance”. In the 1940s and 1950s, Labor was seen to be leading the way into the future.
Secondly, Robin Gollan arrived at the ANU’s Research School of Social Sciences [in 1953], an ex-Communist Party member; and later the author of Radical & Working Class Politics (1960). Lots of students wanted to work with him.
And thirdly, Robert Menzies established Commonwealth Scholarships [in 1951], which enabled a lot of people to go to university who might not have been able to otherwise. For people of working-class background, labour history was partly their own family history.