Last Wednesday’s Dallas Brooks Hall meeting of union delegates was the first in what will probably be a national campaign aimed at generating opposition to Howard’s attacks. Approximately two thousand attended.
Michele O’Neil, Secretary, Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union, introduced Bob Hawke who then launched into a Nuremberg rally speech “ staring into the middle distance, clawed hand raised. Oh the pathos! (oh what a show pony). Naturally, he was heckled: an old bloke from behind yelled ‘Get off … you were the ones that deregistered the BLF it was you who stuffed us up in the first place … you’ve had your day…’ Hawke was flummoxed momentarily, but ultimately received the applause you’d expect (and then made the quick exit you’d expect “ an appointment in Burma?) Leigh Hubbard, the outgoing secretary of the Victorian Trades Hall Council, was left to extend his/our thanks to the great man, and also give the mildest rebuke to the Bay 13 crowd “ ‘Ex-PM’s don’t have to support us ‘
The best of the low-lights was yet to come, and it occurred during the musical interlude. Eddie Perfect was introduced as Max Gillies’ offsider and the best rising talent in Australia (round of applause). I can attest to this, having seen the show Gillies and he perform, The Big Con, the week before. Their attacks on leading right-wing personalities (Howard, Bolt, Abbott et al) were as brilliant as they were merciless. Eddie, that night, was simply breathtaking. I felt then that the emergence of such a young and caustic left-wing performer bode well maybe he’s representative of a new breed (?).
Eddie Perfect at eddieperfect.com
But no! Eddie’s choice of song for a hall full of grumpy unionists? ‘How I want to juice the juice bar girl’. Some of the more ‘interesting’ lyrics in this love song: ‘I want to chop her up’, ‘I wonder what colour she’d be when liquefied’, ‘I thought she looked like my ex girlfriend but, nah, she was a fucking whore’, ‘I want to cut her up in little pieces’, ‘I know it’s sort of wrong but I want to kill her’ etc. etc. I walked out just as the yelling from female unionists began: surprise, surprise, they objected not only to the misogyny inherent in the lyrics, but also to Perfect taking the piss out of twenty year old casuals. When I came back a few minutes later Eddie was stalled mid-song trying to explain to the hecklers that ‘it’s just a joke song … and that, hey, it’s really all about that corporate crap’. He resumed, only this time adding an exaggerated ‘and her/she’ to every line that figured a ‘him’ or a ‘his’. Damned feminists just don’t get the irony.
Good one Eddie (it was at this point that I realized how stoopid his gelled hair looked “ where had he parked his skate board, I wondered) Chocolates to boiled lollies or what? Should we forgive the boy? I suppose. Should we forgive the nong who briefed him on what to expect? That’s a tougher call.
Normal business resumed with a speech from Leigh Hubbard. I felt for him when his PowerPoint presentation went skew-whiff. The slide set had a mind of its own, and Hubbard had to go to the rescue of his off-stage techy. ‘No, no go one forward, now back, now two ahead’. What detracted also was the projection of a messy Microsoft Windows desktop onto the big screen above, with a berserk cursor desperately whizzing about searching for the right target. Enter Greg Combet, ACTU Secretary, and his encouraging outline of a national campaign strategy based, in part, on community wide involvement. Martin Kingham, Secretary of the Construction Division of the CFMEU in Victoria, followed. He was his usual Shakespearean self “ Hamlet or Richard III? “ part troubled, part menacing. There’s nothing stylish or pretty about him, but by geez he’s inspiring.
We then heard those who wanted to speak to the motion. Readers would know that this is an especially testing time for anyone itching to just go home. It’s generally a time for motherhood statements from those who love the grab-a-microphone-and-bark-at-a-captive-audience-while-shaking-your-fist thing. But as it was these speakers weren’t half bad. I was especially taken by an imposing deep sea fisherman look-alike who stepped up and, in his magnificent Cornish accent, told us this was to be our generation’s big scrap; that this campaign was to be our moment. Nice.
The person seated next to me was also an inspiration. She said she’d never been to such a grand union meeting. She was a shop steward in a fruit processing plant in Cranbourne (no bed of roses, I thought), and had had a bugger of a time getting parking. She was a mid thirties, no-frills rough-nut, committed, and there because she knew that the shit was about to hit the fan. And, of course, there was Sue. I reckon her speech from the main stage resulted in 2000 throat lumps. A Mildura based mushroom picker; one who had never had anything to do with unions; who was sacked, along with others, when she refused to sign an AWA; who reluctantly consulted a union; who then fought like buggery and won her/their jobs back; and who was there just to say that no matter how we’re portrayed, we’re fighting an unavoidable and necessary fight.
Throughout, I was reminded of past musings. While we sat at the Australian Industrial Relations Commission about a year earlier, a friend referred to the slick legal counsel representing an obnoxious (semi) government instrumentality as ‘lazy bastards’, arguing that ‘even though they’ve the money and all the resources in the world, they often buckle under pressure because they don’t really give a rat’s about what they’re doing’. She was saying, in other words, that commitment to a cause gives us a crucial edge over polished, stage managed, and pampered spruikers. Too true I thought (but how come we keep losing?). Who cares about flash PowerPoint presentations anyway? Here’s to a no-frills, rough-around-the-edges, don’t-worry-about-appearances, campaign.
It also brought to mind the sage advice of an acquaintance “ a professor of labour and globalization theory. Stroking his chin, narrowing his eyes to a near squint, he offered me the kernel of a lifetime’s intellectual endeavour: ‘Never forget…’ he said ‘…it’s ok to hate “ and I mean really hate “ the [corporate criminal]bastards’. I reckon he was spot on: it’s a certain kind of hate that drives the best of us, and that is needed if we’re to match little ‘four-eyes’ and his cronies in the months to come.
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