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Contact me at: josken1_at_pacific_net_au

7 JANUARY 2010

« How about Israeli Jews can imagine working with Arabs in partnership? Sydney Morning Herald covers Gaza Freedom March »

Cairo declaration: end Israeli apartheid

Published on 3 January 2010

The Gaza Freedom March (GFM) is over but the following declaration, led by South African trade unionists, has been issued globally and is a clear plan for future actions.

Although drafted by delegates from the GFM, its aim is far more ambitious. I encourage readers to read it, sign it and get involved. One of the strengths of the GFM was the hugely international nature of the event, drawing in various groups who want action on Palestine. We didn’t all agree, of course, and nobody even talked about one-state or two-state as a possible outcome. It was more focused on removing Israeli impunity and highlighting the urgent need for bringing Israel to its senses. That won’t happen, in my view, by simply hoping for the best.

Here’s the statement:

End Israeli Apartheid

Cairo Declaration

January 1, 2010

We, international delegates meeting in Cairo during the Gaza Freedom March 2009 in collective response to an initiative from the South African delegation, state:

In view of:
o Israel’s ongoing collective punishment of Palestinians through the illegal occupation and siege of Gaza;
o the illegal occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the continued construction of the illegal Apartheid Wall and settlements;
o the new Wall under construction by Egypt and the US which will tighten even further the siege of Gaza;
o the contempt for Palestinian democracy shown by Israel, the US, Canada, the EU and others after the Palestinian elections of 2006;
o the war crimes committed by Israel during the invasion of Gaza one year ago;
o the continuing discrimination and repression faced by Palestinians within Israel;
o and the continuing exile of millions of Palestinian refugees;
o all of which oppressive acts are based ultimately on the Zionist ideology which underpins Israel;
o in the knowledge that our own governments have given Israel direct economic, financial, military and diplomatic support and allowed it to behave with impunity;
o and mindful of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (2007)

We reaffirm our commitment to:

Palestinian Self-Determination
Ending the Occupation
Equal Rights for All within historic Palestine
The full Right of Return for Palestinian refugees

We therefore reaffirm our commitment to the United Palestinian call of July 2005 for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) to compel Israel to comply with international law.

To that end, we call for and wish to help initiate a global mass, democratic anti-apartheid movement to work in full consultation with Palestinian civil society to implement the Palestinian call for BDS.

Mindful of the many strong similarities between apartheid Israel and the former apartheid regime in South Africa, we propose:

1) An international speaking tour in the first 6 months of 2010 by Palestinian and South African trade unionists and civil society activists, to be joined by trade unionists and activists committed to this programme within the countries toured, to take mass education on BDS directly to the trade union membership and wider public internationally;

2) Participation in the Israeli Apartheid Week in March 2010;

3) A systematic unified approach to the boycott of Israeli products, involving consumers, workers and their unions in the retail, warehousing, and transportation sectors;

4) Developing the Academic, Cultural and Sports boycott;

5) Campaigns to encourage divestment of trade union and other pension funds from companies directly implicated in the Occupation and/or the Israeli military industries;

6) Legal actions targeting the external recruitment of soldiers to serve in the Israeli military, and the prosecution of Israeli government war criminals; coordination of Citizen’s Arrest Bureaux to identify, campaign and seek to prosecute Israeli war criminals; support for the Goldstone Report and the implementation of its recommendations;

7) Campaigns against charitable status of the Jewish National Fund (JNF).

We appeal to organisations and individuals committed to this declaration to sign it and work with us to make it a reality.

Please e-mail us at:

Signed by:
(* Affiliation for identification purposes only.)
1. Hedy Epstein, Holocaust Survivor/ Women in Black*, USA
2. Nomthandazo Sikiti, Nehawu, Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), Affiliate International Officer*, South Africa
3. Zico Tamela, Satawu, Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) Affiliate International Officer*, South Africa
4. Hlokoza Motau, Numsa, Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) Affiliate International Officer*, South Africa
5. George Mahlangu, Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) Campaigns Coordinator*, South Africa
6. Crystal Dicks, Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) Education Secretary*, South Africa
7. Savera Kalideen, SA Palestinian Solidarity Committee*, South Africa
8. Suzanne Hotz, SA Palestinian Solidarity Group*, South Africa
9. Shehnaaz Wadee, SA Palestinian Solidarity Alliance*, South Africa
10. Haroon Wadee, SA Palestinian Solidarity Alliance*, South Africa
11. Sayeed Dhansey, South Africa
12. Faiza Desai, SA Palestinian Solidarity Alliance*, South Africa
13. Ali Abunimah, Electronic Intifada*, USA
14. Hilary Minch, Ireland Palestine Solidarity Committee*, Ireland
15. Anthony Loewenstein, Australia
16. Sam Perlo-Freeman, United Kingdom
17. Julie Moentk, Pax Christi*, USA
18. Ulf Fogelström, Sweden
19. Ann Polivka, Chico Peace and Justice Center*, USA
20. Mark Johnson, Fellowship of Reconciliation*, USA
21. Elfi Padovan, Munich Peace Committee*/Die Linke*, Germany
22. Elizabeth Barger, Peace Roots Alliance*/Plenty I*, USA
23. Sarah Roche-Mahdi, CodePink*, USA
24. Svetlana Gesheva-Anar, Bulgaria
25. Cristina Ruiz Cortina, Al Quds-Malaga*, Spain
26. Rachel Wyon, Boston Gaza Freedom March*, USA
27. Mary Hughes-Thompson, Women in Black*, USA
28. David Letwin, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN)*, USA
29. Jean Athey, Peace Action Montgomery*, USA
30. Gael Murphy, Gaza Freedom March*/CodePink*, USA
31. Thomas McAfee, Journalist/PC*, USA
32. Jean Louis Faure, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN)*, France
33. Timothy A King, Christians for Peace and Justice in the Middle East*, USA
34. Gail Chalbi, Palestine/Israel Justice Project of the Minnesota United Methodist Church*, USA
35. Ouahib Chalbi, Palestine/Israel Justice Project of the Minnesota United Methodist Church*, USA
36. Greg Dropkin, Liverpool Friends of Palestine*, England
37. Felice Gelman, Wespac Peace and Justice New York*/Gaza Freedom March*, USA
38. Ron Witton, Australian Academic Union*, Australia
39. Hayley Wallace, Palestine Solidarity Committee*, USA
40. Norma Turner, Manchester Palestine Solidarity Campaign*, England
41. Paula Abrams-Hourani, Women in Black (Vienna)*/ Jewish Voice for Just Peace in the Middle East*, Austria
42. Mateo Bernal, Industrial Workers of the World*, USA
43. Mary Mattieu, Collectif Urgence Palestine*, Switzerland
44. Agneta Zuppinger, Collectif Urgence Palestine*, Switzerland
45. Ashley Annis, People for Peace*, Canada
46. Peige Desgarlois, People for Peace*, Canada
47. Hannah Carter, Canadian Friends of Sabeel*, Canada
48. Laura Ashfield, Canadian Friends of Sabeel*, Canada
49. Iman Ghazal, People for Peace*, Canada
50. Filsam Farah, People for Peace*, Canada
51. Awa Allin, People for Peace*, Canada
52. Cleopatra McGovern, USA
53. Miranda Collet, Spain
54. Alison Phillips, Scotland
55. Nicholas Abramson, Middle East Crisis Response Network*/Jews Say No*, USA
56. Tarak Kauff, Middle East Crisis Response Network*/Veterans for Peace*, USA
57. Jesse Meisler-Abramson, USA
58. Hope Mariposa, USA
59. Ivesa Lübben. Bremer Netzwerk fur Gerechten Frieden in Nahost*, Germany
60. Sheila Finan, Mid-Hudson Council MERC*, USA
61. Joanne Lingle, Christians for Peace and Justice in the Middle East (CPJME)*, USA
62. Barbara Lubin, Middle East Children’s Alliance*, USA
63. Josie Shields-Stromsness, Middle East Children’s Alliance*, USA
64. Anna Keuchen, Germany
65. Judith Mahoney Pasternak, WRL* and Indypendent*, USA
66. Ellen Davidson, New York City Indymedia*, WRL*, Indypendent*, USA
67. Ina Kelleher, USA
68. Lee Gargagliano, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (Chicago)*, USA
69. Brad Taylor, OUT-FM*, USA
70. Helga Mankovitz, SPHR (Queen’s University)*, Canada
71. Mick Napier, Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign*, Scotland
72. Agnes Kueng, Paso Basel*, Switzerland
73. Anne Paxton, Voices of Palestine*, USA
74. Leila El Abtah, The Netherlands
75. Richard, Van der Wouden, The Netherlands
76. Rafiq A. Firis, P.K.R.*/Isra*, The Netherlands
77. Sandra Tamari, USA
78. Alice Azzouzi, Way to Jerusalem*, USA
79. J’Ann Schoonmaker Allen, USA
80. Ruth F. Hooke, Episcopalian Peace Fellowship*, USA
81. Jean E. Lee, Holy Land Awareness Action Task Group of United Church of Canada*, Canada
82. Delphine de Boutray, Association Thèâtre Cine*, France
83. Sylvia Schwarz, USA
84. Alexandra Safi, Germany
85. Abdullah Anar, Green Party – Turkey*, Turkey
86. Ted Auerbach, USA
87. Martha Hennessy, Catholic Worker*, USA
88. Louis Ultale, Interfaile Pace e Bene*, USA
89. Leila Zand, Fellowship of Reconciliation*, USA
90. Emma Grigore, CodePink*, USA
91. Sammer Abdelela, New York Community of Muslim Progressives*, USA
92. Sharat G. Lin, San Jose Peace and Justice Center*, USA
93. Katherine E. Sheetz, Free Gaza*, USA
94. Steve Greaves, Free Gaza*, USA
95. Trevor Baumgartner, Free Gaza*, USA
96. Hanan Tabbara, USA
97. Marina Barakatt, CodePink*, USA
98. Keren Bariyov, USA
99. Ursula Sagmeister, Women in Black – Vienna*, Austria
100. Ann Cunningham, Australia
101. Bill Perry, Delaware Valley Veterans for Peace*, USA
102. Terry Perry, Delaware Valley Veterans for Peace*, USA
103. Athena Viscusi, USA
104. Marco Viscusi, USA
105. Paki Wieland, Northampton Committee*, USA
106. Manijeh Saba, New York / New Jersey, USA
107. Ellen Graves, USA
108. Zoë Lawlor, Ireland – Palestine Solidarity Campaign*, Ireland
109. Miguel García Grassot, Al Quds – Málaga*, Spain
110. Ana Mamora Romero, ASPA-Asociacion Andaluza Solidaridad y Paz*, Spain
111. Ehab Lotayef, CJPP Canada*, Canada
112. David Heap, London Anti-War*, Canada
113. Adie Mormech, Free Gaza* / Action Palestine*, England
114. Aimee Shalan, UK
115. Liliane Cordova, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN)*, Spain
116. Priscilla Lynch, USA
117. Jenna Bitar, USA
118. Deborah Mardon, USA
119. Becky Thompson, USA
120. Diane Hereford, USA
121. David Heap, People for Peace London*, Canada
122. Donah Abdulla, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights*, Canada
123. Wendy Goldsmith, People for Peace London*, Canada
124. Abdu Mihirig, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights-UBC*, Canada
125. Saldibastami, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights-UBC*, Canada
126. Abdenahmane Bouaffad, CMF*, France
127. Feroze Mithiborwala, Awami Bharat*, India
128. John Dear, Pax Christi*, USA

11 FEBRUARY 2010

This article was in The Age newspaper:

Unions must leave Labor


Know your rights free advice 7 daysAustralia wide call us 1300 766 700

In 1972, Gough Whitlam changed Australian politics forever with the mantra ''It's time''. Today, the same slogan should apply to Australia's unions, because it is time for them to break away from the Australian Labor Party and stand independently for what they believe is right.

There's a great unspoken truth in Australia's labor movement now and if it is not tackled soon the future of this country's unions as the effective political voice of the workers is in serious jeopardy.

Everyone will remember Tracey, the highly stressed working mother who featured in the ACTU ''Your Rights at Work'' TV ads. Well, Tracey, if you still work in a workplace with fewer than 15 employees you can still be sacked unfairly and, worse, your basic award conditions have been reduced under Julia Gillard's ''modernisation'' program.

A new relationship between the ALP and unions that is based on mutual respect is desperately needed. In Scandinavia, unions and the Social Democrats have an alliance, not affiliation.

In the United States, unions largely support the Democrats and their campaigning and finance are critical, though they have no affiliation mechanism. They effectively lobby Republican politicians on many issues and some unions actively support Republican candidates if they believe it is in their members' interests.

Our system differs but the principle remains. The union/Labor relationship has its history in the British model and if that's utopia for workers, I'll give it a miss.

Too often, despite the theatre, both Labor and the Liberals now look to the polls rather than their party conferences for policymaking. There can be no more glowing example than that of industrial relations policy. Labor has effectively adopted most of the Howard government's IR policy, and rebadged it, and refers to it as ''Fair Work''. But in reality, big business and their representatives have had unprecedented access to Labor and are delighted with the results. Even Howard's Building Industry Taskforce has been retained, to the delight of multimillionaire builders and developers.

I well remember when John Howard ushered in the 1996 Workplace Relations Act. Peter Reith was industrial relations minister and the ACTU denounced the legislation as the ultimate, anti-worker evil. Union anger was at boiling point and Reith was demonised at every turn. Now there is a deafening silence from the ACTU as Labor governs and workers' rights and conditions are attacked.

The truth is that Howard's laws at the time, as bad as they were, gave workers and their unions a much better go than Rudd and Gillard's Fair Work Act. When Howard controlled the Senate, he then took it too far and paid the ultimate political price.

During the recent Senate inquiry into the Fair Work Bill, the ACTU refused to buy into the debate that the bill contained many breaches of human rights as defined by Australia's international obligations under International Labour Organisation conventions. If the ACTU is so severely compromised by the ALP relationship that it can't stand up and fight for basic workers rights, then something is seriously wrong.

Belatedly, after the Fair Work Bill had become legislation, the ACTU has identified 15 serious breaches of human rights and has said that, ''on balance'', the Fair Work Act met Australia's ILO obligations. Australian workers have every right to feel let down.

Membership numbers have declined and so too has the influence of the ACTU, which has refused to adopt a policy that is at odds with the ALP and this strategy simply hasn't delivered.

The challenge for unions is simple - create unions that workers want to join. The financial membership of the Victorian branch of the Electrical Trades Union has grown every year since 1995 despite the huge job losses through electricity privatisation, manufacturing decline and bad IR laws. Unions such as the Nurses Federation and Police Association have had large growth too; neither are affiliated with the ALP in Victoria. Significantly, we have close to 2000 apprentices under the age of 25 as members.

Many workers are sceptical that ALP affiliation is too often a mechanism to ensure pre-selection to a safe Labor seat for a few union leaders and they rightly ask, to what end? I've seen too many union leaders who think the ALP is the ''main game'' and spend most of their time wheeling and dealing in the ugly factional process. I'll admit, I've done my bit too, but I've always known that a union's mission is looking after workers, not preselection.

Unions must act strategically. That may include backing independents and parties that care about the interests of ordinary working people.

Collectively, unions represent close to 2 million Australian's directly as members; we act to protect millions more. We proved with the ''Your Rights at Work'' campaign that we can be Australia's most powerful lobby group.

By remaining affiliated with the ALP, unions are automatically the enemy of the Liberals and National Party and I seriously question if their stance on trade unions would be as severe if unions were not an intrinsic part of their political rival.

I'm not anti-Labor, far from it. It is my hope that unions and the ALP always have a good working relationship in the continued interests of Australia and working people. However, relationships change, evolve, collapse and rearrange, it's part of life and so too must the relationship change between Labor and unions for the betterment of both.

Dean Mighell is Victorian branch secretary of the Electrical Trades Union.

12 MAY 2010

MEDIA RELEASE- from Australian Bureau of Statistics
May 12, 2010
Embargo: 11.30 am (Canberra time)

Trade Union Membership increases

The proportion of employees who were trade union members in their main job increased from 19% to 20% over the year to August 2009, according to figures released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). This represents 1.8 million trade union members in their main job, a rise of 82,200 from the previous year.

There were an additional 73,100 employees who were members of a trade union although not in relation to their main job. Of the total 1.9 million employees who were members of a trade union (not necessarily in relation to their main job), 63% had been a trade union member for 5 years or more, compared with 10% who had been a trade union member for less than one year.

There were 1.5 million employees who were not a trade union member, but had previously been a trade union member. Of these, 77% hadn't been a trade union member for at least 5 years. A further 6 million (64%) employees had never been a trade union member.

Other findings on trade union membership in main job included:

* the industry with the highest proportion of male employees who were trade union members in their main job was Public administration and safety (46%), while for female employees it was the Education and training industry (41%).
* the occupation group with the highest proportion of male employees who were trade union members in their main job was Community and personal service workers (35%), while for female employees it was Professionals (34%).

More details are available in Employee Earnings, Benefits and Trade Union Membership, Australia, August 2009 (cat. no. 6310.0).

Media Notes:
Please ensure when reporting on ABS data that you attribute the Australian Bureau of Statistics (or the ABS) as the source.

14 MAY 2010

Angry blue-collar union considers spurning ALP


ONE of Australia's most powerful blue-collar unions is pushing to break its 108-year links with Labor, in what could be a financially damaging blow to the party in an election year.

Members of the Electrical Trades Union's Victorian branch will be polled next month on whether they support ending their affiliation with Labor, which would cost the party about $100,000 in annual fees.

The move comes amid rising anger from blue-collar unions at federal Labor's stance on workplace relations.

University of Adelaide law professor Andrew Stewart said there had been a number of disaffiliations from Labor in the 1950s split, but he could not recall any in recent decades.

He said unions were angry over Labor's ''extremely harsh'' laws on industrial action and the controversial powers of the building industry watchdog. ''There's no question whatsoever that there is a mismatch now between the political and industrial wings of the Labor party.''

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union's Victorian branch last month said it would back the Greens in the Senate, but it remains affiliated to Labor despite the union's anger over the failure to abolish the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

The Australian Electoral Commission will conduct the poll of about 16,000 paid-up ETU members.

Union state secretary Dean Mighell said Labor had kept too much of the Coalition's WorkChoices laws.

Mr Mighell pointed to a recent International Labour Organisation report and said Labor's Fair Work laws breached a number of ILO conventions around industrial action and through its failure to scrap the building industry watchdog.

The Senate has thwarted Labor's bid to abolish the watchdog and replace it with a new inspectorate that would retain a version of its controversial coercive interrogative powers.

If the ETU does split, the loss of affiliation fees would also hit state Labor despite Mr Mighell saying that the federal party was the real target and that John Brumby had done a good job.

He said the $100,000 in affiliation fees would be better spent on member services and the ETU would still, in some cases, back individual state and federal Labor candidates who were pro-worker. The flow of fees could stop as early as July.

While the ETU has backed Greens and independents in the past, it has maintained its Labor affiliation.

A recent poll of its members found about 50 per cent would vote Labor, about 10 per cent Green and about 25 per cent for the Coalition, with the rest undecided.

The question put to members would say the union's state council recommends the union disaffiliate from the ALP and ask members whether or not they support this. Voters will be provided with information for and against the question.

Mr Mighell said that while it was now ''unfashionable'' to talk about the right to strike or to pattern bargain, these were fundamental rights that had delivered big gains to the community, including superannuation and training.

Professor Stewart said the key question was whether other unions would follow the ETU if they did break with Labor. ''Is this just a straw in the wind, or a sign of a deeper malaise? Is it a sign of a deeper problem that the labour movement has with the Labor Party?''

23 MARCH 2011

This article was in MCV by a guest columnist:


By John Kloprogge 23 March 2011

One of the little known opponents of marriage equality in Australia is the retailers’ union – or the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Union (SDA).

The SDA – or “Shoppies Union” – is the largest trade union in Australia. It controls the largest voting bloc at Labor Party National Conferences, where major policies are decided.

It claims to represent every worker in the retail industry, including those at Coles, Woolies, Kmart, Target, Big W, David Jones, Myer and Bunnings. It also speaks for butchers, bakers, cleaners, hairdressers, call centre workers – and many more.

The union’s National Secretary – Joe de Bruyn – sits on Labor’s National Executive, which has a large say in determining candidates in federal elections.

Speaking on ABC Radio National in November last year, De Bruyn said Prime Minister Julia Gillard should have “killed off” the issue of same-sex marriage. Traditional marriage must be preserved, he said, “because this has been the way that it has been in the existence of the human race."

It would be easy for an outsider to conclude that Joe de Bruyn is simply representing the views of SDA members. But they would be wrong. Many SDA members are young people working at their local supermarket – and as last year’s Galaxy poll showed, 80 per cent of young people support marriage equality.

The union is seriously out of touch with its members. And it’s beginning to show. Facebook groups have popped up damning the SDA’s stance on marriage equality. SDA members marched in recent Equal Love rallies and spoke about the need for an internal revolt. And in Brisbane last month, a meeting was held by disgruntled members to start mobilising for change.

What can you do? If you’re a member of the SDA, speak to your store delegate. Stand for a delegate position. Vote in elections. If you’re not an SDA member, spread the word. Join the Facebook group “SDA members for same-sex marriage”. Contact me to stay updated with what’s happening.

John Kloprogge is a board member of Australian Marriage Equality and a member of Equal Love Canberra.

7 MAY 2011

This article was in The Age, Saturday 7 May 2011:

Union membership still on the slide

By Royce Millar and Ben Schneiders

THE long-term decline of unionism has resumed, with fewer than one in five Australians now union members.

After a small increase in the past two years, membership fell to just 18 per cent of the workforce in 2010, down from 20 per cent in 2009 and the lowest since reliable figures have been kept.

The renewed slump was despite an improving job market and Labor's softening of the former Howard government's anti-union workplace laws.

Unions had hoped that the replacement of the Coalition's WorkChoices with the Fair Work Act would allow unions to rebuild the membership. But Australian Bureau of Statistics figures released yesterday revealed just 1.8 million trade union members in their main job in 2010, a fall of 47,300 from the previous year.

In the traditional stronghold of the public sector, only four out of 10 workers are in a union. Only about one in seven private sector workers are members.

The ACTU said yesterday that the rate of unionism in the private sector - 14 per cent - had been maintained as the workforce grew.

ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence said members earned 12 per cent on average more than non-members.

''The reality is unions get results, demonstrated in the continued income advantage between union members and non-union members - union members earn on average $124 a week more than non-members,'' he said.

Mr Lawrence said unionism would also be important as workers faced uncertain economic times ahead.

The latest figures are a far cry from the postwar decades when more than half the workforce belonged to a union.

ABS figures show that two-thirds of union members had been a member for five years or more in 2010 compared with 10 per cent who had been a trade union member for less than one year.

15 MAY 2011

This article was in The Sunday Age, 15 May 2011:

Teacher union calls for end to religious classes

Michael Bachelard
May 15, 2011

VICTORIA'S teachers' union is calling for an end to religious education in state schools, increasing pressure on the Baillieu government over the controversial program.

The Victorian branch, representing 46,000 state school teachers, passed a resolution at its Friday council meeting calling for Special Religious Instruction during school hours to be scrapped.

Its resolution stated that public education must remain ''free and secular''.

The union's push was supported by three Victorian state school principals contacted by The Sunday Age, who said religious education - predominantly Christian in its focus - was often badly taught, sent the wrong message to students and was a waste of valuable classroom time.

The developments follow mounting criticism by parents, teachers and principals of the program, and damaging revelations about how it is administered and what is being taught . The union's resolution will increase pressure on the state government to shift religion classes to outside school hours and to make it an ''opt in'' choice for parents instead of the existing ''opt out'' process.

The union's resolution said public education ''should never be open to sectarian interests of any sort, religious or otherwise''.

''In light of this, the AEU [Australian Education Union] does not support the inclusion of Special Religious Instruction (SRI) in school time.''

It is the first time the union has adopted this as a formal policy. Union Victorian president Mary Bluett said the public controversy about the program, driven by reports in The Sunday Age and The Age, had made it timely to ''clarify our position''.

On Friday, The Age revealed that Access Ministries - which provides teachers in 96 per cent of the 70 per cent of schools that offer SRI - regarded the program as ''an open door to children'' for Christians to ''go and make disciples''.

Members of the union will meet Education Minister Martin Dixon on Tuesday to discuss the resolution and push for change.

Epping Primary School assistant principal Ed Heskett said even though he did not want the Christian volunteers from Access Ministries in his school, he had ''no control, none whatsoever''.

Epping primary has been offering the Christian course for 20 years.

But Mr Heskett said the ''narrow focus'' on Christianity was wrong, flying in the face of ''our multicultural, multi-belief society'', and that ''we occasionally have Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus sitting in RE classes''.

One religious instruction teacher he was supervising in the classroom had told the seven-year-old students ''Christians are the chosen people''.

''I was furious. I took the lady aside. She was very devout in her faith - which was an issue; as a teacher you have to be open-minded not closed-minded.

''And that same group is still teaching here because we don't have a leg to stand on.''

Don Howden, principal at Willowmavin Primary School north of Kilmore, said there was a ''real problem with the quality of the teachers''. ''We get misinformed people and the information they give kids varies so greatly from what we want,'' he said.

''They're very well meaning … but they don't have a knowledge of what they're dealing with and how to go about doing it … kids get very confused about it.''

Peter Martin, the principal of an inner-city school, said that, when surveyed, only about 10 per cent of parents at his school wanted religious instruction.

''The majority view amongst my [principal] colleagues … would be that the way it operates is an imposition on teachers, as it takes time away from an already crowded curriculum,'' he said.

21 NOVEMBER 2016

Article from The Age, 21 NOVEMBER 2016:

New Union to Challenge "Shoppies" After Massive Wages Scandal

By Ben Schneiders and Royce Millar

The cosy, decades-long relationship between Australia's largest employers and the Labor party's biggest industrial backer, faces an audacious challenge from a new retail union committed to boosting penalty rates for hundreds of thousands of workers.

The formation of the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union's (RAFFWU) is a response to a nation-wide wages scandal centred on workplace agreements by the conservative Shop, Distributive & Allied Employees Association with major employers including Coles, Woolworths and McDonald's.

The man who exposed Coles in his spare time

Meet Josh Cullinan, who, on nights and weekends, uncovered the widespread underpayment of Coles employees.

A 15-month Fairfax Media investigation revealed how the deals left more than 250,000 workers paid less than the award - the basic wages safety net - and saved big business more than an estimated $300 million a year.

The industrial researcher who helped unearth the wages scandal, Josh Cullinan, will unveil the new national union on Monday with the help of volunteers and supporters, including disenchanted SDA members.

"There's hundreds of millions of dollars being fleeced from these workers and we are sick of it," Mr Cullinan said. "The plan is for us to launch a strong successful union led by retail and fast food workers; they haven't had that for decades."

A serious challenge to the SDA would likely cause major ructions in the labour movement, with 'the shoppies' a major financial backer of the ACTU and Labor, and a powerful factional force which sponsors dozens of politicians across Australia.

Founded 108 years ago, the paternalistic SDA has been dominated since the early 1950s by a small Catholic cabal inspired by National Civic Council founder, Bob Santamaria.

From 1976 to 2014 it was run with an iron fist by national secretary Joe de Bruyn, the man Gough Whitlam famously dubbed "a Dutchman who hates dykes". He is now national president.

Michael Johnstone has stacked shelves and helped customers at Woolworths in Brunswick, has sounded out colleagues about joining the new union. Photo: Jason South

The SDA has played an important role in social and moral debates, slowing the progress towards same sex marriage and opposing abortion and euthanasia.

But the recent wages scandal has badly damaged its reputation in the labour movement and among its members.

For five years Michael Johnstone has stacked shelves and helped customers at Woolworths in Brunswick where he is also an SDA delegate.

He says he was disappointed to discover his union was actively opposed to same sex marriage. That disappointment deepened when he read that SDA-negotiated agreements had left his colleagues underpaid.

Mr Johnstone said he had already sounded out many workmates about joining a new union that stood up for members. "There's been a lot of positive response. They understand that no worker should be worse off under new union agreements."

Mr Johnstone said the SDA leadership had for decades resisted demands for change. "It's now in the hands of the workers. They now have a choice."

The building of a new national union from scratch is unheard of in the decades since the 1980s when mergers created mega unions and in an era where membership is near historic low levels.

An attempt by socialist activists to set up a rival to the SDA in the 2000s failed to gain traction.

Australia's unions are largely shielded from competition from that restricts them from encroaching on each other's areas of industry coverage.The SDA's response to the new union is likely to be fierce.

"We understand the task of organising these workers is immense," said Mr Cullinan. "The reality is, penalty rates are under attack, half a million retail and fast food workers (on SDA deals) have already had them taken off them."

The initial focus of the new union will be Coles, McDonald's and Woolworths, Australia's three largest employers. Under SDA agreements the companies pay either reduced penalty rates or, in the case of McDonald's, no weekend penalties.

In a landmark decision in May, that followed Fairfax revelations, the the full bench of the Fair Work commission found a Coles agreement with the SDA failed the crucial test that workers under enterprise agreements must be "better off overall" compared to the award.

Photo: Penny Stephens - Mr Cullinan (above) said that in workplaces where employees were paid less than the award the new union would demand employers immediately lift pay rates.

If they refuse to do so he said he expected members to demand the agreements be terminated.

The founders of the new union include Labor, Greens and socialist party members, and unaligned activists. Mr Johnstone said he did not support the new union having an affiliation to any political party. "I think that would distract us from looking after workers."

Union president will be Siobhan Kelly, a barrister who led the historic case against Coles, along with Mr Cullinan and Coles trolley operator Duncan Hart.

In its formative stage the union would be run by volunteers who would seek to sign thousands of financial members and use Pozible crowd-funding to raise funds for part-time organisers and offices in major cities.

"We know that's a big task and it will take time to build our union," said Mr Cullinan. "But we have a sector of a million workers; half a million of them are subject to exploitative enterprise agreements."

The new union won't at be first registered as a traditional union. Instead, it would register as a national organisation under the Corporations Act and as an incorporated association.

Mr Cullinan said this would allow it to act as a "robust and strong" union on behalf of members including through industrial action.

12 MAY 2017

Article from Mondoweiss:


Palestinian BDS National Committee

Members of BDS Norwary (BDS Norge) protest weapons sales to Israel in Oslo, 2016. (Photo: BDS Norway).

Today, the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), representing close to one million workers, endorsed a full boycott of Israel to achieve Palestinian rights under international law. LO is the largest and most influential umbrella organization of labor unions in Norway.

Commenting on this significant BDS victory in Norway, Riya Hassan, the Europe Campaigns Coordinator with the Palestinian BDS National Committee, said: The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC) salutes the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) for endorsing a full “international economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel” as a necessary means to achieve Palestinian fundamental rights, including the right of return for the refugees and equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel.

By courageously heeding the Palestinian BDS Call, issued by an absolute majority in Palestinian civil society in 2005, LO joins some of the world’s most important trade union federations, including South Africa’s COSATU, Brazil’s CUT, Quebec’s CSN and the IrishICTU, in calling for meaningful BDS pressure on the corporations and institutions that have enabled decades of Israeli occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid.

The BNC hopes to closely coordinate with Norwegian partners within LO, particularlyFagforbundet, to translate this new policy into effective measures of accountability at the academic, cultural and economic levels to uphold human rights and international law. We also call on LO to apply pressure on the Norwegian government to end all its military ties with Israel’s regime of oppression and to divest its sovereign fund from all companies that are complicit in Israel’s occupation and illegal settlement enterprise.

About Palestinian BDS National Committee:

The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) is the largest coalition in Palestinian civil society. It leads and supports the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. For more information, visit

Other posts by Palestinian BDS National Committee.
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17 MAY 2018

Article from The Age:

Charges against CFMEU pair dropped in blackmail case

By Nick McKenzie & Adam Carey

Prosecutors have dropped blackmail charges against militant Victorian construction union boss John Setka and his deputy, Shaun Reardon, in a major blow to the Coalition's battle against the union.

When Mr Setka, the CFMEU state secretary, was arrested while driving with his family near his North Melbourne home in 2015, it was the biggest scalp of the Coalition’s royal commission into unions.

Outside court, Mr Setka described the charges as a politically motivated witch-hunt. Photo: Justin McManus

But prosecutors on Wednesday withdrew the blackmail charges that Mr Setka and Mr Reardon faced, in a backdown raising serious questions about the decision to charge the two men.

The move also calls into question the credibility of the royal commission, called by then prime minister Tony Abbott in 2014.

On the steps of the Magistrates' Court on Wednesday, Mr Setka described the charges as a politically motivated witch-hunt intended to criminalise trade union activity.

He said the case against him and Mr Reardon was a conspiracy that at times involved Mr Abbott, Tasmanian senator Eric Abetz and former attorney-general in the Victorian Liberal government, Robert Clark.

“Our job is to preserve life, to make sure that our members go home to their families every night and that’s all we were trying to do,” he said.

John Setka outside court on Wednesday. Photo: Justin McManus

“They were trying to criminalise that.”

However, Jobs Minister Michaelia Cash said the withdrawal of charges was "absolutely not" an embarrassment for the trade union royal commission, and was a matter for Victoria police.

"At the end of the day, royal commissions provide evidence. The government responds to that evidence by way of implementing policy," Senator Cash said, citing the Turnbull government's restoration of the building and construction watchdog and Registered Organisations Commission.

However, sources connected to the prosecution were joined by union insiders questioning the conduct of Boral and its legal advisers, including the failure to provide material to the committal in a timely manner.

The decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions and police to withdraw the charges, announced on Wednesday morning, was partly based on the performance of two witnesses from construction company Boral during sustained cross-examination in a committal hearing that has been running for several days.

Police had alleged that Boral managers Paul Dalton and Peter Head were blackmailed by Mr Setka and Mr Reardon during a meeting at a café in April 2013, which was arranged by Boral.

The meeting came after the concrete firm had become the subject of a secondary boycott linked to the union’s fight with developer Grocon.

During the committal hearing, Mr Dalton faced intense questioning by defence barristers over his decision to destroy his original handwritten record of the meeting. Mr Dalton produced a scanned copy of his notes but faced intense scrutiny in court about why he had failed to retain the original version. A prosecution source described Mr Dalton's evidence as a '"train wreck."

Mr Head was grilled about whether he knew if Boral had called the meeting with the CFMEU in an attempt to strike a deal to end the union's targeting of Boral’s concrete trucks.

Blackmail charges have been dropped against Victorian construction union bosses John Setka and Shaun Reardon, who were accused of threatening Boral executives at a Melbourne cafe in 2013.

Outside court on Wednesday, the two union leaders were joined by their high-profile lawyer and Western Bulldogs president Peter Gordon.

Mr Gordon said the 2013 meeting had been distorted by Boral and its legal team, who, he said, deserved to face possible legal action themselves.

"It’s been exposed that neither of Boral’s men took the coffee shop conversation as any kind of threat at the time, did not view it as any kind of threat for over a year and after a year their recollection got changed,” Mr Gordon said.

Shaun Reardon Photo: Justin McManus

“It got changed only after various lawyers got involved, lawyers for Boral, lawyers for the ACCC, lawyers for Dyson Heydon’s royal commission … all of these lawyers were given their riding instructions by men who were on a mission for the extreme right of our politics.”

Boral declined to comment.

Mr Gordon paid tribute to Victoria’s Director of Public Prosecutions for “bringing to a final end this farcical prosecution”.

Police sought advice from prominent QC Paul Holdenson before sending the brief of evidence to the DPP in 2015.

The Office of Public Prosecutions did not seek costs from the two former accused.

It is understood that authorities believed that aspects of the involvement of Boral’s law firm Freehills in the case weakened the prosecution.

Freehills played a key role in assisting the company deal with the union royal commission, including in helping to redraft witness statements that prompted the later decision to begin a criminal investigation into blackmail.

A union protest at the Melbourne Magistrates court during the committal hearing last week. Photo: Joe Armao

Police subsequently sought fresh statements from the Boral witnesses and are understood to have been surprised at the role of Freehills in drafting the earlier royal commission statements of the Boral witnesses. A Freehills source insisted that it had not significantly altered the parts of the witness statements that were aired in the criminal prosecution.

The withdrawal of the charges will mean that Boral’s fiery chief executive Michael Kane will not get a chance to testify in the case. Another witness for the prosecution, former CFMEU official Danny Berardi will also not get a chance to testify.

The CFMEU and the wider union movement are certain to seize on the withdrawal of the charges to ramp up their long-held claim that the royal commission and associated police investigations were vindictive.

It is also possible that Mr Setka and Mr Reardon may seek to launch a wrongful prosecution action against authorities, or pursue civil action against Boral.

Outside court, Mr Setka said it had been tough on him and his family, including his children, to have been publicly accused of blackmail and to have the threat of jail hanging over his head.

John Setka Photo: Justin McManus

“But you know what, probably not as tough as those families whose loved ones never came home that night."

The CFMEU would have much more to say about the “conspiracy” in coming days, he said.

The royal commission into the union movement was called by the Abbott government, with its findings later pushed by the Turnbull government. In his interim report in December 2014, Commissioner Dyson Heydon said that Mr Setka and Mr Reardon should be considered for the criminal charge of blackmail. In the final report, released in 2015, the CFMEU was a key focus, and Commissioner Dyson Heydon said the union acted in "wilful defiance of the law".

The CFMEU's association, with the Australian Labor Party has been used to attack Opposition leader Bill Shorten and other ALP leaders.

But the union movement has used the case against the CFMEU chiefs to prosecute its own campaign against the coalition, with tens of thousands of members and union supporters blocking the centre of Melbourne recently in support of Mr Setka and Mr Reardon.

Mr Setka at the court with his wife Emma at an earlier hearing. Photo: Justin McManus

17 MAY 2018

Article from The Age:

Union boss John Setka gets the high moral ground

By Nick McKenzie

The lazy explanation for the collapse of the Crown case against union bosses John Setka and Sean Reardon would be to blame the cunning union barristers who used their tricks to trip up the key witnesses – two executives from concrete firm Boral.

This explanation does not stack up.

Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union Victorian secretary John Setka, and Shaun Reardon (rear) after his blackmail charges were dropped. Photo: Justin McManus

It is inexplicable that no one who pushed for blackmail charges to be laid against Setka and Reardon applied the sort of blow-torch scrutiny to the central witnesses that they would inevitably face when the case reached a committal hearing.

So it’s hard not to wonder if a desire to bag the biggest union scalps in the country blinkered the judgment of those who sought to criminalise what the union movement always insisted was industrial conduct.

Foul-mouthed and furious, the militant Setka has undoubtedly offended many in the business community, conservative politics and the judiciary. His union is regularly described as an egregious law breaker by the Federal Court – and even by some in the ALP.

But what is surely more offensive is that Setka was charged with an offence carrying a 15 year jail term on the basis of evidence that has not made it past first base.

So what happened?

It is indisputable that a "Get Setka" campaign has been waged by many in politics. It has been led by Jobs minister Michaelia Cash and Tasmanian senator Eric Abetz, as well as some in the business community, including Boral’s chief executive Michael Kane.

Hard evidence has yet to emerge that this did indeed infect the decision to pursue Setka and Reardon, but the collapse of the case has left it wide open for the pair to claim it has. Well placed sources from all sides are pointing the finger at Boral, its law firm Freehills and an overzealous royal commissioner. Prosecutors and the union's lawyers were flummoxed by the way both Boral and Freehills handled aspects of the case and the abject performance of Boral's witnesses. The urging of Dyson Heydon to charge Setka with blackmail now looks flaky, at best.

As a reporter, I have earned the CFMEU's ire by questioning why some in the union supported labour hire companies, especially in NSW, despite red flags that these firms were run by shonks who ripped off workers.

Blackmail charges have been dropped against Victorian construction union bosses John Setka and Shaun Reardon, who were accused of threatening Boral executives at a Melbourne cafe in 2013.

But many big building firms also supported these same labour hire operators, welcoming the ability to source cheaper labour. They mostly copped zero scrutiny. Despite a royal commission and millions of dollars spent on investigations, exploitative practices still infect the construction industry.

On Wednesday, as the prosecution withdrew its case against him, Setka was gifted the high moral ground. If the Coalition knows anything about its old nemesis, they know he’ll use it.

17 MAY 2018

Article from The Age:

Cleared militant unionists simply 'emboldened'

By Anna Patty & Noel Towell

The decision to drop blackmail charges against militant construction union boss John Setka and his deputy Shaun Reardon has emboldened the union movement's "most renegade bunch of lawbreakers", Workplace Minister Craig Laundy has warned.

In the wake of the major setback in the Coalition's battle against the union, Mr Laundy said it was now paramount for the Senate to pass the government’s Ensuring Integrity Bill which would expand grounds for disqualifying union officials and cancelling union registration.

Blackmail charges against CFMEU leaders dropped

Blackmail charges have been dropped against Victorian construction union bosses John Setka and Shaun Reardon, who were accused of threatening Boral executives at a Melbourne cafe in 2013.

Mr Laundy said the event of the past week had clearly "emboldened" union leaders and he called on Labor to support the Bill to prove it will not continue to support union officials "that continuously flout the law”.

“The long list of charges the [CFMMEU] has been found guilty of should be something to be ashamed of - fines totalling nearly $15 million and around 70 officials currently before the courts.

“It’s simply unfathomable as to why Labor keeps turning a blind eye to the illegal behaviour of this union and joins in the celebrations on a rare occasion when it actually gets let off."

Workplace Minister Craig Laundy - Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Mr Laundy said Australians deserve to know exactly what Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has promised the leaders of Australia’s most law-breaking union in return for its support.

"The real worry is the movement’s most renegade bunch of lawbreakers now stand to potentially have a puppet as Prime Minister,” Mr Laundy said.

Labor's Employment and Workplace Relations spokesman Brendan O'Connor said the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions and police to withdraw the charges against the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union officials was "an absolute humiliation for the Trade Union Royal Commission" which had referred them and "in particular for the Turnbull government".

"The government has been suggesting that there is systemic criminal conduct in the union movement. Quite frankly, there needs to be some examination in this matter, because there is a pattern of behaviour with respect to this government and its involvement with unions," he said.

ACTU Secretary Sally McManus said the Turnbull government had serious questions to answer over their knowledge of events that led to blackmail charges against Mr Setka and Mr Reardon.

ACTU secretary Sally McManus - Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

“The possibility that members of the government were closely consulting with Boral over events that led to these discredited charges is deeply disturbing. This possibility should be fully investigated," she said.

The CFMEU has been fined $10 million for the boycotts and blockades it organised against building supplies company Boral and its subsequent flouting of court orders to cease the behaviour. The union action against Boral was sparked by a dispute with its customer Grocon.

Ms McManus said she believes the laws that led to those fines needed to be changed.

CFMEU Victorian officials John Setka (C), and Shaun Reardon (R) outside Melbourne Magistrates Court

Liberal Senator Eric Abetz dismissed union claims that he, while serving as Employment Minister and Tony Abbott when he was Prime Minister were involved in the CFMEU court action.

"The facts are clear: the charges were laid by Victoria Police in 2015 and prosecuted by the Victorian Director of Public Prosecutions thereafter – Victorian authorities under a Victorian Labor government," Mr Abetz said.

"Any suggestion that Mr Abbott, Premier Andrews, myself and my then counterpart were involved in some conspiracy to have charges laid and prosecuted by Victorian authorities is not only implausible but completely laughable."

Denita Wawn, chief executive Master Builders Australia said it had no comment on the particular case.

"Unions should obey the law just like everyone else in the community is expected to do. It’s really simple, no one benefits and bad things happen when people or organisations think they are above the law," she said.

"Sadly, the courts have found, in case after case, that the CFMMEU behaved like the community’s laws did not apply to them and the reality is that without the ABCC the union would never have been held to account as they were on these occasions. As one Judge noted the CFMMEU has an attitude of ignoring and defying the law."

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive James Pearson said the ACTU needs to tell Australians if it supports Mr Setka's view that “if you played by the laws you will never win”.

"[E]ven if the rules are changed, as the ACTU is demanding, do unions have any intention of following them?," he said.

Andrew Stewart, a professor of employment law from the University of Adelaide, said the idea of criminal prosecution for alleged blackmail over an industrial demand was "extraordinary" because it was not in the context of any personal gain for the union officials concerned.

"The genie is out of the bottle where we have this extraordinary suggestion that the criminal law of blackmail has a role to play in regulating industrial conduct," he said.

"What this case might have told us was whether union officials or workers can be imprisoned simply for threatening industrial action. If there is a role for the crime of blackmail here, potentially it doesn't just apply when someone from one of the country's most militant unions is making threats. It could apply to the likes of nurses, teachers and doctors".

with Benjamin Preiss


Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6

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This page updated 13 APRIL 2012 and again on 30 MAY 2018