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Union bashing and the media's complicity



February 16 · Issue #30 · View online
Your weekly wrap of national affairs, society, culture and politics, published by UnionsACT.

From the editor
In this issue we look at the role the corporate media plays in shaping anti-union narratives, the ongoing (and growing) rorts scandal, the collapse of George Calombaris’s restaurant empire and the growing divide between those who own property and those who never will.
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Enjoy the issue!
Guy Mosel, editor

Union bashing and the media's complicity
The Australian Federal Police this month dropped its investigation into an allegedly doctored document used by Angus Taylor’s office to smear Sydney lord mayor Clover Moore.
In an op-ed last Sunday, Sun-Herald deputy editor Michael Koziol argued that the AFP’s failure to pursue both the Taylor case and the investigation into leaks to The Australian used by the government to discredit the “medevac” bill, harmed “the system, its integrity and the community’s perception of its integrity”.
Koziol said these two dropped investigations stood in stark contrast to the AFP’s investigation into leaked information received by ABC journalists Dan Oakes and Sam Clark, and its pursuit of News Corp’s Annika Smethurst, also for receiving leaked information. Both cases remain open.
He’s right. We should be deeply troubled by the AFP’s increasing politicisation and its apparent unwillingness to pursue investigations into members of the government.
But what Koziol didn’t mention in his piece was that the AFP has not just been used by this government to attack journalists and media organisations, it’s also been used as a weapon against unions.
In 2017 the AFP raided offices of the AWU, ostensibly over donations it made to GetUp and Labor politicians when Bill Shorten was boss. The press was alerted to the raids by one of then-employment minister Michaelia Cash’s underlings, creating a media moment that was seized upon by the Coalition and conservative commentators and used to further a narrative that there’s something fishy about unions.
Needless to say the Federal Court’s decision to quash the AFP’s investigation in November last year caused barely a ripple.
To be clear, this is not an attack on Koziol or the Sun-Herald. We’re not suggesting they deliberately omitted any mention of the AWU raids. But the corporate media has spent decades doing its best to demonise the union movement and undermine its legitimacy.
Just contemplate how pernicious and reflexive anti-union and anti-worker language has become; many people would probably tell you that the first word they think of when they hear the word “union” is “thugs”. And notice how unions always seem to have “coffers” instead of bank accounts?
Don’t mention the (class) war
This may sound like small potatoes but normalising this kind of language is part of corporate Australia’s propaganda campaign, just like The Australian‘s almost daily attempts to pretend that scattered examples of union illegality are objectively worse than the structural greed and corruption that exists at the very heart of Australian capital.
Even outlets like the ABC and The Guardian, which you’d expect to report relatively fairly on union and worker issues, seem far more interested in the personal foibles of particular union officials and the lurid details of internecine politics than they are in reporting on the actual challenges faced by the union movement and the positive work unions do.
Sadly, the propaganda campaign has been very effective. Even SundayFocus has received emails from some readers who would rather we stopped promoting union issues and using “class war” language because they’re concerned about how tainted unions are.
It’s this kind of relentless disinformation that gives rise to the ABCC and brings us to the point where the government is a couple of crossbench votes away from passing its draconian Ensuring Integrity Bill, legislation that would give the Federal Court unprecedented power to interfere in union business.
The corporate media has skin in this game, obviously. As the traditional media business models have disintegrated in the face of technology and disruption, their revenue has dried up and they’ve taken it out on their workers via mass layoffs, casualisation, outsourcing, perverse incentive programs and demanding increased output while real wages have declined.
All of these things are far easier to implement with a weakened union movement distrusted by the very people – working Australians – whose pay and conditions unions were formed to fight for.
This is not to say that Australian unions are done for. The influence of corporate media is steadily waning, while social media gives unions a way to circumvent Murdoch and his chums and talk directly to workers.
The reawakening of class consciousness in the UK and the USA, along with robust and persistent protests against neoliberalism in France and South America, should give union organisers and workers hope that a rejuvenated working-class movement in Australia is possible.
And with yawning inequality and climate-related economic upheaval around the corner, it’s also essential.
The week in review
👎🏽 The rorts continue
“The Coalition’s claimed ‘miracle’ election win is looking decidedly hollow,” says Michael West Media’s Jommy Tee in a story that catalogues yet another chapter in the Coalition’s rorts scandal. The story centres on grants awarded in the year prior to the election from the “Regional Growth Fund”, cash to be doled out for major projects in regional areas. As Tee reports, “A staggering $272 million of grants were awarded – with 89% of them (16 grants worth a total $248 million) awarded just ahead of the election. Of that $248 million, Coalition seats snagged $234 million.”
👍🏽 Jog on, George
It’s terrible that so many workers will now find themselves unemployed, but you’d be forgiven for feeling just the tiniest bit triumphal at the collapse of celebrity wage-thief George Calombaris’s restaurant empire. You won’t believe whose fault it is though… unions! According to the usual suspects (2GB, The Australian, hospitality industry bosses, blah, blah…) the fundamental flaw with George’s business model was not that he stole wages from his workers, or that he got caught, or that he was rightly punished by consumers who stopped dining at his restaurants – it’s the union movement’s fault for making a big deal about the stolen wages in the first place. 🤷‍♀️
👎🏽 The cost of collapse
Twenty-nine billion dollars. That’s how much Australia’s GDP will have wiped off it every year between now and 2050 if the world pursues a “business-as-usual attitude” to ecological collapse. The figure comes from a new report by the WWF which shows that Australia’s economy would be the fifth-hardest hit by the loss of nature over the next 30 years.
👍🏽 Record rains save the day
Fires in NSW that have raged for six months are finally under control thanks to a record deluge that’s also topped up dams and brought relief to farmers across the state. As welcome as the rain has been, many on social media have noted how galling it is to see megalitres of storm water run off into the ocean. This article provides some interesting perspectives on how we should stop thinking of rain as wastewater.
👎🏽 The growing home ownership divide
Government policy is biased against renters with generous tax benefits afforded to property owners. 730 has found “at least 40 separate grants and subsidies available to property owners across the nation”, but with the cost of home ownership once again surging to near-record levels owning a home is completely out of reach for millions of people.
Gap year
New Hampshire Berning
For your bookshelf
All Together Now? by Mike Carter
Zucked, by Roger McNamee
"What a unionist looks like" t-shirt
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