Changing Australia

A timely publication

Good afternoon and thank you for asking me to officially launch Changing Australia - The Union Story.

I acknowledge the work of many of those present in developing this project over a considerable period. I know Tom McDonald has been very active and that there have been many collaborators.

Congratulations to you all.

Over the years unions have confronted many challenges: the challenge to exist; the challenge of establishing their legitimacy at the bargaining table; and the challenge of influencing political and public discourse.

The overriding objective in confronting these challenges has been ensuring that working people's rights are recognised, protected and enhanced.

The resource being launched today shows the full reach of the union movement - from campaigning against apartheid and mounting the Green Bans to more recent campaigns, like the call for more affordable quality child care to the ongoing tragic impact of asbestos in the guise of the James Hardie case.

They are stories of ordinary people dealing with extraordinary events in an extraordinary way.

The message in these stories is that unions are about progressive change and change that benefits the many, not the few.

They are inspiring accounts of committed, principled people who had the courage to fight for what they believed in.

Everyone here has there own story of why they became involved in the industrial or political wings of the labour movement - or both.

For some it was a family political orientation; for some it was a workplace incident; for many it was just the right thing to do.

Understanding the role of the union movement is critical to broad community support for unions. This book is a valuable resource for students and teachers.

As the guide itself indicates students need to be aware of the many voices and stories in Australian history if they are to understand their contemporary world.

This is particularly important in an environment where students are bombarded with information from many different perspectives.

I would hope that when it is picked up in a school library or elsewhere, it will inform the reader of the fundamentally important role of unions in Australian life.

This publication is timely as the union movement is gearing up for one of the biggest fights in its history against the Industrial Relations agenda of the Howard government.

In my current position as Minister for Education and Training, I see the same federal government that strips hundreds of millions in funding away from the public education system insisting that teachers in schools and TAFE sign-up to individual contracts.

The party of so-called individual liberty - the Liberal Party - is obsessed with ensuring workers don't have a choice in what kind of arrangement they work under.

For the conservatives, freedom of association is nothing but a euphemism. Their agenda is about wiping out collective bargaining and prohibiting or impeding trade union membership. And they are going about their work with an evangelical zeal.

We will all pursue this struggle with a great deal of commitment, principle and hard work.

These characteristics are on show in abundant measure in Changing Australia - The Union Story which I now take great pleasure in officially launching.

Thank you.

Hon Carmel Tebbutt MLC
NSW Minister for Education and Training

It's about democracy

Changing Australia is made up of 23 stories about great moments in the history of Australian trade unions.

These stories are about hope, they are about courage, they are about justice and they are about victories that have helped create a better Australia and a better world for working people.

They have been written in a style and a language that students and young workers should find interesting, educational and we hope inspirational.

Our publication will give to readers a rich understanding of aspects of our history because the authors of many of the stories were at the centre of these events.

They know what happened and why it happened. And they are able to describe what motivated the workers who made that history.

One of our aims is to demonstrate through these stories that unions are an essential part of any society that calls itself a democracy.

As John Robertson writes in the Foreword to the publication 'There are forces in our society that are hell-bent on destroying trade unions even though unions are an important part of any democratic society and are recognized as such in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.'

'Without unions employers would have a monopoly of power within the workforce and as history has previously shown - a monopoly of power leads to the misuse and abuse of power.'

Our stories are about the struggles of workers. They range from:

  • action against racism and apartheid,
  • for justice for indigeneous people,
  • support for a free and independent East Timor,
  • the protection of our culture and environment,
  • for safe workplaces that are free from drug and alcohol abuse,
  • support for equality and equal pay for women,
  • for affordable child care,
  • for a free and universal health system,
  • better living standards,
  • protection of workers entitlements,
  • job security,
  • the right to strike,
  • for corporate accountability
  • opposition to unjust wars,
  • for solidarity with people of the third world.

We have sought to make Changing Auistralia an important education resource for schools and universities.

With the help of the education unions and experienced teachers and educationalist, we have designed a student activity sheet which has been attached to each story.

The 10 sponsoring unions have decided to donate 2 copies of Changing Australia, along with copies of a CD version of the publication, to all high and central school libraries and university campus libraries throughout the state for use by teachers in the fields of history, commerce, geography and work studies. We also intend to place copies of the publication in all municipal and shire council libraries throughout the state.

I want to conclude by thanking the many people who have contributed towards making this project possible. They have contributed by writing stories, editing the stories and designing student activity tasks. They have contributed with ideas, donations, providing historic photos, designing the book and the talking heads for the CD. Yet others have carried out vital practical and administrative work. Most of this work was done on a voluntary basis.

We would like to thank everyone for making Changing Australia possible.

Tom McDonald

A valuable resource

The Hon Dr Meredith Bergman, the Hon Carmel Tebbutt, distinguished guests. I commend this book to you.

It has been written with junior secondary students in mind - our future citizens. It is particularly relevant for Humanities subjects - History, Geography, Commerce and Work Education.

These stories are very engaging, human stories - of ordinary people dealing with extraordinary issues and events in Australian history.

The history that we wish to promote is not a litany of historical dates in mind-numbing monotony. History teachers know that the basis of school history often begins with a good story well told - a bloody good yarn!

This book provided for just that. The Australian History we wish to promote consists of many voices - of diverse opinions and multiple perspectives.

As educators we are striving for students to understand the history of events that have shaped their world - to question, evaluate the evidence, be aware of a range of viewpoints.

Australian history is not only about the politically powerful - but about all within our society. Hopefully their studies will guide students towards an understanding of the historical experiences of various groups within our society, who have engaged in the struggle for citizens' rights and freedoms.

Our Humanities syllabuses in NSW encourage students to strive for an equitable and just society, one of informed citizenship, social responsibility, ethical and socially responsible behaviour.

This book fits the bill admirably, particularly in regard to History, including Topic 6 'Changing Rights and Freedoms in the C20th' and Topic 7 'People Power and Politics in the Post-war World'.

The stories suit these topics wonderfully, such as Jack Mundey's Green Bans, equal pay issues, women in the work force, health and safety issues and other struggles involving social and human rights.

The 'Best Title Award' must go to 'The Days are for Tech, the Nights are for Love'!

The stories are engaging, highly readable and will be a valuable teaching resource - made even more so by the careful editing and inclusion of teaching/learning activities added by Kate Cameron and Peter Walsh.

This book would not have been possible without the passion, vision, dedication - and nagging - of Tom McDonald. It's been a privilege to have had been a small part of this project.

Jennifer Lawless
NSW Board of Studies Inspector (History)

Changing Australia: the union story was launched on Thursday 5th May, 2005 at Parliament House, Sydney. A collection of stories with teaching aids, the project was sponsored by the trade union movement. The Evatt Foundation was among those who also provided financial support.