I don’t know when, if ever, I’ll be able to write about what happened on the ground at the Baiada strike in Laverton. However, the events over the last few weeks were the first time I’ve had any significant position of responsibility in a campaign where the 1% had definitively turned up and started batting for the other team. What I’d like to share are a few of my preliminary thoughts on taking on this network of elites across private industry, public relations, parliament and the law.
To borrow a line from a classic of the cinema, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Predator, “If it bleeds, we can kill it” (metaphorically and non-violently of course). The 1% are ultimately a coalition/network of individuals in positions of considerable (but limited) influence. They are vulnerable and can be stopped. To push this Predator metaphor for all its worth, the first challenge and purpose of today’s post is to highlight in broad daylight this otherwise invisible network of predators picking off ordinary hardworking people in our society.
Tanya Cirkovic/Stuart Wood SC
Cirkovic and Wood targeted me personally with an injunction in the Supreme Court of Victoria. I guess the idea was to make me fearful that I might lose everything I had in terms of possessions – which doesn’t really work when (a) you don’t have money to begin with, and (b) you don’t care what you lose anyway. Cirkovic goes way back with Michael Kroger and Peter Costello on the right of the Liberal Party in Victoria. Wood, appears to be a player in the Liberal Party as well.
You see Wood is Chairman of Great Southern Press (GSP). It mainly publishes industry based material such as The Australian Pipeliner for the petrochemical industry. His Managing Director is Chris Bland, President of the University of Melbourne Liberal Club in 1999. And former The Australian Pipeline Editor of 8 years (he left in June) as well as GSP Sales and Marketing Manager, and Executive Director is none other than Life Member of the University of Melbourne Liberal Club, Scott Pearce (he was also Club President in 1998).
The Kroger connections extend beyond just Baiada’s litigation team and into its Public Relations team.
Jason Aldworth/Hamish Jones – Civic Group
Andrew Crook has already written extensively on the Jason Aldworth and Hamish Jones’ foray into the Baiada campaign. Hamish Jones is yet another former member of the University of Melbourne Liberal Club, while Aldworth is a CIS Research Scholar and a known Krogerite in the Victorian Liberal Party, who was very close to becoming the Member for Higgins. Interestingly, Aldworth was involved with Imperial, British American Tobacco and Philip Morris’ ill-fated “Alliance of Australian Retailers” campaign against the Federal Government’s cigarette plain packaging legislation. While Wood worked at a six-month placement with Philip Morris in the mid-90s. I’d wonder if I bothered to trawl through Wood’s list of cases if I’d find more tobacco related work?
The involvement of the Liberals, however, extends into those who actually managed to successfully enter Parliament.
Senator Eric Abetz – Shadow Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations
I’m fairly sure that Abetz’s office has been monitoring this dispute for awhile. He came out early on Thursday 10th November with a press release condemning union violence on the picket line. Although if you actually watch the footage of the incident you’ll see an NUW official (me) running into the middle of the incident to separate the unmarked security guard from the members after he drove into the workers a second time. But there’s a reason the Liberal and National Party are in Coalition.
Peter Ryan MLA – Police Minister/Minister for Regional and Rural Development/Leader of the Nationals in the Victorian Parliament
Peter Ryan is Leader of the Victorian Nationals. I don’t know for sure what role he played during the dispute but I can’t help but think that his dual role as Police Minister and Minister for Rural Development was well and truly noticed and called upon by the Krogerite network. After the Supreme Court injunction against NUW officials, employees and agents as well as myself was issued on the afternoon of Friday 11 November 2011 the police presence was increased significantly. I remember rushing out to the site after the proceedings as more and more police cars and vans arrived. I remember pleading with the police present but it was of no avail – they appeared to have orders that they were bound to carry out. I’ll never forget speaking with one police officer, and as I looked around seeing another officer calmly put on his gloves. The rest was on the front cover of the Herald Sun where lines of migrant workers and community supporters standing their ground against a phalanx of 80 advancing police officers was described as a ‘clash’.
Some may hold grudges against the police. I don’t. They will always carry out their orders and to believe otherwise is folly. But that Friday night was a significant operation, and while I don’t claim to understand the chain of command within the police force, I can’t help but suspect that the Minister played some sort of role. In addition, you didn’t hear a lot from the farmers during the dispute but there is strong reason to believe thatmany of the chicken farmers are doing it tough as well. I wonder what role the Nationals played in attempting to placate the farmers?
News Limited/Miranda Devine
Interestingly the only press photographer who was there on Friday night was from the Herald Sun. Who tipped them off? I’m really not sure but I know it wasn’t the Union. Interestingly both ends of Pipe Road were blocked off only after the photographer arrived. What was truly fascinating was how a Herald Sun journalist arrived on site the next day to speak with the workers about their stories and experiences, all of which was sidelined in the Sunday paper the next day. Clearly that must have been an editorial decision.
Miranda Devine also had an opinion piece ready to go about union thuggery for the Sunday edition. Somehow we were endangering the very existence of a $1 billion company. Although Devine’s article does highlight how absurd the politico-industrial nutter complex had become, while attacking union violence on the one hand and having to mention on the other:
“Baiada, the main supplier of chickens to Coles, has had a string of terrible accidents in the past six years, including the decapitation of 34-year-old Sarel Singh last year while cleaning a processing line.”
This is where this network continually ran into trouble though. By drawing attention to the dispute no one could ignore the fact that this was a site where a worker had been decapitated. That one single fact implies a lot. These were the people that the big end of town were continually attacking. Workers who had played by the rules – worked hard and paid their taxes. Only to see themselves get injured and go backwards,and others get richer. What this highlights is that these people are still using the same basic strategy as the 1980s – the world has changed since then. We have changed. It’s a different playing field now with different conditions and dangers.
The Krogerite network’s ultimate power is as gatekeepers to power, money and influence. They control whether you are acceptable to the big end of town. This only matters if you care about being accepted by the big end of town. Me though, I don’t care about my seat at the table but in making sure the millions without a voice crack open the secret places where all the decisions are made.
I’d also like to apologise to the Predator, it is bound by a strict code of honour, and it does not exploit or kill innocent bystanders or the vulnerable.
As a post-script Miranda Devine has shifted position somewhat in her News Limited column today going after both Unions, Coles and Woolworths in defence of squeezed processers and farmers. I doubt this article would have been written without the #baiadastrke and now News Limited is participating in a (very limited) discussion about corporate power in Australia. There is now some division in the 1% – interesting, very interesting. What do you make of it?