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The dead couple of labour relations: who or what will follow them?

By Peter Lewis - posted Monday, 16 June 2003

The message from the ACTU's Future of Work research is that the two theoretical frameworks for understanding work in the 20th century - "Harvester Man" and "TINA" - are both dead.

Harvester Man and his stay-at-home wife was the model for most of the last century's labour relations: the idea that every worker had the right to an income that would satisfy his and his family's basic needs.

Harvester Man was based on the Harvester Judgement, which established the Living Wage that would be the battleground for National Wage Cases for 80 years. The Commission would impose across-the-board wage increases based on the cost of living, ensuring that Australia was truly an egalitarian nation.


That was, until the mid-80s when TINA seduced the world. Margaret Thatcher's infamous dictum "There Is No Alternative" elevated economic fetishes like "productivity" and "efficiency" above the needs of workers.

TINA batted her eyelids and the Harvester Man keeled over in the face of financial deregulation, privatisation of public assets, contracting-out of core services and the growth of global corporation.

There's no doubt TINA delivered on her promises to the corporate world, providing a momentum for hyper-profits that made their captains incredibly rich. At the same time she left normal workers wallowing in the Three I's of inequality, insecurity and work intensification.

But, as ACIRRT's research confirms, for Australian workers the seduction was nothing more than a come-on.

The vast majority of jobs that TINA has created have been casual jobs - with no security and no entitlements to leave. Meanwhile, the shrinking pool of full-time workers work longer hours, their overtime predominantly unpaid.

TINA's pressure is not only felt at work; it's spilling over into the family where working mums and dads juggle their responsibilities with increasing panic as their work and home lives collide.


And TINA is killing the community too; membership of all organisations is down - which is hardly surprising when workers finish their days too tired to get up from in front of the telly.

The call to arms from this week's conference is to recognise TINA for the brazen hussy she is, show her the door and start rebuilding our working lives.

In the minds of Australian workers TINA has already gone and the research presented from surveys and focus groups confirms that Australian workers are seeking a leader who will bury her.

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About the Author

Peter Lewis is the director of Essential Media Communications, a company that runs strategic campaigns for unions, environmental groups and other “progressive” organisations.

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ACIRRT, University of Sydney
The Future of Work report
Workers Online
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