Change is constant. The characteristics of how change happens, however, is an open question. How can we act together to make sure we live in a society which is democratic, sustainable and just? Who forms this ‘we’? What can we learn from those who’ve gone before us in the struggle? Where can we intervene today and tomorrow to produce just change? These are questions trade unionists confront on a daily basis. The answers to these questions have changed over time, but we can always reflect and learn from the ways previous generations struggled to answer these same questions.
‘New collectives, old struggles’, the theme behind this year’s Fair Australia Prize, is an attempt to encourage creative, literary and analytical work that gets to the heart of these questions. This year’s winning entries meet the challenge and they reflect the real diversity of the contemporary Australian working class – from a migrant farm worker with a talent for graphic design to a poetic construction worker to a PhD candidate dealing with shift work in hospitality to a musician and early childhood educator grappling with childcare in the Paris Commune.
The body of work itself challenges the tired and false notion that there is a sharp distinction between ‘ordinary’ Australian workers, often presented as white labourers, and a cultural ‘elite’ of inner-city academics and artists. The reality is factory, farm and warehouse workers engaging in artistic and creative endeavours, and too many academics stuck perpetually in insecure sessional work.
Artificial distinctions quickly melt away in the energy of a social movement in struggle. It is in collective actions like strikes and protests where the real lines dividing our society are clarified. Our affairs are predominantly run on a one dollar, one vote basis, and as such those who have the most capital have the most say. If the events of 2018 have taught us anything, it should be that those who have the most say – the true corporate and political elite – are not any more intelligent or deserving than you or me to run our affairs. In truth, from what I have witnessed in my many years as a union leader, Australia’s corporate and political elite have always been ordinary. The only difference today is that the tide is well and truly out and they stand, depressingly for us, fully exposed.
What matters now is what we do together next. The future is too precious to leave in the hands of the mediocre few. This prize is just one example of what we can do when many people come together. I would like to thank all the entrants, the judges, the staff and volunteers of Overland, the Migrant Workers Centre, MEAA and the NTEU for joining together with us at the NUW to make this endeavour possible.
Tomorrow will be different from today, and hopefully this prize is one part of a map towards a better tomorrow.
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