The fight for jobs. Social Security 1981


 Grey Collar

Published by Public Servants Action Group

The dispute in the Department of Social Security which exploded in the last two months of 1981 was an important turning point for ACOA. Hundreds of members were stood down for up to 6 weeks, large chunks of the Department were paralysed and the industrial action peaked with a 3 day strike of the entire union in NSW.

Yet the dispute ended in defeat for ACOA. What went wrong? We in the Public Servants Action Group think it’s important to look closely at the way the campaign went and to try to draw out some lessons from it. There are positive things to build on and mistakes to avoid. This pamphlet is an attempt to do that, to help us in a stronger position for the next fight.

A crucial part of the whole dispute was the Government’s use of its anti-union legislation – No Work as Directed No Pay (NWAD-NP) amendments to the Public Service Act and the Commonwealth Employees Employment Provisions Act (CEEP). The former gives the government immediate stand-down powers for use against bans. It is the soft option, used first. All someone stood down under NWAD-NP has to do to be reinstated is lift their bans. CEEP is much heavier. It gives the government complete powers to suspend and then sack, workers taking any sort of industrial action. Reinstatement is entirely at the government’s discretion and on whatever terms they choose.

The failure of our fight against these weapons in the DSS dispute puts us in a critical position for future campaigns. The government will now feel emboldened to use CEEP to crush any industrial action. That just means we have to be stronger next time. The DSS dispute showed the need for a strong, well-organised rank and file group to lead the members into the strongest possible action. There were glimpses of the possibilities but PSAG needs to continue to grow if we are going to turn the government’s attacks back. We hope this pamphlet will encourage more members to join us in the fight.


 October DSS management refuses to discuss staffing with ACOA and threatens NWAD-NP stand-downs if bans were not lifted before November 11, 1981.

Wednesday, November 4th    NSW DSS mass meeting and Victorian Section Committee vote to maintain bans. Walkouts and 24-hour strike reaffirmed as defence policy.

Monday, November 9th       DSS management begin stand-downs. Walkouts follow immediately.

Wednesday, November 11th   24-hour strike in NSW and Victoria to consider response. Officials successfully oppose PSAG motion for all out stoppage in DSS and instead propose rolling stoppages.

Thursday, November 12th    Stand-downs and walkouts continue.

Tuesday, November 17th      ACOA reps in Sydney vote to hold union-wide meeting called for by DSS.

Monday, November 23rd     DSS mass meeting. Officials abandon rolling stoppages. Media stunts and “random” stoppages succeed against PSAG motion to strike.

Wednesday, November 25th   NSW ACOA-wide lunchtime mass meeting. Motions of financial and moral support for DSS passed including a PSAG amendment for a lunchtime Chifley Square rally.

Saturday, November 28th    National Grey Collar Conference in Sydney

Tuesday, December 1st      Chifley Square rally outside Government Centre

Wednesday, December 2nd  DSS mass meeting amidst rumours of imminent CEEP suspensions. PSAG motion for immediate DSS walkout if CEEP used passed unanimously.

Friday, December 4th      Chaney publicly threatens the use of CEEP if bans not lifted on Monday.

Monday, December 7th   First suspensions under CEEP. Massive walkouts of remaining members in DSS and some other areas. PSAG meeting adopts position of union-wide strike, march and further meeting.

Tuesday, December 8th  DSS members who walked out CEEP’d. DSS delegates meeting unanimously adopts PSAG position as motion to the ACOA/APSA meeting the next day.

Wednesday, December 9th    Overflow Sydney Town Hall meeting votes overwhelmingly for DSS delegates’ motion against opposition of officials.

4000 strong march down George Street behind Grey Collar banner to DSS headquarters. Rally in Wynard Park follows.

APSA officials ignore mass meeting vote and order members back to work.

Thursday, December 10th   Pickets report high level of participation.

Friday, December 11th     Large picket of DSS headquarters organised by PSAG. DSS delegates meeting “straw vote” strongly in favour of moving on Monday for union-wide strike to continue.

Sat/Sun, December 12-13th    Fraser-Dolan talks achieve nothing. NE secretly adopts complete backdown on DSS staffing demands.

Monday, December 14th   ACOA meeting Hyde Park votes 2-1 against PSAG motion to continue this strike. NSW officials support NE motion to return to work.

Tuesday, December 15th   Officials admit that DSS cannot fight on alone.

Wednesday, December 16th   DSS delegates formulate return to work motion.

Thursday, December 19th   DSS mass meeting votes to return to work.


The issue at the heart of the dispute was staffing levels in DSS. It was not a new issue, either for DSS or for the rest of ACOA. Staff ceilings and increasing workloads were, and continue to be, central to government policy.

Numerous reviews by the union and DSS, coupled with increases in DSS functions and rising unemployment, supported the validity of the staffing claim for 1000 extra staff nationally. But valid claims don’t automatically win. The official union response to Fraser’s attacks on staffing were an important factor here. Fraser and Lynch made an extremely public attack on staffing levels through the Razor Gang earlier in 1981. PSAG/Grey Collar argued then that we should respond with a united campaign of industrial action against staffing cuts and the loss of 17,000 jobs. But the union officials pushed a policy of fighting the cuts with work bans in individual Departments. By this stage the bans in DSS were already well established, but they had been introduced along the same lines of isolating the campaigns in separate areas.

The weakness of this tactic was shown in mid-1981 when management decided to get tough over staffing bans in Tax and Immigration. Once stand-downs came on the scene, isolated groups of workers could not continue their campaigns without the support of the whole union. The officials refused to try to mobilise this support (even though a Tax mass meeting voted for a union-wide meeting to be called). First Tax and then Immigration lifted their bans.

The Bans Strategy

That left DSS fighting alone again on the question of staffing, with a ban on overpayments the centrepiece of a series of work bans. But the way the DSS dispute went actually shows up most of the limitations of a bans strategy.

A bans strategy leaves the government running the dispute. In DSS the bans were on for a year in NSW and longer in Victoria. The government ignored them. They kept the initiative and were able to call the shots by using stand-downs when and where they liked. (As it was they chose the day after the union back-down on the fight over wages to announce the stand-down ultimatum – clearly trying to capitalise on a sign of weakness). Even before the stand-downs started, management was in a position where it could intimidate members applying bans and in some cases arrange for banned work to be done on overtime.

The first stand-downs came on Monday 9 November, 1981, under NWAD-NP legislation. In NSW members walked out office by office as stand-downs occurred, in line with Section Committee policy. Victoria had a different policy and met stand-downs with state-wide walkouts. The response was strong, but the government was able to time the stand-downs to suit itself (eg, by waiting until walkouts could not affect the next pension computer run; or in Victoria by not standing anyone down on a pension pay day, thereby avoiding the walkout and getting the work it wanted done.)

Even amongst the hundreds of stand-downs in NSW, management were able to divide the union by standing down some members and not others. And if you were in an area where you couldn’t put bans on, you were condemned to stay at work, isolated from other members and with scabs for company.

Everyone Out

The only way the union could have won back control of the dispute when stand-downs started was by calling everyone out in DSS and going to the rest of the union for support. This was the position taken by PSAG and desperately opposed by the officials and their supporters in Section Committee. Instead the Section Committee, and after a long debate the DSS mass meeting, voted for rolling stoppages. But these did not in any way challenge the government’s control of the dispute. Members went back to work and the government simply continued to stand down people who were waiting for their turn to have yet another stoppage.

Rolling stoppages then became random stoppages under the control of the officials, who promptly stopped calling them. In Victoria an equally ineffective strategy of walking out of an office to avoid stand-downs (and returning when management had gone) was adopted. Both “strategies” further strengthened the government’s hand and dissipated our response.

These strategies also frustrated members who wanted to fight and wanted to fight together. Responses varied. In Victoria, a number of offices eventually walked out and announced they were staying out. This strong lead was beaten down by Section Committee and without any rank and file organisation like PSAG to link militants from different offices, the officials’ domination of the dispute in Victoria was not effectively challenged again.

In NSW the officials eventually won the vote against an all-out stoppage in DSS at the first mass meeting, only to see the meeting vote minutes later by a huge margin to continue the office walkouts. In Wollongong, the Hunter Valley and a lot of Sydney offices, this resulted in members deciding to stick together on a stand one down, stand us all down basis. In Wollongong this was carried over to a daily picket line, which kept the feeling of solidarity alive right through the dispute by giving members a strong organising focus.

An all-out stoppage is the strongest weapon any union has. We argued for it because we don’t believe that Public Servants are different to other workers. We argued for it because it was the best way to show the government that we were serious about winning the dispute. We argued for it because it would have given the union membership the chance to say when and how we would return to work. An all-out stoppage in DSS at this stage may have meant the earlier use of CEEP, but at least all of the membership would have been out together. The union wouldn’t have spent as much money on stand-down pay, there would have been more time before Christmas to organise support and most importantly DSS members would have gone to the rest of the union and said, “Join us in strike action”, rather than “We’ll go out if you do.”

But at that stage such a stoppage did not occur. It was therefore vital that two things happen – firstly, that the rest of ACOA became involved and secondly, that APSA should organise support, particularly in DSS.

Spreading the Dispute

DSS members already recognised this. In Sydney the first DSS mass meeting voted overwhelmingly for a PSAG/Grey Collar proposal for an ACOA-wide stopwork meeting to discuss the dispute. The Branch officials responded by calling a Rep’s meeting at which they argued against getting the membership together. They lost by one vote.

Despite pouring rain and confusion over whether it was a stopwork or luncthime meeting, the meeting went ahead. Over a thousand members turned up. It was left to  supporters to do most of the advertising for this meeting by distributing the official leaflets both inside and outside the major government offices.

At the meeting we proposed a lunchtime rally at Chifley Square, which was accepted by the officials and carried by a large majority. But virtually no advertising leaflets appeared and yet another chance to mobilise other ACOA members was lost. PSAG also initiated collections in other Departments and from other unionists (eg at metalworkers mass meetings, outside the Public Service buildings, at railway stations). In Wollongong the locality committee kept other Departments informed and affiliated with the South Coast Trades and Labour Council, a potentially powerful source of support. But while support for DSS members was obviously growing, the real crunch was yet to come.

CEEP – The Government Spreads the Dispute for us

When stand-downs under NWAD-NP failed to break the campaign, it was inevitable that CEEP would be used. Again the initiative stayed with the government and again they used it. They waited until a Friday to announce that CEEP would be used on the Monday. With members at home worrying about it, instead of in the union office organising against it, the effect was maximised. A significant minority of DSS members returned to work.

But the dispute was by no means lost at that stage. The use of CEEP automatically brought in the rest of ACOA and for the first time forced APSA officials to make unwilling moves of support.

Official union policy bound the ACOA to calling mass stop-work meetings within 48 hours of CEEP being used and a proposal for a 24 hour stoppage being put. This policy was voted for by Australia-wide mass meetings in 1979. APSA were also bound to call stop-work meetings.

This was when the crunch really came. If CEEP was to be beaten it needed the strongest possible response from the whole union membership. ACOA’s NE opted for token 24-hour stoppages, with which APSA agreed.

PSAG decided on a position of both unions staying out for the rest of the week and meeting on the Monday morning to consider the response and whether to return to work. This found strong support from DSS delegates who unanimously formulated a recommendation along these lines to go to the mass meeting.

In Sydney four and a half thousand people carried the NE proposal for a one day stoppage and then went on to vote overwhelmingly for the recommendation from the DSS delegates. APSA members were denied a vote on this, but forced their officials to grant them coverage to go out. Within hours the officials reneged and ordered them back to work.

After the meeting over 3000 striking public servants marched down George Street behind the Grey Collar banner with officials queuing to  hold it. In what was clearly the high point of the campaign (and the only point at which PSAG policy was adopted) there was a tremendous feeling of both enthusiasm and strength.

One of the most frequently heard comments on the march was, “At last the union’s doing something – at last we’ve stopped having token stoppages”. Yet Barry Cotter (State Secretary) had opposed the stoppage and Peter Robson (Assistant National Secretary) had moved to debate a further meeting. Clearly the officials intended to make the stoppage a token one, albeit a longer one than usual.

It was left to Reps to hastily organise pickets once the march and rally had finished. On the Friday PSAG organised a mass picket outside DSS headquarters and over one hundred people turned up, chanting, singing Solidarity Forever and blocking both entrances with a circular marching picket. Cotter also turned up – and stood on the footpath and watched.

By this time his fellow Officials had successfully argued in all other states to restrict action against CEEP to the NE’s one day stoppage. By the Monday, NSW was fighting alone.

Spreading the Dispute from NSW

PSAG recognised as a weakness of the campaign right from the start the fact that it was being fought only in NSW and Victoria. In DSS, at a time when national officials were telling other states to donate money but not to do anything, PSAG members in Canberra unsuccessfully opposed lifting bans and later tried to have them put back on. When NSW computer tapes were being taken to Canberra for scabs to process at CSIRO, PSAG tried to organise a picket line. Again we were thwarted by national and NSW officials (who thought it would be ‘bad publicity’!).

When CEEP was used PSAG tried to have Sydney DSS delegates’ motion moved in all other states, but our lack of resources defeated us. Only in Brisbane, where the vote was a ratio of 60-40 against, did we go close to succeeding.

The need for unity was one of the NSW officials’ most powerful arguments throughout the dispute. But they used it very selectively. For instance, they did not talk of unity in arguing for a bans strategy which kept some members at work while others were stood down. They did not talk of unity in arguing that the rest of the union should go back to work while DSS stayed out.

The unity they were prepared to talk about was unity with interstate officials. PSAG members certainly agreed that having only NSW taking strong action was a problem. But the difference was that we wanted to draw the other states into action, while the officials were prepared to accept and encourage passivity.

This became crucial – the key to winning or losing the whole dispute – when NSW members had to meet on the Monday to consider staying out or returning to work. The official position was for even more disunity and therefore defeat by having the rest of the union return to work. DSS members were to be split off and left as sitting ducks.

And while NSW were being told to go back to work, Victorian State Secretary David Bunn, was blaming the ‘crazies’ in NSW for the weaknesses of the dispute. He argued that the high number of stand-downs in NSW could have been avoided by following Victorian tactics, ie walking out at critical times to avoid management. Leading members of the Reform Group in Melbourne moved and supported a motion to exempt DSS workers from the NE’s token one-day stoppage!

But this ignored the need for strike action. It was little more than a parochial attempt to scapegoat NSW members when the real blame lay with the continued blind reliance on the bans strategy.

Hyde Park – the Snow Job in the Rain

The Monday meeting was held in Sydney’s Hyde Park – the most unlikely of venues and one in which it was impossible to generate any feeling of a closed, cohesive meeting. The fact that it also rained made conditions even more difficult. Despite all this there was a relatively high turnout of around 1500 members (including, despite the conspicuous absence of their officials, some APSA members.)

The meeting was notable both for the vote taken and for what members were not told by the officials. Firstly, DSS delegates had met on the Friday night and in the absence of any shift from Chaney had decided, in a ‘straw vote’, to recommend staying out. This was the position also taken by PSAG and moved as a Grey Collar amendment at the meeting.

But despite the delegates’ vote the officials and their supporters on DSS Section Committee spoke vehemently against staying out. They won the vote by a ratio of about two to one, with speeches that were a mixture of Grey Collar red-baiting and promises that a return to work was not the end of the fight against CEEP.

What the mass meeting and a following DSS meeting were not told, however, was that a sellout deal had been arranged by the NE and Cliff Dolan over the weekend. A ‘reformulation’ of the DSS staffing demands had been made which amounted to a complete back-down, without even a thought of asking DSS members what they thought of it. Worse still, DSS members were not told of it until five hours after it was announced at a press conference.

But with the rest of the union back at work and DSS left to face CEEP alone, Chaney wasn’t interested in deals. DSS meetings were to be held on the Thursday and it was made known that sackings would start if the vote was not to lift the bans. With no weapons left and the union in retreat, a week before Christmas, there was no choice. PSAG reluctantly supported the motion to return to work and the dispute was over.

Media Wars

The Officials’ handling of the sell-out offer on DSS staffing fits neatly with their conception of an industrial strategy – press conferences and media stunts as opposed to strike action by the membership which the press won’t like. Throughout the dispute there was a constant emphasis on toning down activity to try to get the media on side.

The utopian nature of this idea is demonstrated only too amply by the lack of coverage the dispute actually received, except for the usual “pensioners are starving” routine. Even in purely monetary terms the union could not expect to match Chaney’s huge outlay on advertisements. But the more general weakness in the officials’ argument is this: in any industrial dispute there are two sides, workers and bosses (in this case the government). Only a fool would expect the Bosses’ press to desert their own side. It’s extremely superficial to think that so-called media pressure in the absence of real action would worry the government at all. This is important when we consider that the NE’s response to the Razor Gang was to impose a $5 media levy.

Carefully thought out, stunts such as the opening of selected offices to make payments can assist strike action. In this dispute they were an excuse not to take it.

The Florence Nightingale Syndrome

Sacrifice, we’re told by those who rarely make it, is a noble gesture. But as striking NSW nurses chanted in 1976 – “Dedication doesn’t pay the rent.”

Nurses, Public Servants, firefighters, garbos, water board workers, train drivers and countless other groups of government employees are under constant pressure to refrain from industrial action and use other channels. A quick glance at the results on the income scales will show just how useless it is to rely on the goodwill of the government.

If the government and the media were really interested in the plight of the pensioners and the unemployed, they would give them living pensions, jobs and proper DSS and CES facilities.

Throughout the dispute one of the officials’ favourite arguments was that it is not appropriate for public servants to take all-out strike action. It was used in NSW to oppose a stoppage in DSS and in Victoria to support a tactic of working back till 7pm as a “demonstration of a commitment to provide services to clients”.

But it is obvious that any strike action, whether in the public or private sector, is going to hurt workers and the disadvantaged. The best way to ease the burden on them is to go all out and win in the shortest possible time.

The officials also argued that, unlike strikes in private enterprise, public service strikes do not disrupt production. But strong strike action by public servants is a direct political attack on the government. Draconian anti-union legislation is available for use against public service unions because the government is aware of the potential threat of a mobilised Public Service.

Facing up to a Defeat

We have devoted a lot of space in this pamphlet to criticising the officials. We have been critical of the bans and media strategies, we have been critical of their deliberate attempts to keep the membership in the dark and we could add to the last, their ‘red-baiting’ of PSAG/Grey Collar. These criticisms are not derived from personal animosity. We believe there are concrete reasons for their behaviour.

The officials occupy a privileged position relative to their members. Their role as negotiators with the government means they are more interested in settling disputes than winning them. To act as mediators between members and management they have to retain credibility in the eyes of management by keeping the rank and file under control. Anything that upsets this role (such as militant rank and file activity) is therefore seen as a threat. Their idea of running a dispute involves the membership being wheeled on and off the industrial stage in line with how negotiations are going.

But although we consistently argued for militant tactics throughout the dispute we are also realists. Both PSAG and the officials supported a return to work with nothing at the final DSS meeting –but for completely different reasons. At that meeting a  number of prominent and vocal supporters of the officials argued that we were “going back on our own terms”. This was a ludicrous denial of reality. The facts were that we had lost any hope of winning the dispute. With CEEP intact, Chaney threatening sackings and the rest of the union back at work, DSS members could not have fought on alone.

What is now important is building the strength of the union. We want people to organise the kind of rank and file action that will win in the future. That means emphasising and building on the real victories in the dispute – longer strike action than we’ve ever taken before, strong picket lines, collections of financial support from the rest of the trade union movement and most importantly, building PSAG/Grey Collar as the kind of rank and file organisation that made these victories possible.

Grey Collar

These victories don’t come out of thin air. The motions to stop work for three days and take to the streets in our thousands were no accident. They had been discussed and decided on by union members at PSAG meetings and then argued for with other DSS delegates. Throughout the dispute there were meetings at least twice a week and often daily, where PSAG supporters organised leaflets, collections, motions, speakers and worked out how to carry out the decisions of the mass meetings, such as giving out leaflets and organising pickets.

Lots of new members were drawn into PSAG during the course of the dispute, but our ability to organise would have been much reduced if the organisation had not already existed. For example, the Grey Collar conference happened to fall in the middle of the dispute and this gave us the chance to get some of the interstate coordination that is still very much lacking. 60 people came from Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Wollongong, Newcastle and Brisbane and discussed the DSS dispute in detail, as well as in the context of wider discussions of topics such as the bans strategy.

By having an organisation that already consisted of militant members from a variety of Departments, we were able to rally support around action in other Departments. As a result, a lot of the groundwork had been done in some areas before CEEP was used. The first ACOA-wide meeting and the attempted rally in Chifley Square were PSAG initiatives in the face of official indifference.

Finally, it is the experience of the NSW Branch of ACOA itself which provides one of the clearest arguments for active involvement in PSAG. The Federal and Victorian officials have for some years had a theory that NSW is magically more militant than other branches of the union. We don’t think it’s breathing NSW air that does it. It’s because there has, for four years now, been a militant rank and file organisation in the Federal Public Service in NSW that this branch of the union has made the strides that it has. Those strides have been made by the union membership, not by the officials.


The job ahead of us now is to build PSAG so that the lessons of the DSS dispute are applied to future disputes and so ACOA can start to win on wages and conditions after six years of defeats. The government certainly won’t ease off its attacks – especially on wages and staffing levels – and with CEEP successfully established the fights are likely to get tougher. We are also seeing the extreme right wing in the union making a renewed push for power. The halfhearted industrial action advocated by Cotter and his supporters makes the right’s job easier by discrediting industrial action in general.

We need a strong rank and file group to take up the fight against the government and the right. PSAG already has established groups in Sydney and Canberra and smaller groups of supporters in Wollongong, Newcastle, Melbourne and Brisbane. In Sydney and Canberra we meet weekly and produce our newspaper Grey Collar, every two months.

[See below for added material in pamphlet.]


By APSA members in PSAG

The ACOA staffing dispute in Social Security should have resulted in a united action by both ACOA and APSA. Any improvements made in staffing to provide a better service to the public would have to include an increase in both divisions. However, despite numerous attempts by many APSA members to become involved our officials constantly denied the existence of the issue. Not wishing to be “ACOA puppets”, they attempted to keep the membership in blissful ignorance by various (non) actions – actions contrary to the objects of the Association. That is to “assist and cooperate” with “kindred organisations in upholding and advancing the rights and privileges and general welfare of public servants”.

The first official communication regarding the dispute came after the CEEPing of some 500 public servants. A joint meeting was called, but united action was not to follow. Secretary Don Nelson constantly tried to confuse and block the membership’s vote. Our attendance became a mere token gesture when we were allowed to vote on only one motion – the 24 hour stoppage. The chair attempted to clarify the situation by informing the APSA members of their right to vote for a 3-day stoppage. This was later endorsed by Bruce Martin (Branch President) when he told some members they would have full union backing if they went out on strike for 3 days. But the following day, as some members were being threatened with the CEEP Act, Don Nelson in a very brief interview heatedly and in an abusive manner, opposed any such statement made by his colleague. He also made clear his views towards ACOA members and “their blind followers in the APSA”.

“Don’t be misled by statements made by some ACOA members ‘that they were doing it for the Fourth Division also”. APSA can do its own fighting when it comes to the point of protecting the interests of its members.”

We are aware of his idea of “fighting”. When it became apparent many members would join the 3-day strike he quickly used the recorded telephone information service for the first time to order us back to work. His idea of “protection” was highlighted in further telephone calls made to him – any public servant CEEP’d can only expect a token 24-hour stoppage by the APSA with no further action, or even meetings intended.

Don Nelson, “the person mainly responsible for coordinating this Association’s position”, has brought a great deal of disorientation and dissatisfaction amongst the membership with the apparent lack of organisation, communication and leadership. As a result, many members have resigned and potential new members show disinterest towards APSA.

This must not be allowed to continue – for the sake of the membership as a whole, action must be taken now if we are to be taken seriously as a union movement by the government. We may soon need the backing of a strong union if the actions of Senator Chaney, so far, are anything to go by.


 *An effective union based on the strength of the rank and file. This means the involvement of ordinary members in their union, organised in the workplace to fight for their interests through direct, militant action. Therefore we stand for the democratisation of ACOA’s structures, amalgamation with APSA and one clerical union in the public service. Such developments can only occur through organising union members from the bottom up, rather than relying on union officials or concentrating on elections. PSAG seeks to encourage this by bringing together activists from different areas and developing directions for militant union activity.

*The defence of working conditions and living standards. We have to fight directly for the restoration and improvement of real wage levels and not rely on the Arbitration Commission.

*The extension of workers’ control of working conditions. Workers have a right to veto changes in the way they are directed to work, eg, technological change, re-organisations and efficiency audits.

*Action by public servants to stop or limit the effect of government policies which are inimical to all workers’ interests, eg, health, education and welfare cuts, the work test and amendments to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act.

*The strongest possible stand against direct government attacks on public servants such as CE(RR) and CE(EP). No redundancies and no staff ceilings.

*The active participation of women in the workforce and the union movement. All issues which affect women’s right to work are industrial issues – the availability of childcare, contraception and abortion and maternity, paternity and special leave for responsibilities to dependants of both sexes. These are issues for which all trade unionists should be fighting.

*The right of all individuals to work without discrimination on the grounds of sex, marital status, sexual preference, age, colour, race, religion or political belief.

*No bosses in the union – no second division officers in the ACOA.

Song Sheet

The dispute was long and bitter, but it had its lighter moments. No meeting, no picket, no week of seemingly endless slogging to strengthen our position, was complete without a bit of time to let off steam. It was in those periods that these songs were written – along with countless other half-songs, verses, witty two-liners, etc, that have already been forgotten as a “good idea at the time”. At least these ones are now recorded for posterity!

The first day of stand-downs

 On the first day of stand-downs Fred Chaney said to me:
Return to work immediately!

On the second day of stand-downs Fred Chaney said to me:
2.Lift all your bans
3.Stop all your whingeing
4.Start paying people
5.Five hundred CEEP’d!
6.Lots of scabs working
7.Please sign this statement
8.Pensioners are starving
9.You will be sacked
10.Have a merry Xmas
11.Barry Cotter’s wanking

By Wayne Townsend and friends, Bondi DSS, NSW


A man called Barry Cotter

(The tune for this is a bit obscure. It’s an old labour movement song about Bill Bailey – contact someone from PSAG and we’ll sing it for you!)


There was a man called Barry Cotter, from the left of the ALP
Took control of the ACOA from the nasty NCC
He got all his mates from Uni to fill the offices bare
And they all bought brand new safari suits
And this is what they made us wear

Well I might be a mate of Paul Munro, Gary Nicholls and I might agree,
Well I might put the screws on Stephen Bolt and Michael Refshauge
Well I might oppose the plebiscite and the officials in the ACT
Well I might oppose a lot of things but I’ll stick with NEC

There was a man called Barry Cotter from the left of the ALP
Whose members out in DSS said ‘more staff imediately’
So Barry spoke to Gary and Gary spoke to Steve
And after three days on the grass
Here’s what they would have us believe

Well you might think the government’s winning, that Chaney’s wearing a grin
Well you might think CEEP legislation has gone and done us in
Well you might think scabs and stand-downs have weakened our resolve
But don’t you believe any of these things, cos it’s all Grey Collar’s fault

There was a man called Barry Cotter from the left of the ALP
Who told us to forget strike action and use a bans strategy
And when you all get stood down I’m sure you’ll all agree
To send the union back to work
For the sake of unity

Well I might be a mate of Paul Munro and the boys at the PSB
Well I might ask arbitration for our wages policy
Well I might get up at Town Hall and speak of our victory
I can draw up any scenario but I’ll stick with NEC

Well you might think the government’s winning, that Chaney’s wearing a grin
Well you might think the Hyde Park double cross has got the membership sucked in
Well you might think that constantly selling out looks bad in the members’ eyes
But what are union officials for if not to compromise?


Editor’s Glosssary

ACOA:             Administrative and Clerical Officers Association (forerunner of CPSU)
APSA:              Australian Public Service Association Fourth Division Officers (now part of CPSU)
Chaney:           Senator Fred Chaney – Minister for Social Security in Fraser Govt
Dolan:              Cliff Dolan – ACTU President
DSS:                Commonwealth Department of Social Security
CES:                Commonwealth Employment Service (employment agency privatised by Howard                                 Govt
PSAG:              Public Servants Action Group (Sydney based rank and file group)
Grey Collar:     Publication of PSAG
NE:                  ACOA National Executive
ACOA Reform Group:  (Melbourne based rank and file group)