Posts Tagged ‘democracy’

An end to the Queensland Acts

January 5, 2015

Minister Katter said the legislation, intended to protect sacred sites and other places of significance, was ‘socially divisive’, ‘simplistic’, would ‘freeze development’ and gave too much power to the Commonwealth. Detailed responses from each government department were shown to support this view. A submission to repeal the Aboriginal Relics Preservation Act was withdrawn in October (Dec. 44456).

[PN: A little over a year after the Commonwealth Games Protests of 1982 the Qld Government made extensive changes to what was known as the Queensland Acts which had kept a kind of apartheid in place in Queensland since the 1890s – here is a report of those changes using newly released Cabinet Minutes as their source]

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs

Grants totalling $1.5m for religious organisations running Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities were approved by Cabinet members, with $1m allocated to the Lutheran Church (for Hopevale and Wujal Wujal) and $115,000 for the Brethren Church at Doomadgee (Dec. 42170, Dec. 42302, Dec. 44383). New community services legislation, to provide for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, was approved (Dec. 42644, Dec. 42821, Dec. 44013). Provisions for liquor sales and other administrative functions were included.

Members considered the issue of award wages for Aboriginal and Torres Strait…

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Pride review – power in an unlikely union

January 3, 2015

A wonderful film that at times had me in tears not because I am sentimental but because of the reminder about the ground we have lost.

Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton and George MacKay sparkle in this tale of lesbian and gay activists’ support for the miners’ strike

Paddy Considine in Pride Left to right: Freddie Fox, Ben Schnetzer, Faye Marsay, Joseph Gilgun, Paddy Considine and George MacKay forge unity between lesbian and gay activists and striking miners in Pride.

Cards on the table: having been actively involved in the banner-carrying, badge-wearing, internecine bickering of student politics in the early 80s, I am predisposed to embrace any movie that celebrates the rag-tag allegiances that sprang up across class and gender boundaries during the miners’ strike. A fondness for cute quiffs, turn-ups, and Dexys hats helps too, along with nostalgia for the time when playing Bronski Beat records really loudly could be interpreted as a political act. Add to this an enduring love of British films such as Brassed Off and Made in Dagenham, which blend hard fact with sentimental fiction…

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Philosophy, Democracy and Education: Reconstructing Dewey by Philip Cam

December 31, 2014

 Philosophy, Democracy and Education: Reconstructing Dewey by Phil Cam is From: In-Suk Cha (ed.), Teaching Philosophy for Democracy (Seoul: Seoul University Press, 2000), pp. 158-181.

Phil Cam is Adjunct Associate Professor, BA MA Adelaide, DPhil Oxford, School of Humanities and Languages

When it comes to the connections between philosophy, democracy and education we could hardly find a more rewarding philosopher than John Dewey. Not only does the quest for democracy animate the whole vast canvas of his work, but Dewey also has an abiding concern with both education and the social value of philosophy, which makes the intersection between philosophy, democracy and education Dewey’s home ground. Nor is Dewey’s work lacking in contemporary social relevance. His vision of the democratic society as one that is democratic throughout the whole of its social fabric, and which thereby supplies everyday life with greater opportunities for human fulfillment, remains vital today, when democratic societies are still popularly conceived of merely as those that enjoy a certain form of government. On the educational front, widespread advocacy of the basic need to promote thinking in education distantly echoes Dewey’s claim that we educate to the extent that we develop the ability to think intelligently, education being for Dewey but a continuous reconstruction of experience which increases our ability to direct and control our lives. And Dewey’s insistence that philosophy should assume a social responsibility equal to its calling and help us to deal with the major issues and problems of contemporary social life has never been more pressing in a world where social values are increasingly in danger of being reduced to a narrowly economic outlook, while philosophers, on the whole, still busy themselves with rather remote subject matter.1

I will be exploring these themes in Dewey in the hope of encouraging those who are interested in the connections between philosophy and democracy to include him in their teaching program. In unashamedly Deweyan style, however, I will also be making some broad proposals for reconstructing Dewey’s proposals about philosophy itself.

  1. Democracy and Community

Dewey never thought of the machinery of government as central to democracy, and took questions as to the institutions of state as subsidiary to the broader and deeper issues of community that lie at the heart of his conception of a democratic society. Indeed, for Dewey, the idea of democracy is coincident with that of community:

Regarded as an idea, democracy is not an alternative to other principles of associated life. It is the idea of community life itself. . . Wherever there is conjoint activity whose consequences are appreciated as good by all singular persons who partake in it, and where the realization of the good is such as to effect the energetic desire and effort to sustain it in being just because it is a good shared by all, there is in so far a community. The clear consciousness of a communal life, in all its implications, constitutes the idea of democracy.2

This means that, as an ideal, democracy is nothing but a projection of those extant patterns of associated life that are characterized by joint and mutual effort which is sustained by common assent and undertaken for the good of all. In short, we can say that, for Dewey, a society is democratic to the extent to which its social institutions and forms of association encourage and sustain community.

Dewey’s simple equation of democracy with community can be more carefully delineated in terms of a number of significant characteristics of Deweyan community that make for democracy. As Dewey understands it, community is a way of living in which a group of people is bound together by “mutually interpenetrating” interests, where “each has to refer his own action to that of others, and to consider the action of others to give point and direction to his own”.3 This means that each agent acts in ways that are congruent with the interests of others and which actively reflect and enhance them. As a result, community tends to achieve outcomes that are not only coherent, but maximally inclusive of individual interests as well.

Deweyan community is not authoritarian and hierarchical, with political or social policy made on high, and social and industrial decisions commanded down the line. Change within community is not directed from above, but is communicated in many directions by individuals, and both within and between all manner of social groupings; and reciprocally, as it were, it is shaped by the interests of all those who would feel its effects. This means that the members of a community, as Dewey conceives it, are actively involved in building community, and share responsibility for its growth and development. This is empowering. The constant adjustment of individuals to each other, and of social institutions and arrangements to continuing efforts to be inclusive of the interests of all, liberates the powers of the individual. Thereby it provides opportunities for the development of distinctive capacities and individual contributions which themselves are a means to further growth, and it gives force to that tie between freedom and culture which is one of the great promises of democracy.4

In Education and Democracy, Dewey identifies two criteria for evaluating social life. These are, first, the extent to which society, within its various groupings, gives conscious expression to common interests rather than to the interests of the few, as well as to a full range of humanly significant interests rather than, say, a small range of narrowly economic ones; and secondly, the degree of free interplay and cooperation between groups, whereby the possibilities of socially cohesive development are enlarged.5 These criteria essentially gather together the characteristics of community identified above: that is to say, the maximization and cohesion of interests and the creative freedom of open interaction. And they are the same criteria that Dewey goes on to identify with the general conception of democracy:

The first signifies not only more numerous and more varied points of common interest, but greater reliance upon the recognition of mutual interests as a factor in social control. The second means not only freer interaction between social groups . . . but change in social habit–its continuous readjustment through meeting the new situations produced by varied intercourse. And these two traits are precisely what characterize the democratically constituted society.6

It should be noted that for Dewey these two broad features of what he calls community are intimately connected to the traditional trio of democratic life: equality, liberty and fraternity. In fact, so far as Dewey is concerned, it is only insofar as these three notions have their grounding in community that they can have other than a sentimental, false and ultimately destructive meaning. Rightly perceived, equality, liberty and fraternity arise out of and are realized in those forms of relationship that constitute community, and so it is only within community that we can understand their concrete identity and effective meaning:

In its just connection with communal experience, fraternity is another name for the consciously appreciated goods which accrue from an association in which all share, and which give direction to the conduct of each. Liberty is that secure release and fulfillment of personal potentialities which take place only in rich and manifold association with others: the power to be an individualized self making a distinctive contribution and enjoying in its own way the fruits of association. Equality denotes the unhampered share which each individual member of the community has in the consequences of associated action. . . . Equality does not signify that kind of mathematical or physical equivalence of which any one element may be substituted for another. It denotes effective regard for whatever is distinctive and unique in each, irrespective of physical and psychological inequalities. It is not a natural possession but is a fruit of the community when its action is directed by its character as a community.7

Community also involves communication. For Dewey, communal life is not just a matter of associated activity. It involves a consciousness of its consequences on the part of the participants, as well as a shared desire to sustain that activity for those ends. This is consciousness not merely as an individual awareness, but as a “social consciousness” in the sense of joint or mutual knowledge, which effectively implies both community and communication.8 Dewey insists upon the communal, public nature of knowledge, claiming that communication is indispensable to knowledge, while the idea of “knowledge cooped up in a private consciousness is a myth”. This is not only because objective knowledge relies upon record and communication, but also because “only by distribution can . . . knowledge be either obtained or tested”.9 Establishing and maintaining publicly available records, conducting open inquiry into matters of public interest and concern, developing the art of translating complex and technical information into readily intelligible forms, and improving the means of disseminating it widely—these are the kinds of communal and communicative acts that make for informed opinion, and for public consciousness in the sense of joint and common knowledge. For that reason, they are the marks of communication within a community that make for democracy.

In addition to this, Dewey claims that thought itself comes to fruition only through communication and that its realization is most complete when we think together in “face-to-face relationships by means of direct give and take” within the communal encounters of dialogue. Thought in its fullness is communal and dialogical, according to Dewey, and only through a desire for personal gain rather than public good is it converted into the private capital of the individual:

The problem of securing diffused and seminal intelligence can be solved only in the degree in which local communal life becomes a reality. Signs and symbols, language, are the means of communication by which a fraternally shared experience is ushered in and sustained. But the winged words of conversation in immediate intercourse have a vital import lacking in the fixed and frozen words of written speech. . . Logic in its fulfillment recurs to the primitive sense of the word: dialogue. Ideas which are not communicated, shared, and reborn in expression are but soliloquy, and soliloquy is but broken and imperfect thought. It, like the acquisition of material wealth, marks a diversion of the wealth created by associated endeavor and exchange to private ends. It is more genteel, and it is called more noble. But there is no difference in kind.10


We can readily appreciate that thought finds its basis in dialogue when we reflect on the fact that, in everyday contexts—whether in our families or with our friends, in our workplaces or in public life–most of our thinking is undertaken not in isolation, but as part of conjoint activity. Dialogue is the vehicle for thought which carries much of the constructive, reflective and communicative burden of doing things together. In its various phases, it involves such things as stopping what we are doing in order to discuss problems or difficulties (that is, stopping to think about what we are doing), dealing with our disagreements, helping each other to interpret the troublesome actions and uncertain intentions of third parties, and helping to give each other guidance in deciding what to do when we are in doubt. As Dewey says, thinking does not occur through spontaneous combustion. It is a response to uncertainty, hesitation or doubt. We begin to think when there is some difficulty to be overcome, a problem to be solved, or questions to be answered, and we feel the need of a resolution.11 While it is true enough that most of us are given to privately ruminating upon our problems and difficulties to some extent, dialogue is the basic means through which we resolve them.

Dialogue rather than monologue is the natural form of thought. Even when we turn to what Dewey dubs soliloquy, we do not merely keep our thoughts to ourselves. We address ourselves in a curious parallel to the actor’s asides to an audience. Dewey is right to claim that these private interludes are imperfect. Lacking a proper interlocutor, they are linguistically derivative and incomplete. They beg for a respondent, someone who listens to what is said, and who offers advice or consolation. Little wonder that soliloquy so readily gives way to those even more obviously derivative episodes where we become our own interlocutor and converse inwardly with ourselves.

Finally, in speaking of democracy as community we need to keep in mind the connection that Dewey sees between communication and inquiry. Dewey conceives of what he calls the “Great Community” as one in which an informed and articulate public has come to enjoy the consequences of associated life in expanding abundance, and it is precisely this Great Community which he envisages as giving robust expression to democracy, understood as “a life of free and enriching communion”. Democracy, says Dewey, “will have its consummation when free social inquiry is indissolubly wedded to the art of full and moving communication”.12 The democratic public must be both articulate and informed, and an informed public is only possible when continuous, systematic, and freely conducted social inquiry is carried out and its results are effectively communicated throughout the society at large. Otherwise, says Dewey, “what passes as public opinion will be ‘opinion’ in its derogatory sense rather than truly public, no matter how widespread the opinion is.”13

It is important to notice that, as Dewey uses the term ‘public’ here, a public is something that has to be brought about. The achievement of a public requires an awareness of the arena of our common interests in connection with the multifarious consequences of our interactions. To the extent that we do not recognize our common interests in controlling the consequences of our interactions, but individuals or groups independently seek their own advantage, or to the extent that our interactions are manipulated by powerful interests for private gain, there is no public. In fact, in The Public and its Problems, Dewey was in part lamenting the eclipse of the public. Hence the need for social inquiry and communication. Without them, the public proper cannot be established. “Systematic and continuous inquiry into all the conditions which effect association and their dissemination,” says Dewey, “is the precondition of the creation of a true public”.14

  1. Democracy and Education

Since Dewey’s social democracy is developed and sustained by those features of community described above, education will be geared to democracy to the extent that it emphasizes such things as open inquiry, dialogue and communication, cooperation, and active participation in a wide range of associated groups. While these are among the direct educational implications of Dewey’s conception of democracy, to be sure, it will be useful to explore the connections between democracy and education in greater depth.

Dewey defines education as “that reconstruction or reorganization of experience which adds to the meaning of experience, and which increases ability to direct the course of subsequent experience”.15 In a less formal tone, he tells us that education is growth.16 As a process of reconstruction, education is growth in that it involves an enlargement of the meaning of our experience and of the capacity to take charge of our lives. But education is also growth in terms of its aim. For the aim of education, according to Dewey, is nothing but to enlarge the capacity for further education—to enhance the capacity for growth. So education is growth in terms of its ends as well as its means.

Once we put the claim that education is growth together with the equation of democracy with community, we can see that, for Dewey, the relations between democracy and education must come down to those between community and growth. And that is just how Dewey’s story goes. His story about the relations between democracy and education is one of community as the provision for abundant growth.

It will be convenient to begin with the necessity of community in the child’s early encounters with the use of things. In discussing how experience becomes meaningful, Dewey claims that, contrary to empiricist psychology, we do not acquire meaning through the synthesis of sensory impressions, or anything of the kind. Rather, we attain meaning only as we come to intelligently and intentionally interact with the world around us. And this comes about through our involvement in communicative activities, and particularly through those episodes in which we learn about what Dewey loosely calls the “use of things”. Let us look at these connections by means of an example:

If the mother hands the child something needed, the latter must reach for the thing in order to get it. Where there is giving there must be taking. The way the child handles the thing after it is got, the use to which it is put, is surely influenced by the fact that the child has watched the mother. When the child sees the parent looking for something, it is natural for it also to look for the object and to give it over when it finds it, as it was, under other circumstances, to receive it. . . [Such instances show] the part played in the joint activity by the use of things. . . But as a matter of fact, it is the characteristic use to which the thing is put, because of its specific qualities, which supplies the meaning with which it is identified. A chair is a thing which is put to one use; a table, a thing which employed for another purpose; an orange is a thing which costs so much, which is grown in warm climes, which is eaten, and when eaten has an agreeable odour and refreshing taste, etc.17

In our communicative interactions with children, particularly when we do things with objects and involve the children in the activity, we engage them in the making of meaning. This is how children learn about everything from tables and chairs to oranges and orangutans, as well as about the larger world of human action, and just about everything else. We bring them within the circle of communicative activity. Yet notice how smoothly we move from talking about the acquisition of meaning to speaking of the educative process. By engaging children in the making of meaning, we thereby educate them. And this is because education is the process of making experience meaningful.

For Dewey, all genuinely social acts are communicative, and all communication is educative. “To be a recipient of a communication is to have an enlarged and changed experience.”18 This means that the reconstruction of experience is not, of course, confined to formal education. Formal education is but a deliberately organized part of a continuing process. Meaningful, educative experience permeates our lives to the extent that we are engaged in genuinely communicative, social activity. Yet it is as true today as when Dewey complained about it over eighty years ago, that so much nominally social activity is virtually meaningless, at least for many of its participants. On Dewey’s analysis, this is basically because the activity is not communicative, or not even really shared, when those participating in the activity either cannot or do not enter into the enterprise with that common mind, that sense of common purpose, which belongs to community. Dewey’s industrial examples may be a little dated in some respects, but they are still make the point very clear:

A pin may pass in the course of its manufacture through the hands of many persons. But each may do his part without knowing what the others do or without any reference to what they do; each may operate simply for the sake of a separate result–his own pay. There is, in this case, no common consequence to which the several acts are referred, and hence no genuine intercourse or association, in spite of juxtaposition, and in spite of the fact that their respective doings contribute to a single outcome. But if each views the consequences of his own acts as having a bearing upon what others are doing and takes into account the consequences of their behaviour upon himself, then there is a common mind; a common intent in behaviour. There is an understanding set up between the different contributors; and this common understanding controls the action of each.19

The mere contrivance of coordinated effort, without a shared sense of purpose among the participants, is socially unintelligent and humanly unrewarding. In a word, it lacks the virtues of community. By contrast, when there is Deweyan communication, so that the members of a group operate under a common understanding, joint activity becomes genuinely social and meaningful. It comes within community.

By now the connections between growth and community—between education and democracy—have begun to surface. Community is a rich mixture of communication and activity directed towards common and interconnected interests, and hence it provides fertile ground for the growth of meaningful experience and of our capacity to direct its onward course. Just because community is such a rich source of growth, it is abundantly educational. And given that democracy is founded upon community, democracy shows itself to be a deeply educational form of life. Here again is Dewey:

[Democracy] is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience. The extension in space of the number of individuals who participate in an interest so that each has to refer his own action to that of others, and to consider the action of others to give point and direction to his own, is equivalent to the breaking down of class, race, and national territory which kept men from perceiving the full import of their activity. These more numerous and varied points of contact denote a greater diversity of stimuli to which an individual has to respond; they consequently put a premium on variation in his action. They secure a liberation of powers which remain suppressed as long as the incitations to action are partial, as they must be in a group which in its exclusiveness shuts out many interests.20

We are now back in familiar territory, in that promised land of an ever broadening community of interest and a fuller and freer interplay that liberates our powers. Yet now we can see that democratic growth, the expansion of “conjoint communicated experience,” is the very process of education itself. From the viewpoint of process, democracy is education, in that the life of community is, above all others, the life of abundant and continuing growth in meaningful experience.

It makes little difference if we view this matter in terms of ends rather than means. Once we see the aim of education as the capacity for continuing growth, and ask what social arrangements would best answer to this aim, then we see that “this idea cannot be applied to all the members of society except where intercourse of man with man is mutual, and except where there is adequate provision for the reconstruction of social habits and institutions by means of wide stimulation arising from equitably distributed interests. And this means a democratic society.”21 Only those social arrangements which provide for free association, open communication, active inquiry, and unfettered social participation by all, could fulfil the aim of continuing growth—and only then provided that the society’s established institutions are sufficiently flexible to respond to the many and continuous needs for change. To repeat, it is community which provides the basis for a continuing capacity for growth; and this is equivalent to saying that the aim of education finds its fulfilment in democracy.

In continuing the discussion about democracy and education, or community and growth, I would like to say something about the importance of inquiry in community, particularly as it relates to formal education. Dewey says that the move to democracy represents “the will to substitute the method of discussion for the method of coercion” in settling differences of opinion, but that this method has not yet run deep.22 While some such substitution has taken effect in political decision-making in many parts of the world, it has made relatively little gains in the home, school, or workplace, where authority and coercion still tend to reign. Speaking to Americans against the grim backdrop of fascism and totalitarianism and under the darkening skies of impending war in Europe, Dewey warns that conflict over democracy begins at home, within our own attitudes and institutions. In the end, this conflict “can be won only by extending the application of democratic methods, methods of consultation, persuasion, negotiation, communication, cooperative intelligence, in the task of making our own politics, industry, education, our culture generally, a servant and an evolving manifestation of democratic ideas”.23

Dewey sees continuity between these methods and those of science. Democratic decision-making, as he conceives of it, strives for a consensus through free-ranging inquiry into our different points of view. It seeks the relevant facts, employs publicly conspicuous processes, communicates its findings, and is always prepared to submit its working results to the challenge of further experience:

It is of the nature of science not so much to tolerate as to welcome diversity of opinion, while it insists that inquiry brings the evidence of observed facts to bear to effect a consensus of conclusions–and even then to hold the conclusion subject to what is ascertained and made public in further new inquiries. I would not claim that any existing democracy has ever made complete or adequate use of scientific method in deciding upon its policies. But freedom of inquiry, toleration of diverse views, freedom of communication, the distribution of what is found out to every individual as the ultimate intellectual consumer, are involved in the democratic as in the scientific method.24

Dewey traces the development of democracy to changes in our social and material circumstances resulting from the growth of science and technology; and, in arguing for the adaptation of scientific method to the problems of social life, he sees us as finally being able to throw off the shackles of the pre-scientific world view in which most of our social thinking is still confined.25 In the handy phrase that Charles Sanders Peirce used to characterize the scientific community, Dewey’s democratic community is very much envisaged as a community of inquiry.

Dewey particularly laments the fact that the methods of democracy are so sadly lacking where they are most in need of being taught—in the school education system:

That the schools have mostly been given to imparting information ready-made, along with teaching the tools of literacy, cannot be denied. The methods used in acquiring such information are not those which develop skill in inquiry and in test of opinions. On the contrary, they are positively hostile to it. They tend to dull native curiosity, and to load powers of observation and experimentation with such a mass of unrelated material that they do not operate as effectively as they do in many an illiterate person. The problem of the common schools in a democracy has reached only its first stage when they are provided for everybody. Until what shall be taught and how it is taught is settled upon the basis of formation of the scientific attitude, the so-called educational work of schools is a dangerously hit-and-miss affair as far as democracy is concerned.26

One might see Dewey as having a scientistic attitude to the problems of social life, and as here advocating the development of a corresponding outlook in school education. Yet this would be to mistake pragmatism for scientism. Roughly, the mistake would be to conflate the claim that we should look to the consequences of our ideas in judging their meaning or their worth with the view that the established sciences provide the measure of all meaning and value. Rather than embracing a narrow scientism, Dewey is warning us of the dangers of the manipulation of public opinion by media propaganda, and reminding us of the influence on belief, attitude, and action of unargued authority, unthinking habit, unreflective sentiment, and sectional bias. And he is admonishing us to develop, through school education, a critical, inquiring and reflective citizenry, that is willing to suspend judgment, to put evidence before personal preference, and to treat ideas as hypotheses to be tested in experience rather than to be treated as dogma that it would be heretical or perfidious to question.

Dewey presents education and democracy as two sides of a golden coin. If this is to be more than a glowing vision, we need to see what its consequences might be for thinking about our own poor versions of community and our work-a-day educational institutions. If we believe that our educational institutions should not help merely to perpetuate existing social conditions, but should be a means of making them more democratic, then they must not be places where students are weighed down by the legacy of the past or indoctrinated with prevailing attitudes, beliefs and values. Instead, as Dewey says, we should establish in our schools “a projection in type of the society that we should like to realize, and by forming minds in accord with it gradually modify the larger and more recalcitrant features of adult society”._ Insofar as we are talking about a projection of the democratic society, this means that we need to turn our schools into communities, in Dewey’s sense. Among other things, this would require that we foster communication among our students instead of isolating them from one another; that we engage them in open inquiry rather than simply teaching them by authority; that classroom activity and school life should expand students’ interests by building upon them; that schooling should build on cooperation and reciprocity of interest rather than focusing upon competition and social division; and that many and varied forms of association should be developed within the school, and between the school and the wider community, so as to enable children in groups and as individuals to develop socially intelligent attitudes and approaches to one another. In sum, we should do all that we can to turn schools into communities through which we can liberate the powers of those that inhabit them and develop their capacities for growth. If Dewey is right, then schools must practice the virtues of community if they are to project democracy and to provide the society at large with better prospects for progress in that direction.

  1. Philosophy, Democracy and Education

So far we have been exploring Dewey’s conceptions of democracy and education through their connections with his notion of community. By this means, I have tried to persuade you that we ought to aspire to democratic forms of life because they maximize the prospects of growth. If we want rich and fulfilling lives, lives that are meaningful and continue to grow, and if we want such lives not only for ourselves, but for all of our fellows, then we should march toward democracy under the banner of community.

It is finally time to ask what contribution philosophy may make to the pursuit of this democracy.28 In the previous section I made the connection between what Dewey calls the “method of democracy” and scientific inquiry, and noted Dewey’s call for the development of a corresponding attitude as an organizing principle in school education. In this section, I proceed to draw attention to the connections that Dewey makes between this inquiring outlook and the need for a practically-minded philosophy, and go on to suggest that we can carry Dewey’s project forward by making philosophical inquiry an active ingredient in daily life. The kind of thing that I have in mind is best exemplified by recent attempts to set up communities of philosophical inquiry in our schools and classrooms. Another move would be to establish more inclusive forums for cultural dialogue in our communities, and across ethnic and sectarian divides. To the extent that such developments would add to the meaning of experience within community, philosophy would become both broadly educational and truly public. This would make philosophy continuous with both the means and the ends of democracy.

Dewey says that “the distinctive office, problems and subject matter of philosophy grow out of stresses and strains in the community life in which a given form of philosophy arises”.29 Yet philosophy does not merely mirror the conditions from which it springs. It is also creative and socially transforming. Its pronouncements are “prophecies rather than records”; it is more concerned with the possibilities of meaning than with truth. Dewey sums this up rather grandly by saying that, while philosophy is “a conversion of such culture as exists into consciousness . . . this conversion is itself a further movement of civilization”.30

This means that philosophy has deep historical and theoretical connections with education. Insofar as movements in civilization embody modifications of mental and moral attitudes, which it is the business of education to promote, and in as much as philosophy is “an explicit formulation of the problems of the formation of right mental and moral habitudes in respect to the difficulties of contemporary social life,” philosophy becomes but “the theory of education in its most general phases” and the “reconstruction of philosophy, of education, and of social ideals and methods thus go hand in hand”.31

If we ask what philosophical transformations would assist the passage from mere political democracy to the life of abundant community, Dewey’s basic claim is that we must make philosophy practical. Once again, he begins with the consequences to be drawn from the earlier development of a scientific epistemology:

. . . in the actual course of the development of science, a tremendous change has come about. When the practice of knowledge ceased to be dialectical and became experimental, knowing became preoccupied with changes and the test of knowledge became the ability to bring about certain changes. Knowing, for the experimental sciences, means a certain kind of intelligently conducted doing; it ceases to be contemplative and becomes in a true sense practical. Now this implies that philosophy, unless it is to undergo a complete break with the authorized spirit of science, must also alter its nature. It must assume a practical nature; it must become operative and experimental.32


The change in orientation required by an “operative and experimental” philosophy would mean either total abandonment of philosophy’s former problems, or at least their radical reconstruction. Such a practically oriented approach would turn us away from endless disputes between realists and idealists, unproductive disagreements over the metaphysics of possible worlds, and the like, towards the more pressing problems of humanity. As Dewey rhetorically asks:

Would it not encourage philosophy to face the great social and moral defects and troubles from which humanity suffers, to concentrate its attention upon clearing up the causes and exact nature of these evils and upon developing a clear idea of better social possibilities; in short upon projecting an idea or ideal which, instead of expressing the notion of another world or some far-away unrealizable goal, would be used as a method of understanding and rectifying specific social ills?33

If we go on to ask how this socially oriented philosophy might be developed in the quest for Dewey’s Great Community, it is not entirely empty to suggest that its value would depend upon the extent to which it found a place in attempts to think through those problems and issues that bar the path to a more inclusive and liberating community. It is in the nature of such a community that everyone should share in its deliberations, to the extent of their capacity, and that the community should develop the individual’s capacities to the full. And given that community exists only to the extent that its members are able to participate fully and freely in it, it is clear that philosophical inquiry, in the context of community, should not be thought of as the exclusive prerogative of an educated elite, let alone of professional philosophers. Community makes reflection on how we should think and act, and involvement in social transformation, an inclusive affair.

The educational consequences of this line of thought are staggering. When we ask what kinds of reconstruction would fit philosophical inquiry for its role in community, we can see that they must be ones which make its processes educational and democratic. At least, this follows given the Deweyan ties between democracy, community, education and growth. To say that the processes must be educational means that philosophical inquiry should aim to enrich the ongoing experience of those individuals and groups undertaking it, and to develop those “mental and moral habitudes” that enable people to deal more intelligently with the problems and possibilities of social life. To say that its processes must be democratic means that they should involve open, cooperative, conjoint activity, centering upon face-to-face dialogue which takes as much account of everyone’s interests as possible, and comes to be sustained by the efforts of those involved because of a common conscious awareness of the benefit that it imparts.34

While I cannot discuss concrete applications here, I should like to record that the educational enterprise to which I have just alluded is hardly untried. Without doubt, the most thorough-going attempt to set philosophy on this course was initiated some thirty years ago by Matthew Lipman under the name of ‘Philosophy for Children’. Lipman’s conception of philosophy within school education presents the classroom as a community of inquiry, and is as clear a case of the reconstruction of philosophy within community as one could hope to find.35 In terms of the development of community groups, the influence of Habermas and critical theory might be mentioned. And whatever difficulties attend Habermas’ account of the ideal speech community, attempts to turn such work to good account amongst such groups as non-government organizations must be strongly welcomed.36 Other groups with at least somewhat similar aims would include those based on Socratic dialogue, and groups stimulated by British physicist David Bohm’s work on dialogue.37

No brief tour of the major sites and their connecting pathways can do justice to either the details or the totality of Dewey’s thought on democracy, philosophy and education. Still, we have seen enough to make it clear that Dewey has things to say on these matters which are of significant continuing social importance, and that he should still occupy a place when it comes to the philosophy of democracy and our teaching programs. At the same time, we would fail to teach Dewey well if we thought that his continuing significance lies in merely comprehending his ideas. The deeper lesson to be learnt from Dewey is how to reconstruct them in ways that apply to contemporary social life. And that is a lesson we are just beginning to learn.


  1. There has been a recent resurgence of interest in the American pragmatists, and in Dewey in particular. That the reasons for this are connected with the points made above is confirmed by more than one writer who has recently addressed the issue. See for example, Alan Ryan’s John Dewey and the High Tide of American Liberalism (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1995) and Robert B. Westbrook’s John Dewey and American Democracy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991). For wider reading exploring connections between contemporary pragmatism and Dewey and the other classical pragmatists, see H.O. Mounce, The Two Pragmatism (New York: Routledge, 1997) and the recent anthologies, Pragmatism: A Reader (New York: Vintage Books, 1997), edited by Louis Menard, and Pragmatism: A Contemporary Reader (New York: Routledge, 1995), edited by Russell B. Goodman.
  2. John Dewey, The Public and its Problems (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1991), pp. 148-49.
  3. John Dewey, Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education (New York: Collier Macmillan, 1966), p. 87.
  4. See Dewey’s Freedom and Culture (New York: Capricorn Books, 1963) for an extended discussion of the importance of the interaction between the individual will and the social environment in the development of a truly democratic society, as against a totalitarian one.
  5. Democracy and Education, p. 83.
  6. Ibid., pp. 86-87. Compare also the following passage: “In a search for the conditions under which the inchoate public now extant may function democractically, we may proceed from a statement of the nature of the democratic idea in its generic social sense. From the standpoint of the individual, it consists in having a responsible share according to capacity in forming and directing the activities of the groups to which one belongs and in participating according to need in the values which the groups sustain. From the standpoint of the groups, it demands liberation of the potentialities of members of a group in harmony with the interests and goods which are common. Since every individual is a member of many groups, this specification cannot be fulfilled except when different groups interact flexibly and fully in connection with other groups.” (The Public and its Problems, p. 147.)
  7. The Public and its Problems, p. 150.
  8. If this understanding of consciousness is not readily familiar, it would not be altogether misleading to think of it as akin to the conception of consciousness attached to the once fashionable idea of the “consciousness raising” group.
  9. Ibid., p. 176.
  10. Ibid., p. 218.
  11. John Dewey, How We Think (New York: D.C. Heath, 1933), p. 6.
  12. The Public and its Problems, p. 184.
  13. Ibid., p. 177.
  14. Ibid., p. 218.
  15. Democracy and Education, p. 76.
  16. Aside from being appropriate to Dewey’s account of education as the continuous reconstruction of experience, the idea of education as growth also provides a proper contrast with other well-known conceptions of education with which Dewey finds fault. This includes the ideas of education as a preparation, as an unfolding of latent powers, as a training of mental faculties, as learning various subject matters, and as acquiring the heritage of the past.
  17. Ibid., pp. 28-29.
  18. Ibid., p. 5.
  19. Ibid., p. 30.
  20. Ibid., p. 87.
  21. Ibid., p. 100. It is important to emphasise the word ‘all’, as Dewey does here. Many societies have provided for the “mutual intercourse of man with man” amongst the members of a privileged class, and condemned the rest of the populace to servitude. They have simultaneously denied that multitude the possibility of growth in Dewey’s sense. On the other hand, as Dewey notes, the institutions and social arrangements that make for such divisions also tend to thwart the continuing growth of even its privileged members. To the extent that this is true, the aim of education cannot be met when such restrictions are applied. Unless the benefits of community are extended to all, the prospects of continuing growth for even the privileged few are going to be diminished.
  22. Freedom and Culture, p. 128ff.
  23. Ibid., p. 175.
  24. Ibid., p. 102.
  25. For an extended discussion of the need for the reconstruction of our social and moral thinking along the path first traversed by science, see Dewey’s Reconstruction in Philosophy, enlarged edition (Boston: Beacon Press, 1948). For Dewey’s full treatment of the method of inquiry, see Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (New York: Holt, 1938), and for an earlier and easy-going treatment see How We Think, revised edition (New York: D. C. Heath, 1933).
  26. Ibid., pp. 149-150.
  27. Ibid., p. 317. Discussion of the need for the school to provide a model of community life can be found in many other places in Dewey, most famously in The School and Society, reprinted in Philip W. Jackson (ed.), The School and Society and the Child and the Curriculum (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1956).
  28. Many topics might be taken up in this connection with Dewey: Dewey’s philosophy of “the common man”, the philosophical reconstruction of social and moral thinking, the revitalized connections between democracy and pragmatism, or the need for philosophers to be involved in the problems of their day, to take obvious examples. My focus will be on the contribution that philosophy education can make to democracy.
  29. John Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy, ‘Introduction: Reconstruction as Seen Twenty-Five Years Later.’
  30. John Dewey, Philosophy and Civilization (New York: Minton, Balch & Company, 1931), pp. 7-10.
  31. Democracy and Education, pp. 328-331.
  32. Reconstruction in Philosophy, p. 121.
  33. Ibid., p. 124. This does not make philosophy a branch of social science, or a substitute for it, by the way. Rather, it is an attempt to think about our lives and the life of our societies so as to work out more clearly what kind of society we would want, and what lives we should live.
  34. In saying these things, I am, of course, merely reiterating Dewey’s characterisations of education and democracy, and in the briefest of terms.
  35. See Matthew Lipman, Philosophy Goes to School (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988) and Thinking in Education (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991) and the classroom programs discussed therein. See also my own Thinking Together (Sydney: Hale & Ironmonger, 1995) and the Thinking Stories books in Hale & Ironmonger’s Children’s Philosophy Series. It is also worth recording that UNESCO’s Division of Philosophy and Ethics has recently begun a project on Philosophy for Children and Youth, in recognition of the concrete and effective opportunities it offers to make these connections between philosophy and democracy. UNESCO Philosophy for Children, Meeting of Experts, Paris, 26-27 March, 1998.
  36. See Juergen Habermas, Theory of Communicative Action, trans. T. McCarthy (Boston: Beacon Press, 1984) and Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action, trans. C. Lenhardt and S. W. Nicholsen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990). On application to NGOs, see Rainier A. Ibana, Six HGO Terminologies: Their Philosophical Contexts (Manila: Ateneo Centre for Social Policy and Public Affairs, Ateneo de Manila University, 1994).
  37. See David Bohm, On Dialogue, edited by Lee Nichol (London: Routledge, 1996).


The Economy of Desires

December 30, 2014

Kenway and Bullen (2007) in their article ‘Globalising the young in the Age of Desire’ expose core aspects of the issues that should concern us as educators. By emphasising the particular values of neo-liberalism and the corporate-state such a critique must be argued within the context of the capitalist economic and political system. Is there a danger of assuming that there is a desire to analyse, and the political will to challenge mass corporate culture within the profession; and ultimately the authors assume that teachers, children and students are able to stand apart and resist the script of the ‘global corporate curriculum’?

As you enter ‘XY’ school one of the first things you see is the very large free-standing box encouraging parents to shop at Coles supermarkets so we can scrounge together some extra dollars for sports equipment. To resist by speaking-out about this issue is to be seen as a spoilsport; Coles is being philanthropic; parents have to shop anyway; we need the equipment. The character of western society and the corporate culture that currently conditions our daily life is achieved by such insidious examples of the ‘corporate script’ and how it is ‘acted-out’ in schools. How is this small exemplar repeated within the culture of corporations, is it as ubiquitous as their ads and their bad spelling?

Mass consumer culture, and mass corporate culture, provides the process of ‘privatisation’, one consequence of the corporate economic and political dynamic. Every individual subject becomes a ‘market’ to be exploited to expand capital and make profits for the corporations. This corporatisation of life dominated by technocratic CEOs, politicians and ‘human resource’ managers who use ‘the market’ as the excuse to dominate over us has implications for schools. Should this be of special concern for educators if we are to regard ourselves as critical advocates in relation to children’s rights and humanist pedagogies?

Workplace legislation that limit democratic rights by outlawing our right to organise and determine the character of our workplaces and our relationship with our employers; commercial in confidence rules; and penalties for bringing a corporation into disrepute, are just some of many examples that mitigate against reasonable relationships, flexibility in meeting individual and community needs, delivery and advocacy for programs that encourage democratic citizenship, workplaces and practices. What might be necessary to overcome these particular legal issues of control?

Naming this epoch as the ‘age of desire’ while proposing there is corresponding ‘lose of enchantment’ suggests there is a dual and contradictory process underway. Certainly the suggestion is that mass consumer culture appears to provide limitless possibilities to entertain, gratify and give pleasure. It appears too that this pleasure can be achieved easily and anywhere – but perhaps not in schools – where disenchantment threatens to pervade all one way or another.

Are schools expected to replicate corporations and the markets ability to reduce us all to the status of objects that consume? One past premier of Victoria who closed schools and sacked thousands of teachers believed the purpose of education was to make us ‘critical consumers’. To resist requires us to provide an antidote; it is not valid criticism if it is not a step toward providing an alternative to the threat of a purely reductionist conception and enactment that currently shapes humankind.

There is no doubt that schools and teachers need to rethink the meaning and purpose of education, but for that to happen discussions like this one must be generalised across the generations and across our communities. To take our education seriously means we do need educators and teachers in ‘schools’ who are capable and willing to overcome the corporate juggernaut, and re-enchant and redefine our needs, desires and therefore ourselves.

Kenway, J. & Bullen, E. (2007) Globalizing the young in the age of desire: Some educational policy issues. In M. Apple, J. Kenway & M. Singh, M. (Eds.) Globalizing Education: Policies, Pedagogies and Politics, New York: Peter Lang, pp.31-44.

Teacher stands up for what is right

March 13, 2010

The Attack on Tenure and Teachers’ Job Security
March 10, 2010 by emmarosenthal
A recent L.A. Weekly article “addressed” the “problem” of getting rid of “bad” teachers. (see link below)

As someone who retired from LAUSD with disability retirement after trying to get the most minimal of accommodations for my dis-ability and facing incredible harassment for such a request;

As someone who requested basic accommodations, found ways to make the whole proposal cost free for the District while offering to fill high need hard to staff areas of education, (bilingual special ed) and fully aware that if I had merely kept my mouth shut, showed Disney movies, gave out busy work, and gave all my students C’s, then I would have had no problem with the same administration, but only had a problem when requesting the resources to do my job well.

As someone who NEVER had a bad evaluation, had several outstanding evaluations, and wrote and received several grants and coordinated several school wide programs;

As someone who filed and won approx 30 grievances against the district for collective and individual violations of the contract, never observing any consequences, reassignments, discipline etc against these principals for such wanton rights violations;

As someone who observed and confronted gross misuse of school funds and a crony system that favored mediocrity and obedience over dedication and commitment to teaching;

As someone who used tenure to defend and advocate for students and the community and teachers, against the will of the administration;

As someone who ONLY KNEW ONE ADMINISTRATOR who went after bad teachers– with the full support of the highly unionized faculty. (I consider her the best administrator I worked with);

As someone who observed administrators go after activists, whistle blowers, community, educator, worker and student advocates while perpetuating or ignoring sexual harassment, sexual abuse, hate speech, racism, sexism, dis-ability discrimination etc. both by staff and students;

As someone who graduated magna cum laude, is bilingual in English and Spanish, continues to study and to teach, is a life long activist and writer;

I find it hard to believe that:

1. Michael Kim, a man with cerebral palsy, who neurologically can’t control his hands, is the best example of the district trying to defend the rights of staff and students against sexual harassment and gropping!

More to point, the District doesn’t WANT dis-abled teachers. This whole case was totally offensive and outrageous, and should be transparent; a perfect example of how dis-ability discrimination is used to take us all down, to set a pretext for greater rights violations.

2. the present administration is able to select the appropriate teachers for dismissal– which of course would explain why it is so hard to fire the teachers the district is trying to fire. It is quite possible that very few of these people should be fired and the ones that need to go are comfortably doing the principal’s bidding!!!

3 given that the City of Los Angeles decided NOT to fire a single cop for beating up press and community members for the May Day demonstration a few years back, wonders what city employees ARE doing that warrants (“the easy” removal from their positions.

4. there are only bad teachers and not bad administrators, who also need to be removed from their positions which the district can do, and doesn’t. It seems that a lot of bad teaching might be resolved by creating acceptable working conditions, starting with a supportive administration.

5. that the grievance process is the problem, The grievance process is a three step process: 1.A meeting with the principal, 2. A meeting with the area supt. And 3. Binding arbitration with an arbitrator chosen by both the union and the district. A principal looses a grievance against a teacher when either the District or the arbitrator chosen by the district says a violation of that teacher’s rights has occurred. In such a situation is it right to assume that it is the teacher that is failing to perform basic assigned duties?

6.that settlements of 40-100 thousand dollars for the removal of teachers the District wants to fire, are excessive and against whom no evidence exists, other than district say so, that these teachers deserve to lose their careers, which includes 5 years of university study, and often thousands of dollars each year for materials the District fails to provide and in a District that has bought out the contracts of several of its superintendants for over half a million dollars.

The entire premise of the Weekly article is that the District can’t fire the teachers it wants to fire because of the Union and tenure, and not that these constructs actually protect the academic freedom of teachers who should not have been brought under scrutiny in the first place.

There is no evidence IN THE ARTICLE, except the District’s say so, that the District is actually trying to fire the BAD teachers. That is an essential missing element of the article. Sure there are bad teachers. But if the district isn’t going after bad teachers, but is going after teachers who demand their rights or the rights of others, then the waste of resources is even more outrageous.

Posted in Anatomy of a Blacklisting, Calling out neo-liberalism, Disability Rights, Education, Human Rights, Immigrant Rights, UTLA, this is what a police state looks like

Abolish the ABBC: Demolish the framework of fear! Review Framework of Flesh: Builder’s Labourers Battle for Health and Safety, Humphrey McQueen, Ginninderra press, 2009.

July 19, 2009

This review was written by Peter Curtis for and published by The Freedom Socialist Party, Australia.

— Review —

Abolish the ABBC: Demolish the framework of fear!

Review Framework of Flesh: Builder’s Labourers Battle for Health and Safety, Humphrey McQueen, Ginninderra press, 2009.

Will they jail him? Hundreds of unionists in South Australia cheered Ark Tribe as he entered court on 10 March 2009. Tribe is the latest construction worker to be threatened with six months jail for standing up for his right to make the workplace safe and objecting to the flagrant injustice of the Australian Building Construction Commission (ABCC) star-chamber by refusing to answer when questioned. But, will they jail him? The State forces failed to convict Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) organiser Noel Washington last year. With all the penal powers, the police, the ABCCs special powers, and all the law courts of the land, the power of the unions stopped them dead. Despite all the encouragement, belligerence and arrogance of this anti-labour federal government, despite the coercive forces available to the State they failed to follow through their threats. Legal means are no match for the collective response of workers. Solidarity grows from the social and industrial strength that workers build by organising and unifying their unions to better fight for their rights at work.

“In 1890, The Victorian Master Builders demanded the sacking of the colony’s coroner because he believed that his duties went beyond establishing the cause of ‘accidental’ death to preventing its recurrence. The coroner had attributed the death of a bricklayer to the vice-president of the Builders’ and Contractors’ Association.” In 2009, Julia Gillard, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Workplace Relations, declared to the union movement that she and her government are unashamedly acting for these same business interests. Gillard, at the behest of her corporate masters, has made her choice and it is as bad as the other ‘choices’ we have got rid of. The Government is doing what ever has to be done to create economic and industrial conditions suited to maximising the corporations’ profits. Gillard and her ABCC are clear — woe betides any workers who demand, agitate, and enforce their rights to make a workplace safe.

Humphrey McQueen’s latest book, Framework of Flesh: Builder’s Labourers Battle for Health and Safety is an essential tool for the job of building our strength and organising our response to the bastardry of corporate bosses and their political minions within the labour movement. We are provided with a critical eye to workers’ activity on the job. The stories of labourers’ battles with their bosses as they respond to the logic of a system that drives capitalists’ to exploit, maim and kill, are insightful. Drawing on 130 years of evidence, McQueen resurrects the voices of the labourers themselves and allows them the opportunity to testify to the exploitation, the deaths, and the abuses committed by Messrs Construction Capital. Voices like Charlie Sullivan’s live on from the 1920s when he wrote that history was made by “the great and humble army whose sweat and blood are mingled in the concrete and bricks as surely as if the walls were built over a framework of human flesh.”

Such sentiment is a sobering reminder to those of us who are fortunate enough to avoid nursing a lifetimes of muscle strains, crushed bones and collapsed lungs through to retirement at age 67 — yet another of the federal government’s propositions for improving the quality of old age! McQueen asks his reader to consider the evidence, admissions and arguments that the bosses’ knowingly and actively enforce the neglect of health and safety at work. The historical evidence advises that ours is not a ‘brave new world’ but one where old objectives are still pursued today but in new ways: “In 1855 factory owners in Manchester, England organised and collected 50 thousand pounds to meet the costs of defending members who had been prosecuted by the factory inspectors. The object was to prove ‘killing is not murder’ if done for the sake of profit.”

Diminishing the labourers’ efforts by trivialising their struggles and sacrificing lives is an essential part of ruling class propaganda that is absorbed and disseminated by the corporate mass-media and perpetuated by too many of their journalists. Framework of Flesh is an antidote to the world of their creation. Few know what takes place on construction sites and they lack the experience and imagination of the Director of Construction for the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the 1930s, “who acknowledged the emotional strain: ‘Every day those men went on the bridge, they went in the same way as a soldier goes into battle, not knowing wether they would come down alive’.”

Yet despite a construction worker being killed every week between 1996 and 2005 and 41 deaths in 2003 alone, the Cole Commission presumed the innocence of the construction bosses. “From mid 2001, the Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry repackaged the accusation that labourers threw themselves off buildings to get compensation. … to allege that unions provoked disputes over health and safety to win industrial demands such as Enterprise Bargaining Agreements (EBAs) … According to Commissioner Cole, this ‘widespread exploitation’ of bosses had trivialised safety. In truth, workers on EBAs were as half as likely to be injured as those outside them. Pressing for an EBA was, therefore, a safety matter.”

The words of Ben Mulvogue, Secretary of the Builders’ Labourers’ Federation, should resonate today. In 1915, he reminded and reassured his members that: “the union does antagonise, and strives to abolish many things that are, and advocates and tries to inaugurate changes which should, and will, be made in the future. … The object and aims of the union movement and the realisation thereof have been the dream of the sages and seers, and the prophets of the past ages. Every new demand for better physical protection of the workers ensures a great ideal development for future generations.” Rights are not privileges to be handed out by the master to be taken back when they choose. Fighting for our rights at work and health and safety go hand in hand, they are only won and defended through struggle. Even if we could vote for our rights, this act would not prevent deaths and injuries at work. To absorb and act on this knowledge is ‘responsible unionism’ — the agitation and organisation for workers’ rights.

The West Gate Bridge towering over the Melbourne docks is an ever present memorial to those workers and their families who lost a life in the “most murderous of all incidents on Australian construction sites.” Workers recently contracted by Leightons to carry out repairs on the overloaded bridge only to be duped of their wages and conditions, and see their health and safety representative and union delegates sacked, are now being represented in the media as the “violent thugs that are threatening to undermine every principle of human decency.” In recent weeks Leightons’ corporate leaders, are carrying on Hollands’ legacy: while recognising that the lack of health and safety on sites could not be ignored, in practice the pursuit of profits came first for both.

Frameworks of Flesh makes an outstanding contribution to the continual struggle to make construction sites fit for workers to work on. It is much more than that however, because the research is so thorough. McQueen provides both the evidence and the analysis necessary to make sense of why builders, and capitalists generally, do what they do. Understanding developments by interrogating our history are necessary if unionists are to prepare themselves for the inevitable struggles ahead. The proposed national standards for Occupational Health and Safety will fall a long way short of where we need them to be unless unionists get organised and demand something better. Both unfettered right of entry for union officials and the ability of unions to collectively bargain and organise across an industry are essential steps toward safer workplaces. The ABCC may finally be abolished but this government’s intention is to maintain it and merely re-badge it. Our best form of defence is to strengthen both our individual understanding and our collective capacity to resist by learning from the combined wisdom that is accrued from our own experience and that of working people yesterday and today. Framework of Flesh is one exemplar from which we all can benefit.

Peter Curtis

Peter Curtis is a socialist and campaigner for the equitable provision of education. He is a teacher and a member of the Australian Education Union. Framework of Flesh is available for $30 from Solidarity Salon.

Demolition of the Australian Building and Construction Commission and the Defense of Ark Tribe.

July 19, 2009

Speakers’ notes for the Demolition of the
Australian Building and Construction Commission and the
Defense of Ark Tribe.

It is very important that the word is passed around to as many people as we can get to. This includes addressing youth groups, book groups, church groups, and any collective of concerned citizens.
Following is a selection of speaking points for anyone who is addressing a group to inform them of these real threats to getting home safely from a day at work. It is important for fellow workers and citizens to understand that the battle against the ABCC is in defense of our civil liberties and democratic rights. The ‘Spirit of Eureka’ could be invoked here.
Use them and please adapt these points according to your audience.
Other additions, thoughts and examples are welcomed. For example a few lines of the song ‘Solidarity for Ever’ could be included to sing at the end of a meeting.

A) Speakers Notes.
1. The Construction Commission is an issue For All Working Australians Who Value A ‘Fair Go’.
2. Federal ALP And The “Tough Cop On The Beat”
3. What kind of democracy? – Exercising Our Rights to Participate – Making our Communities and Unions matter.
4. Everyday on site building workers are menaced by the absence of health and safety … Young apprentices and training, and safety at work.
B) Statement of defiance
C) Model motion
D) Personal message to Ark Tribe
E) Appendix including other useful contacts and web sites.

The CFMEU’s Construction Division’s Campaign
to defeat the unjust laws of ABCC

1. This is an issue for all working Australians who value a fair go.
At the ACTU Congress in June, every union in this country indicated its opposition to these unjust laws being used against workers.

You have all seen the Work Safe ads on television – “talk it, act it, get home alive”

Real Threats – to lives of workers, and livelihoods of whole families

Did you know? In this fair and democratic country, Australia, values that we care about are being violated by the fact that an working man faces being sent to jail for 6 months for alerting government health and safety authorities to unsafe working conditions that threatened the lives of his and fellow workers.

Occupational Health and Safety laws breaches by employers, like those that Ark and his work mates identified, are, in effect, being imposed on workers by the Construction Commission because any action taken to protect safety and conditions is deemed unlawful.

The Construction Commission is the biggest threat to workers health and safety provides footage of the circumstances of the dispute that leaves Ark facing the ABCC, the courts and gaol. Ark also explains why he is taking the action he is taking.
The questions – Why has nothing fundamentally changed under an ALP government?
• A government put in to power by the combined activity of tens of thousands of workers under the banner of YOUR RIGHTS AT WORK.
• Why is this government – that was put in to power to get rid of the Howard laws – now breaking its promise to get rid of those laws?
• Why is Working safe and “talking it and acting on it so get home alive” illegal if you are a construction worker?

2. Federal ALP and the “Tough cop on the beat”
Gillard’s proof? – Speech in parliament
“high levels of unlawfulness as evidenced by allegations, investigations, prosecutions, audits AND THE LIKE” !!?? … but … NO CONVICTIONS!

Why we need to DEFEND THE ACTIONS of Ark Tribe.

Ark Tribe – Will they jail him? How do we Demolish this framework of fear?

Will they jail him? Hundreds of unionists in South Australia cheered Ark Tribe as he entered court on the 10th March 2009. Ark is the latest construction worker to be threatened with six months jail for standing up for his right to make a workplace safe and objecting to the flagrant injustice of the Australian Building and Construction Commission’s (ABCC) star-chamber by refusing to answer when questioned.
But, will they jail him? The State forces failed to convict CFMEU organiser Noel Washington late last year. With all the penal powers, the police, the special powers, and all the law courts of the land, the power of the unions stopped them dead. Despite the belligerence and arrogance of this anti-labour federal government and the coercive powers and forces available to them the enforcers failed to follow through their threats.
Legal means are no match for workers’ organised collective response from on the job. Solidarity grows from the social and industrial strength that workers build by organising and unifying themselves. Solidarity is vital to better fight for our rights at work.
While there is an ABCC there will never be Rights at Work in a Fair Work Australia.

The reason CFMEU is being targeted is because it has over decades persistently campaigned for better Health and Safety on building sites and demolition sites.
• Asbestos from 1970’s on
• Public Housing
• Environmental green bans
• Air and water pollution

It is these kind of actions – practically demonstrate what it means to exercising our rights and participation means – THAT IS HOW WE MAKE AND DEFEND A DEMOCRACY.

Taking a stand on defending our rights at work, to express our collective opinion, and putting words into action is the BEST WAY TO UNDERSTAND AND PROTECT OUR DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS.

Making our Communities and Unions matter
What does a fair and democratic Australia mean? The best way to answer this question is by helping each other and showing people through collective actions.
Unions matter for making and keeping Australia a fairer and democratic society.

The Liberal Howard Legacy: Terror; Alert and Alarmed; Constructing Fear
• From 2000 to 2003 Liberal Government spent $60 million on the Cole Royal Commission into building workers
• $20 million dollars was spent on anti-terrorist measures!
WHY? To smash unions; exercising rights for safe conditions and protect lives; livelihoods.
• Workchoices was the end result.
• Your Rights at Work Campaign – Tens of thousands of workers organised to defeat Workchoices. We sacked the government and its leader Howard.
Why to STOP UNIONS connecting to larger social and environmental issues STOP taking on responsibilities beyond immediate industrial issues.
UNIONISTS are people who live in the community!

Gillard speech; where is the violence and where are the convictions?
When was the last time a building worker menaced you?

• We have criminal laws to deal with workers who commit crimes on site.
• Why has labour law that is meant to improve and protect conditions for workers now become a sub-branch of the criminal code?
The Construction Commission is the greatest threat to safety
Why isn’t WorkSafe tackling the Commission?
Gillard’s definition of violence does not extend to the tens of thousands of building and construction workers expected to die from asbestos-related diseases. No executive or director of James Hardie faces penal sanctions over that slaughter.

Gillard acknowledged that health and safety issues were ‘deliberately not included in Mr. Wilcox’s terms of reference’. That exclusion meant that Wilcox could not investigate one of the principal realms of illegalities by employers, or use that investigation to explain the levels of unlawfulness by workers defending themselves, as in the case of Ark Tribe. Under the review’s unbalanced terms of reference, would Tribe’s conscience have allowed him to accept Wilcox’s fee of $326, 974?

• WILCOX REVIEW – No OH&S – what sort of conscience accepts $315 K
• PM Kevin Rudd’s government is still funding the ABCC to the tune of $32 million a year. Murray Wilcox, a former federal court chief justice, was appointed to review the powers of the ABCC. He has also been asked to report on the integration of the ABCC into Labor’s proposed industrial relations umbrella, Fair Work Australia, by February 2010.
• Even though Wilcox said in an October 3 discussion paper that the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act was “discriminatory” against building workers, he did not call for its abolition far from it.
• Still bad laws though – band-aids don’t stop infections.
Young apprentices and training and safety at work – If there is any remaining doubts – REMEMBER OUR KIDS – LEST WE FORGET.
See E) Appendix for further information

B) Model motion
This meeting supports the actions of Ark Tribe to defend his democratic rights to free speech and speak out and act against laws that prevent construction workers working safely. Ensuring that employers meet their legal and statutory obligations in providing the necessary conditions for safe work practices requires the organising power and support of a union. We support and encourage actions of Ark Tribe in refusing to provide evidence to the ABCC or any other body that denies him his legal right of presumption of innocence, and to legal representation of his choice. We call on the federal government to disband the ABCC.

C) Statement of Defiance
Support Ark Tribe and his Right to a Safe Workplace.
We the undersigned welcome the refusal of Ark Tribe to provide evidence to the ABCC. We call on our fellow Australians to join Ark Tribe in breaking the laws. We accept that in signing this statement we make ourselves libel to prosecution for incitement to break the law.
Name Address email Organisation Signature

D) Personal support for Ark. Ark is standing up for all of us by defending our rights at work. While he has the support of the union and of many workers from around the country it is important to let him know. All said and done he is the one facing 6 months in a gaol.
See Ark Tribe on You Tube, and Send support to Ark on

E) Appendix and other useful websites
Adelaide woman Andrea Madeley has called for the national adoption of industrial manslaughter laws.
Her plea follows a $72,000 fine imposed by an Adelaide magistrate on local business Diemould Pty Ltd which had employed her teenage son Daniel until his death in their workplace on Saturday June 5, 2004.
Her call follows the state Labor government’s disgraceful attack on worker’s compensation laws last year, and the Federal Labor governments “lowest common denominator” approach to a standardised national set of worker’s compensation laws.
The teenager suffered fatal injuries when his dustcoat became caught in the unguarded spinning shaft of one of the company’s boring machines. He died the next day in the Flinders Medical Centre.
The boy suffered injuries to every part of his body – his brain bled severely, his spine was lacerated, his arms and legs were broken and both feet were severed – in the incident.
“I need to ask Daniel’s employer these questions now,” said Andrea Madeley. “We’re talking about a machine capable of tearing a human being apart – please tell me what the hell you were thinking having Daniel operating that thing alone in the factory in the middle of the night?
“It will be my life’s work to hound the conscience of shoddy operations – companies that believe the bottom line is more important than the lives of their workers and their loved ones. That is the promise I made to Danny. I aim to keep it.”

Ark Tribe on you tube and Send support to Ark on provides footage of the circumstances of the dispute that leaves Ark facing the ABCC, the courts and gaol. Ark also explains why he is taking the action he is taking. – provides the ads seen on TV Voice of Industrial Death. To keep her promise to her son, and to help the families of other victims of workplace death, Andrea established the organisation VOID (Victims Of Industrial Death) in May 2006. She is its foundation President, and maintains this website for the organisation. “I hope that Framework of Flesh is read by every building worker and by all those with an interest in occupational health and safety.” Linda Clarke. Framework of Flesh: Builders’ Labourers Battle for Health & Safety by Humphrey McQueen, published by Ginninderra Press, Adelaide, 2009

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