New chants for the old-school unionists

I heard the unionists protesting this morning. I wasn’t able to get to the window, but I could hear a large crowd of angry people marching somewhere around the corner of George and Goulburn Sts, shouting “Hey hey, ho ho, WorkChoices has got to go!” I was struck by their passion for their cause. But mainly, I was struck by the realisation that they badly need some new chants. The Man and The System aren’t going to hide cowering from the mailed fist of the Workers if the expression of their righteous fury sounds like the Seven Dwarves.

Seriously, that’s the most popular chant at protests now. Even though it’s a touch ironic, as the dwarves were singing “Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go”. As opposed to “Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off the job we go.”

Later, they varied the chant. But they only varied it to “Hey hey, ho ho, Johnnie Howard has got to go.” Guys, really – wishing won’t make it so. Peter Costello’s tried.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am a card-carrying union member and I support the right to protest. Even though all my gigs are as an evil contractor, so those crucial awards negotiations don’t particularly help me, and in fact depict those like me as “the problem”. I firmly believe that the unions are vital to sticking up for the rights of workers who would otherwise be stuffed around by bosses even more. And when I was working part time at uni, the CPSU helped to get me a better deal when it emerged I was being underpaid under an award that no-one else in the university was even using.

I just wish that when they were out there, fighting the good fight, they had something really cutting to say.

One march I was involved in at uni had the lamest chant I’ve ever heard:

“Vanstone and VCs, say that we must pay fees

Bullshit… come off it… education’s not for profit”.

See our naivete back in the 1990s? Education not being for profit? Pah!

Anyway, let’s just say that Amanda Vanstone and the vice-chancellor weren’t exactly convinced, even if they could discern our words in spite of their awkward scansion.

I’ve been a bit unsure about the value of protesting ever since, at least in the Howard era. I have long assumed that the more people came out, the more he felt he was doing something right – a theory confirmed by four election victories. But if we’re going to do it – and really, it’s all we can do – we really need to come up with rhymes that strike fear into the hearts of the powerful. This is the era of gangsta rap, people. Can you imagine 50 Cent hitting the street with an offcut from Snow White? Would NWA have made such a statement if their explosive first single had been “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, the Police have got to go?”

I know Aussie hip hop is a bit lame by comparison, but even dodgier rhymes like The Herd’s ‘Scallops’ (“Like a three dollar thirty bag of fresh hip hop, from your local fish n chip shop, ah scallops, with dollops of flavour on top, when we do what we do we give heads the bops”) puts the union movement to shame. In fact, they should commission The Herd. Not only can they write, but they’ve got numbers. Perfect.

I’m not exactly a rhymesmith myself. (Although I know which word NWA would put in front of WorkChoices to make a far more eloquent point about the new IR legislation.) But please, if you are, submit any suggestions and I’ll pass them onto the unions. Their need is even greater than the Socceroos’, and it’s clear that at this point they’ll take pretty much anything. Hey hey, ho ho.

Photo: Nick Moir, of a protest last year

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