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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Bastard Boys « Previous | |Next »
May 14, 2007

I watched the ABC's Bastard Boys last night. Looking back at these events from Work Choices we can see that this dispute over waterfront reform in 1997 involving the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) was both the beginning of the attack on the unions by the Howard Government, and the decline of union power. A new era is dawning. The unionists involved come to understand that the labour movement's historical role of being an integral part of Australia's national identity is lessening rapidly.

DysonA1.jpgSo what are we being offered? A documentary or drama (fiction). It is unclear. Though each of the main protagonists tell their side of the battle of the waterfront, the drama's perspective is weighted towards the union case about the events leading up to the mass sacking of Patrick's entire unionised workforce.

Corrigan gets his say about the low productivity and archaic work practices on the waterfront, the intransigence of the union and the financial precipice on which he stood at the end of the secon episode tonight.

The historical events are the stuff of great historical drama, as the struggle was bitter and the political and moral questions go deep. It is best to interpret Anne Davies' script as a traditional character drama based around a holistic literary narrative rather than a visual one. It reminded me of social realism in its representation of the world view of a traditional working class. A documentary it is not, nor should it claim to be.

The character acting--- apart from Josh Bornstein, the union lawyer--was wooden and one dimensional, especially for the former Marxist Greg Combet of the ACTU and neo-liberal Chris Corrigan of Patrick Stevedoring. Bill Kelty, the former ACTU secretary, looked an idiot. Was that fright wig and sour face meant to signifiy a caricature?

Because of the poor visuals--apart from the opening scene of balaclavas and Rottweilers---character had to carrying the historical story in terms of appearance and its essence, and it had do so with little by way of character development as the historical events unfolded through confrontation.

I found the drama--- not the dialogue--- disappointing and boring. It was the significance of that historical issue that kept me watching, not the conservative dramatic representation that endeavoured to represent a totality.The first episode lacked depth, and it was not persuasive that right was on the union side. It looked less history and more partisan in its perspective, even though it represented the conflict within the union between the old ways of brawn and the new ways of brain, and the inevitable passing of a traditional working-class trade union culture.

Of course, conservatives are going to decry the partisan union perspective of class warfare. Has not the ABC critic and Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells already said that the drama "smacks of another example of wasteful spending by the ABC, being used to drive an anti-government, pro-left agenda, conveniently timed to appear during an election year". The drama does downplay the role of the Howard Government---Peter Reith, the then workplace relations minister, makes a cameo appearance--- in favour of concentrating on the dramatic conflict on the docks and in the courts.

I've just watched the second episode that is centred around the fight in the courts and the rule of law. It is true, as Robert Manne observes in The Age, that:

"Chris Corrigan" is Bastard Boys' most complex creation. He is ruthless and unscrupulous but also gentle and protective of his family. He is determined to win at any cost but also amused about, and somewhat distant from, the drama he has unleashed. Ideologically he is committed to the cause of business, but contemptuous of the gutlessness of his corporate friends when the going gets tough. He is implacably hostile to his trade union enemies and their supposedly neanderthal values, but capable of admiring their firmness of character and unanticipated combat skills.

This means, says Manne, that by its end Bastard Boys has become a far more complex political drama than might have led us to believe.

Complex yes. But we never really see Corrigan planning his political strategies to run the docks more efficiently with a labour force half the size. This failure undercuts Manne's conclusion that by the conclusion of the drama, 'through intellectual rigour, the historically accurate and politically fair-minded balance has been achieved. Nope, its hardly a fair minded balance. '

Why would you want that false kind of objectivity anyhow. Balance is not appropriate--it's the way the issues are dealt with that is important, plus the depth of the analysis.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:39 AM | | Comments (4)


Gary, thanks for confirming for me the correctnss of my decision to avoid it.
Big brother on ten, Eurovision on sbs, crap elsehwere. They really have utterly and thoroughly rooted TV to its WORST level ever ( btw, no one has raised the issue of ABC/ SBS funding shortfalls, yet again!)
Back to IR, it is a sign of the times also, that the media can blanket the sensibilites with cries of "gaffe", because someone like Gillard, who has been smart enought and resistant top previous brainwashings, tries to restore the balance between "efficiency" and "fairness" to its rightful proportion..

It is an interesting piece of drama, and the ABC should be affirmed for making it. There are some interesting visuals but it based on an old fashioned literary aesthetic.

Apart from the wooden acting and Kelty's hideous wig, I thought that we did not see enough of the illegal activities of the Government in this dispute.

I join John Coombs in hoping for a Labor led royal commission into the government conspiracy against Australian workers.

The Australian Government's actions in the waterfront dispute should have been exposed in court, at the time, and the government stood aside.

Well, we also had a lot of stereotypes of the workers--dumb, all passion, and with a beer in their hand---and a big misrepresentation of the role of Bill Kelty. The reviews are pretty poor.

It wasn't a documentary. So
the role of the Howard Government in this dispute was inferred by the drama. The inference was that it stood behind Corrigan's attempt to reform the waterfront through confrontation was the inference. The inference was that the Howard Government was an active participant, given the union's legal argument about conspiracy before the federal court. Still there could have been shots of the Minister Reith on radio and television attacking the unions.

I agree with Coombs and you about a Royal Commission. Parliament should assert its authority by investigating the Howard Government in the name of accountability.