Alan Matheson speaks about the struggles of the migrant workers in Europe.
26 June 2002
Making Multicultural Australia
Ethnic Liaison Officer, Australian Council of Trade Unions
The language is the symbolic difference. In the sixties and seventies - the language was about rights. I came back in ‘71 and brought boxes of material out of the struggles of migrant workers in Europe. And the struggles of migrant workers in Europe was all about rights. It was the right to work, it was a right to language, it was a right to social security, a right to housing. Now that was fed in to the debate in Australia, which was emerging about rights.
CONTINUATION OF INTERVIEW AS TEXT
If you look back on the agendas of the migrant worker conferences of the sixties and seventies or the discussions in the sixties and the conferences in the seventies, the agendas were always about language rights. They were about cultural rights. They were about resources to ethnic communities. They were about marginalisation of groups.
Despite what the critics of multiculturalism say, English language has always been a dominant systematic continuing part of every agenda discussing multiculturalism and migrant workers. And so right through the seventies the debate for the union movement was all about how do we get English language for workers.
The first step in terms of awareness were the Migrant Worker Conferences. You can't underrate their significance. They were the primary national forums where the issues were raised. They were the means by which they made the media. They were the means by which people collectively affirmed each others' analysis, affirmed each others' ideas, proposals and programs and strategies because they operated in a way which was almost an antithesis of the union movement.
Conferences and congresses of the union movement were held where half a dozen major speakers got up and spoke for the best part of the day on the union movement. There might have been debates all around the edges of a policy in the union movement. Migrant Worker Conferences always started off with a couple of major speakers and then broke into working groups.
Interview for Making Multicultural Australia, 1994.