Why Danny Glover Is Fighting For Poor Aussie Workers
"The reason I’m here is those workers feel they're under attack"
"Where do we go from here: chaos or community?"
It's a question Hollywood star Danny Glover has posed, deep into a long and fascinating interview on the inspiration behind his latest visit to Australia.
Borrowing the title of Dr Martin Luther King's final book, Glover is ruminating on what some might initially see as the surprising reason he is sitting in a small conference room in a Sydney hotel, soldiering through a long bank of conversations with media.
Glover, who is best-known for his big screen roles in 'Predator', 'Saw' and 'The Colour Purple', is the star attraction of the Australian Council of Trade Union's 'Change The Rules' campaign and national congress meeting, in his capacity as a long-time labour and community activist.
At age 41, he was famously "too old for this shit" in 'Lethal Weapon'. At 72, Danny Glover is still a powerful, inspirational and eloquent authority on labour and social rights, the fire still burning in the belly. A man involved in everything from civil rights campaigning in the 1970s and working to end apartheid, to supporting worker's rights in Brazil and protesting oil fields in Ecuador is now the posterboy for the ACTU's 'Change The Rules' push for higher wages and better conditions for Australians.
"This is a trip we’ve been talking about for some time. The ACTU are aware of my support for organised labour, the struggles of working people. I’m pretty much known for that. Luckily I’m not as known for that as my films," he laughed.
"I'm an American citizen but I’m an internationalist. The issues I've been involved in have been around organised labor, these issues are international, they aren't situated in one particular country. Issues around collective bargaining, issues around equity, fair wages, benefits. They aren't issues simply in the United States but are everywhere. I’m finding it fascinating how real that is."
This is Glover's fourth trip Down Under, and he has been travelling around the country, appearing at union functions and simply visiting labourers at work sites to learn the issues facing Australian workers. Even coming from his home country, where unions are being eroded, he said he was shocked to learn about Australia's industrial relations issues.
"It's interesting to find out even in Australia, the workers don't have a right to strike, which is an extraordinary tool used historically by organised labour," he told ten daily.
"To know that's not happening here is very interesting... the reason I’m here is those workers feel they're under attack."
Born into a strong union family -- his mother, father and siblings all worked in the U.S. postal system -- in 1947, at the end of World War II and on the cusp of the dawn of the civil rights movement, Glover said he had been surrounded by organised labour and change since birth, sparking a lifelong affinity for activism.
"I remember being 14 years old, and the election of John F Kennedy. He said 'ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country'. I was always into that," he said.
"Those moments are part of my life, not just things I’ve read about. One of the most important words I learned as a kid was ‘citizenship’."
Glover now travels the world with his wife, lending his voice and fame to various causes. A vocal critic of the Iraq war, a United Nations goodwill ambassador, a supporter of U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders during the 2016 election, a supporter of the Occupy movements -- Glover has kept busy in recent years. He has also been involved in producing recent documentaries about climate change, the war on drugs and race through his company Louverture Films.
Glover cited Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old New York politician who unseated an incumbent in a Democratic primary race in June, as one of his biggest recent inspirations.
"Every place I go, whether it's the election of a young 28-year-old woman in Queens... and comes as a social democrat, all these things have to inspire anybody looking for change," he said.
"You live in a world that is very fragile at the moment, a moment very politically fragile. The loss of value of wealth for poor working people during the great recession, the wealth accumulated over the last 10 years, is going primarily to people who are already wealthy, and very little to working class people."
And that's essentially what Glover came to Australia for -- to back the ACTU's 'Change The Rules' campaign, pushing for more rights and better conditions for workers.
"The Change the Rules campaign is about working people having a say in how their lives -- and our country -- is run. It’s about justice, equality and fairness for working people. These are causes that Danny has spent his life supporting and advocating for," ACTU secretary Sally McManus told ten daily.
"We are thrilled to have someone with Danny’s activist credentials lending their voice to the Change the Rules campaign."
Australia's employment rate is rising, with more people in jobs than ever before, but unions say workers are being forced into insecure, at-risk work -- jobs under pressure from automation or technological change, jobs paying poor wages, 'gig economy' jobs delivering food or driving rideshare vehicles. It's an issue faced by developed economies worldwide, and one Glover has tried to do his part to battle.
"The market can't be the arbitrator for everything," he said.
"There are real issues you can't simply push aside. We should have more time but people are working two or three jobs and still below the poverty line. People are working multiple jobs simply to raise a family. These are real. They go beyond the extraordinary publicity that goes on about how well we’re doing, like the ability to sell more cars than we’ve ever sold but at the same time, pollute the environment more than we ever have."
Glover admitted some Australians would be confused about why he had been tapped to talk to them about the workplace, but asked people to hear him out.
"I’ve lived most of my life, and hopefully there’s a little bit more time, but in the case of being here, why can't I talk about those things?" he said.
"I watch people come, go, struggle and continue to struggle. I go around places, see projects and communities, and I’m blown away by what people are doing under their own initiative, becayse it’s necessary to do. Projects are emerging to revitalise the community."
"I look at Dr King’s last book, 'where do we go from here, community or chaos'?"