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Issue No. 145 19 July 2002  

Two Wings Flapping
The one element missing from the current debate about the relationship between the labour movement and the ALP is any discussion about what's in it for the unions.


Interview: In The Tent
The Australian Services Union's Martin Foley on the dilemma facing trade unions affiliated to the Labor Party.

Bad Boss: The Desk Nazi
Everyone�s mail is on the money this week. Yep, Australia Post, courtesy of the born-to-rule attitude so beloved by the Workplace Relations Minister has been nominated for the Tony Award.

Media: Hold the Presses
The withdrawal of mainstream news outlets from the reporting of industrial relations is playing right into the bosses' hands, writes Andrew Casey

Workplace: Putting Bullies In Their Place
Ever wonder where the schoolyard bullies from your formative years ended up? Chances are they are still making someone�s life hell in an Australian workplace today. Even worse, one of them might be your direct supervisor.

Industrial: Women and Work
The last fortnight may well prove a turning point for working Australian women and their families, argues ACTU President Sharan Burrow

International: Whine and Dine
The political and industrial wings of British labour are at each other's throats, reports Andrew Casey.

History: Black Adder
Old King Cole had good tutors. Roger Milliss captured the style of conservative government witch-hunts in Serpent�s Tooth, his cathartic apology to his father, Bruce.

Review: Bad Movie
While the search for Australia's worst boss is well underway, Joel Schumacher's Bad Company seems to point the finger squarely at the US Government - albeit accidentally.

Poetry: I Remember
Dermott Ryder knocks our Resident Bard off his podium this week with a little ditty about a bloke called Honest John


 Builder Blows Whistle on Kangaroo Court

 Alarm Over Unis in Detention

 Unions Spark New Super Push

 Abbott Trips on Entitlements - Again

 Picnic Day for Union Members Only

 Memo: John Travolta - Come Fly With Us!

 Cole Comfort to Bodgey Builders

 Unions Eye SA Casuals Victory

 Burrow: Paid Mat Leave Just First Step

 Mayne Warning � But Will They Listen?

 Drought Relief Should Extend To Rural Workers

 Coca Cola Action Bubbles Globally


The Soapbox
The Royal Circus
CFMEU organiser Terry Kesby gives a first hand account of his experience before the Cole Royal Commission.

The Locker Room
Bravely Running Away
Phil Doyle is bewildered by the Australian Cricket team�s reluctance to join John Howard�s War On Terror.

Nothing Exceeds Like Excess
As the world market lurches under the weight of its own amorality, regulators and business lobbies are locking horns over the need for more rules.

Week in Review
A Share of the Action
Sharemarket jitters produce mea culpas from the magnate set but, as Jim Marr discovers, loyal followers in the Howard administration aren�t likely to join the chorus any time soon.

 Make My Week!
 Real Reform
 Hooray for Frank!
 Reform or Die
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In The Tent

Interview with Peter Lewis

The Australian Services Union's Martin Foley on the dilemma facing trade unions affiliated to the Labor Party.

While many are arguing about 60-40 or 50-50, you've actually gone further and suggested the whole affiliation of the union movement to the ALP might be a negative for the unions. What's brought you to that way of thinking?

I've suggested that both the ALP and the union movement need to look at the fundamentals as to what's in it for each of us. I come down on the conclusion that there's more in it for unions to be affiliated than not to be affiliated. But having said that, you look around the Victorian union movement and there's a very strong argument that can be made that those unions who are not affiliated are getting better results out of the Labor government than those that are. I've particularly looked to the nurses and the teachers. Now I'm not saying that the only factor that's resulting in outcomes for those unions is their non affiliation to the ALP, but it's one of the factors influencing their achievements and approach to issues.

At the minimum the process of affiliation has to be looked at.The processes of decision making of affiliated unions on ALP matters has to be looked at. The same broad brush of democratisation, that apparently the parliamentary federal leadership is committed to, has to be applied to how affiliated unions make their decisions.

What is it that affiliation brings to the union movement that justifies the ongoing relationship?

In the end any analysis of the levers of the State continue to be critical to working people. That applies even in a globalised and increasingly market-based system that we're operating in now. With the huge changes that have happened in the economic base over the last couple of decades that have radically changed our society and our unions the fundamentals on health, education and quality of life for union members and working people are influenced directly by the state and its institutions. There is, on balance, still more to be gained for working people, by trying to influence the structure and operation of those levers. If union voices are heard, and there are Labor governments with structures that allow that to happen, then there's a lot to be gained for working people. Having said that, unions, if their voices are to be heard, need to look seriously at overhauling the way in which affiliation, and consultation, and input with Labor governments occurs.

So what should unions be expecting in the relationship?

It needs to be much more policy driven. I'm speaking from a Victorian perspective, but my fear is that that template is pretty much the same around the country. Affiliation processes at the moment are predicated, overwhelmingly, on factional control and dominance. Policy outcomes become a very distant second in any of the discussions between affiliated unions and Labor parties or governments.

Bums in seats in Parliament diverts too much of our attention and resources away from the policy outcome for working people. In the same way the union movement's debate has been about organising and refocusing on members and activists and outcomes the focus of the debate has to change pretty soon as to what structure of the ALP is going to give rise to the best activists, candidate and policy outcomes. I think the same principles can be applied to the basis of the affiliation of the unions to the ALP. It should not be about who gets seat in parliament or control of which FEC or factional outcome. It should be about the more basic questions: where are the outcomes for working people? and where are the outcomes for union members? Too much passion and energy gets diverted into parliamentary and factional aspiration, rather than policy aspiration.

In what way do you see factional interests as intersecting with union influence in the party?

I think factional interests and union interests no longer, automatically coincide. It's the end of the Cold War, the ideological content in factions has died (with the exception of the explicitly ideological Grouper Rumps in each state) and what you have are factions based on personalities and fiefdoms. The interests of unions, under the unions@work agenda, should be about organising and trying to take campaigns out to new members and new sectors of the economy. That same leap of taking party changes as being about reinvigorating the ALP, about finding new constituencies and issues has yet to be made in the factions and the ALP.

It leads to the question, isn't there potential for a stronger union voice within the ALP, with fewer voices, if you actually end up with some sort of industrial bloc?

I support the maintenance of a substantial industrial bloc in the Labor party. I don't think the issue of 60/40 is the main debate, A relatively minor change of 50/50, which would appear to be a likely outcome, is one that I believe the union movement can live with. But it is not the main issue. If that were the only change there would no change of any discernible nature to the Victorian factional system. What needs to focused on, is how each of wings of the party relates to one another, makes its decisions and involves both, on the one hand rank and file union members and on the other rank and file ALP branch members. That to me is the main process that's going to lead to policy reconfiguration and a reinvigorated relationship between unions and the ALP. More importantly that is where a reinvigorated policy debate and progressive outcomes are going to come from. To not do so, is to continue the dominance of factional war lords, and the resulting concentration of power in very few hands will see policy quality fall to the background. If we can break open, not abolish, factional control, then I think there's a greater chance for a policy outcome for working people to be achieved.

What's the attitude of your members on the ground

We've surveyed our members as part of the ACTU census of this year. We've added some selective material in there about whether we should be affiliated with the ALP, whether we should be involved in political campaigns, whether we should support community campaigns, such as Australians for Just Refugee programs. We've had an incredibly diverse response. We've had a few wacky racists come out of left field that we didn't know existed. Overwhelmingly we've had a good response to say that we should be involved in community campaigns We should be involved in political campaigns, and despite the fact that clearly a large number of our members and most unions members voted for the conservatives at the last election, we've had a good response about continuing to be affiliated to the ALP. I don't think union officials should be fearful about taking that debate to their members. Their members want to have an influence in government, want to have a decent outcome for health and education, training, and they know the ALP has a tradition in which its going to achieve these things. So, we got a wide range of opinion.

You also mentioned before 'bums in parliament', what sort of service do you think the union movement gets from former union officials who serve in the ALP?

It's patchy, there are some who are fantastic, but as has been the case for over 100 years, there's a lot of parliamentarians who once they get there, very quickly forget their roots, and make a judgement that their support is now based elsewhere. And those people tend to be those allocated by factional heavies to move, quite frankly duds out of the union movement. Sadly, Legislative Councils around the country are littered with them.

Finally, what would a modern union/ALP relationship look like in your view?

One based on wide input of active members into unions and Branch members feeds into a more democratic process of decision making within the ALP. No one is ever going to rid us of factions totally. It would be one that allows union members, in affiliated unions, to vote on key issues of policy and key office holders and one that encourages members to have the debate about being in the ALP and one that delivers for working people and our union constituency. To me, those are the other side of the coin of the renewal strategy that unions, more generally are pursuing. These are the issues which, quite frankly, are much more important than our affiliation to the ALP.


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