|Issue No. 147
|09 August 2002
A Call to Action
Interview: Save Our Souls
Unions: Rats With Wings
Bad Boss: If The Boot Fits
History: Political Bower Birds
International: No More Business as Usual
Corporate: The Seven Deadly Sins of Capitalism
Review: Prepare To Bend
Satire: Bush Boosts Sharemarket Confidence: Shares his Cocaine Stash
The Locker Room
Week in Review
A Call to Action
The move to reduce the institutional votes of unions at Party Conferences may be reactive, insulting and ultimately symbolic, but it does provide a new avenue for trade unionists to have a greater influence in the party.
But in advocating for workplace based ALP branches and placing responsibilities on all MPs to engage with union activists on a regular basis, the review is broadly consisting with the union movement's own modernisation agenda.
While the headlines will undoubtedly chronicle how a Labor leader has won his battle to 'cut union power', it doesn't capture the essence of where organised labour is today.
- unions have never exercised their collective power in the ALP because they have traditionally given their votes to the political factionsgiz. When unions combine their votes on key issues, such as the human treatment of refugees or power privatisation, they will still have a profound influence on Labor's agenda.
- the views of unions and the rank and file are rarely at odds. The tension within the party is typically between the leadership and the rest of the party. How many rank and file members supported the Carr Government's cuts to workers compensation entitlements? If this policy had been subjected to a Party Conference, unions would not have needed 60 per cent to carry the vote - they could have got there with six per cent.
- unions enjoy far greater public approval ratings than any political party. What leader wouldn't swap their polling for the unions' 86 per cent rating? Plus, unlike the membership of the major political parties, our numbers have increased for the past two years.
- finally, unions are several years into their reform process, a process that shifted power to their membership and replaced the certainties of institutional power with the ongoing challenge of activating its rank and file.
The bottom line is new party rules that encourage grass-roots activism and give members a greater say can only benefit the interests of a defactionalised, energised and growing industrial wing.
While the symbolic push to 'reduce union influence' by dint of the party conferences may be portrayed by some as a defeat for unions, the reality is that rank and file unionists will have more reason than ever to get involved at a political level.
If the causes that unions have championed within the Party through their institutional strength can be translated into rank and file causes, it will make it harder rather than easier for the apparatchiks to stifle them.
If the end point of the Hawke-Wran review is that it motivates both affiliated and non-affiliated unions to transfer their grassroots industrial organising strategy into the political arena, it will have been a valuable process.
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