||Issue No. 148||16 August 2002|
Interview: Labor Law
Unions: Critical Conditions
Bad Boss: Shifting The Load
History: Peeking Out
Safety: Flying High
Corporate: Salaries High, Performance Low
International: War on the US Wharves
Review: And the Signs Said...
Poetry: Tony Don't Preach
Satire: Latham Dumps Rodney Rude as Speech Writer
The Locker Room
Another Capitalist Party?
Justice For All?
Kill the Photos!
Right Wing Lackies
As unions switch their focus from servicing individual members to organizing workplaces, the question is how do peak bodies change their activities to match this change in focus?
Peak councils have traditionally played the role of industrial deal-maker - the link between individual unions and government where the issues are crunched and a compromise forged.
The high point of this model was undoubtedly the Accord years where the ACTU struck wage and social agreements for the entire workforce. Individual officials had never been as powerful - nor had they ever been as removed from rank and file workers.
But the world has moved on from the Accord and the new challenge for peak bodies is how to remain an effective contact with government while shifting focus, along with affiliates, closer to the workplace.
Some clues may come from the USA where the sort of labour market deregulation that is challenging Australian unionism has become entrenched.
There, peak bodies play a role far broader than just industrial gate-keeper. The best labor councils research and develop their own social policy and use their grassroots networks to see them implemented.
They also develop extensive community ties, with some peak councils having databases of more than 10,000 supporters who commit to supporting union campaigns.
In return unions get involved in broader community issues such as development - not dissimilar to the ground-breaking Green Bans implemented by the BLF 1970s.
They also realize that for the movement to grow, individuals Locals must grow. On one level this is up to the Local but peak bodies can help by training organizers, generating broader campaigns across industry and creating the community context for unions to grow.
Politically, the peak council choose candidates who commit to a union agenda and commit resources to see these champions elected to public office.
Of course there are differences; politicians have free votes rather than binding caucuses and voluntary voting means the value of mobilising an electorate is greater.
But that said the notion of unions committing resources to developing their own broad agenda and then hand-picking candidates to implement it has appeal - particularly as the ALP moves to break the institutional bonds that have delivered it broad union support.
If ACTU research showing that workers feel ignored by all political parties and are crying out for an advocate for them is anything to go by it's a shift the general public - and not just union members - will embrace.
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