||Issue No. 245||05 November 2004|
What’s In a Name?
Interview: The Reich Stuff
Economics: Crime and Punishment
Environment: Beyond The Wedge
International: The End Of The Lucky Country
Safety: Tests Fail Tests
Politics: Labo(u)r Day
Human Rights: Arabian Lights
History: Labour's Titan
Review: Foxy Fiasco
Poetry: Then I Saw The Light
The Locker Room
Let's Start A New Party
What’s In a Name?
Now, talk of brands and markets may be close to sacrilege to some in the movement, but in an era where the benefits of joining a union have to be sold, sometimes in a hostile environment, it provides a useful framework for reviewing who we are and what we stand for.
A brand is not just a name or even a logo, it is shaped by every interaction between an organisation, its target audience and the general public.
When McDonalds shifts its focus from fried food to health food, advertising is not enough; it actually has to change its product; likewise no manner of reworking of image can rescue James Hardie until it addresses its crimes.
'Brand management' is something the corporate sector spends a lot of time and money on - it is not something that unions have done well - and didn't need to in an era when everyone joined as a matter of course. But in tougher times it is not just useful, it is essential.
The first step is talking to people - people who have chosen to join unions and people who have chosen not to - particularly the younger generation of workers who are less likely to join unions.
Over the past 12 months, that's exactly what the Labor Council has been doing, and it is the results of this research that is driving the decision to become 'Unions NSW'.
What was crystal clear from the research was that - surprise, surprise, people don't like politicians; but more disturbingly, they view Labor Council as a political organisation.
Here's a selection of quotes from the focus groups: "Sounds like a subsidiary of the Labor government"; " Part of the Labor Party" ; "Sounds like a political group."
And while this process started way before the federal election, exit polling polling conducted by Auspoll shows that the idea that union members will automatically vote Labor is a myth - in fact, less than half put the ALP first.
Of course, changing the name of the Labor Council to Unions NSW will not, in and of itself, change anything - but it is an important marker that the peak council sees itself as the champion of the union movement, first and foremost.
This does not mean that unions will not seek to play a role within the political party it created, if anything it provides a chance to differentiate itself and argue as a block, rather than a fragmented group of votes controlled by the factional warlords.
More important, this symbolic change provides an opportunity to recast unions in NSW - around where work is going and where workers can meaningfully organise themselves to get a better deal.
It is about looking at our core failures of fairness and equity and understanding how these ideals will play out in a very different world.
That's the discussion Union NSW will be sparking next month, with the visit of Robert Reich, the launch of the Working NSW think tank and a renewed focus on young workers.
As Reich points out in this month's interview, the challenges for workers in a nation like Australia will be profound as nations like China and India enter the global economy.
To Reich, unions have a key role in recognising these changes and equipping their members, not just to weather the onslaught, but to actually thrive - and that means a more creative response than just saying 'no'.
The challenge is to shape change and to do so, we need a clear picture of where we are headed, what sort of working lives our children will face if we don't act now.
As the environmental movement and the extreme right have done in recent years, we need an agenda beyond the political cycle that has the courage to imagine a union movement into the 21st century and beyond.
These are big, bold ideas, but the intellectual heavy lifting has to start now.
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