|Issue No 27||20 August 1999|
Combetís Call - Double Effort Needed Now
Australian trade unions need to double their efforts at attracting new members if they are to turn around the trend in declining union numbers, according to the man poised to take the reins of the ACTU.
Launching the report "Unions@Work", ACTU assistant secretary Greg Combet says such a bounce back is attainable if unions embrace the idea of organising at the workplace, to reinvigorate the movement at the grass roots.
Combet says this can only be achieved if individual trade unions re-evaluate the way they operate and channel resources to developing strong delegate and activist networks.
The directions report follows an international study tour, undertaken by Combet, along with senior union officials Greg Sword (NUW), Joe de Bruyn (SDA), Doug Cameron (AMWU), Sharan Burrow (AEU), Jeff Lawrence (LHMU) and Marion Gaynor (ACTU).
While stressing he was not setting membership targets, Combet says the statistics on membership numbers highlight the challenge the movement faces to rebuild its base.
According to ACTU analysis of membership trends in the last few years, unions are recruiting about 210,000 new members each year.
The problem is, the movement needs to find 285,000 people each year just to keep absolute numbers stable -- and to keep at 28 per cent density that number needs to rise to 350,000. To actually bounce back to 29 per cent density we would need to recruit 420,000 people every year.
"So the short message out of that is that we've got to double our efforts at recruitment in order to start to grow in density and that is a fair sort of challenge," Combet says.
"We need a big commitment; it needs a shift in resources over time and it needs a long term commitment.
" It's not going to happen overnight, but with a long-term strategy that starts from now, I think there is a long-term future for the movement."
Of course, the big question is how, and the Unions@Work report addresses this by looking at how some overseas unions are surviving in the globalised labour market.
Hearteningly, many of the recommendations correlate with the Labour Council's shift to an organising and campaigning culture, consolidated this year in the establishment of a high-powered Organising Committee and the opening of the Unions NSW Organising Centre.
Key recommendations of what is largely a directions statement, rather than a formal blueprint for change include:
- a legislative charter of rights for workplace activists to ensure they are not intimated from taking an active role in their union.
- individual unions to establish and properly resource organise sections to move into new and non-unionised areas of the workforce.
- establishing an ACTU organising centre to help co-ordinate organising campaigns and train organisers.
- examining the establishment of a call centre to service existing members in a more professional and cost-effective manner.
For more details see our interview with Greg Combet and the extract from the report in this issue.
Interview: Stepping Up To The Plate
ACTU secretary-in-waiting Greg Combet talks about his report on international trade union trends and the need to adapt for the future.
Work/Time/Life: The Good Type of Wharf Security
The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has locked in better job security for casuals as part of its collective agreement with P&O Ports.
International: Venezuela Warned By Global Labour Group
Venezuela's new Constituent Assembly has drafted a decree providing for the dissolution of the country's national trade union organisation, the CTV.
Legal: Politically Motivated Case Against Unionist Fails
A politically motivated extortion case against Eric Wicker, a long-time trade unionist on the Port Kembla waterfront has failed.
Republic: Direct Election Republicans who say YES Ö and MORE!
Despairing at the sight of Ted Mack and Phil Cleary fronting for Kerry Jones and the Australians for A Constitutional Monarchy? Appalled at the disastrous strategy and paralysis of the Australian Republican Movement? A significant group of Republicans has an answer for you!
Unions: Technology for the Times
New technology offers exciting opportunities which help union growth, according to this extract from Unions@Work.
History: Australian Unions and Industrial Action 1788-1900
A project is under way to compile a comprehensive record of unions, informal worker organisation and strikes from the period of European settlement to 1900 using a specially designed computer database.
Review: Stage Left! - Workers Theatre Hits the Mark
'Rare' is the word on the Melbourne Workers Theatre production, 'Who's Afraid of the Working Class?' currently touring the eastern states of Australia.
Satire: Australia's Most Earnest
Strewth magazine scours the cultural landscape for its inaugural Earnest Bastard of the Year Award.
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Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005