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.
For perhaps the first time ever, union leaders and paid officials will stay in the background, with ten rank and file union members lined up to talk about the impact of Peter Reith's agenda on their working lives.
Speakers will include a young KFC worker, a hotel housekeeper, a bank teller, a public servant, a postie, a builder, a waterfront worker and one of the victorious Oakdale miners.
Workers are being asked to meet at the northern end of Hyde Park to march to the prime Minister's office in Phillip Street. While we're unlikely to match the 60,000 Victorians who marched last week (we've got a life in Sydney, OK?) a healthy turnout is expected with a few surprises.
Bring your voices, because there will be group chants and singalongs, orchestrated by MC and chant-mistress Su Cruikshank.
With the chants, its been decided that "The workers united will never be defeated" has probably become a cliche.
Shaun from the Maritime Union has put together these new chants, which we'll be using on the march. Print them off to and take them to the rally to ensure your voice is heard too:
All Chants To Be Repeated After Lead From The Marshalls
Johnnie Howard is his name
Bustin' unions is his game
Reith is in the caper too
Both of them would make you spew
We'll fight the bastards all the way
Unity, the workers' way.
Reith and Howard's second wave
Aimed at making wokrers slaves
Together we will win the day
Unity - the workers' way
Democrats we say to you
Don't sell us out in this here blue
You buckled to the GST
Stand up and keep our workforce free
We'll fight for our rights all the way
Unity- the workers' way
Be Strong, Be Brave
Dump the Second Wave
Be Brave, Be Strong
We Know Whose Side We're On
by Michael Gadiel
This report is based on information which is publicly available and from discussions with individuals.
Based on this information, Unions are not guaranteed any share in the equity of the company under this deal because there is no guarantee that there will be any equity remaining after the investors have taken their guaranteed 15% pa return.
At this stage it is not clear who Virtual Communities are. The organisation has been fronted by Steve Vizard however the ultimate ownership structure of the organisation is not known.
If unions endorse this deal then they will ultimately be held accountable by their members for the success of the service. Unions should be cautious of entering into a deal in which they have no ownership.
This issue arises particularly with regards to the control, quality and direction of the products and services recommended to union members through the use of their logo on the Virtual Communities Portal.
Without a substantial ownership stake, then regardless of contractual arrangements, unions, if they are unhappy with the tone of the material they are endorsing through the Portal, will have no choice other than to withdraw rights to use their logo. The members who have already accepted the deal may still remain with the Virtual Communities portal/entry point, with, or without a union branding.
Given the rapidly changing/growing nature of the Internet market, five years is a very long time to be locked into an exclusive deal with a single provider. Five years ago, net giants such as Amazon, eBay, Yahoo and Netscape did not exist!
Computer Hardware Deal
The Celeron 400 is a low cost alternative to the Pentium II/III lines designed for the budget market - however has some technical limitations including the fact that it runs on a 66Mhz motherboard (rather then 100MHz for PII/III) and has only 128kb L2 cache.
These computers will be obsolete by the time they have been fully paid for the current life span of a middle of the range PC is 2 years. Desire for the latest games and software as well as speed on the Internet will drive demand for upgrades.
In the current environment ISP's are desperate to lock-in market share, recently in the US one such company offered free computers to new subscribers.
No known guarantees on the level of service that will provided by the Internet Service Provider, e.g. modem to client ratio, speed of connection, connectivity to the Internet or customer support.
This deal does offer cheap access, however the market is growing very rapidly, ISP's are valued on the stock market by the number of subscribers they have, they are prepared to loss lead to establish market share.
For example, it is expected that Microsoft is about to offer free Internet access in the US in an attempt to break AOL's domination of the market. Telcos are starting to bundle Internet access with local phone accounts. In this environment it is very difficult for a particular deal to remain the best deal for very long!
The main focus of this deal is the hardware and the Internet access to union members but the real value is in the portal, which will be exclusively controlled by Virtual Communities - in terms of establishing the equity of the company it is the portal that the market place will value.
The primary income stream from the project will derive from commissions associated with product sales through the Virtual Communities portal.
It is important for unions to control the content so that they have the opportunity to organise their members through the Internet - but this will not be the case under the Vizard Proposal.
It is generally agreed that the Microsoft Network model which sought to limit user access outside the confines of a limited set of 'endorsed' sites has been a failure.
It is not possible to ascertain whether Virtual Communities intend to block sites which offer products / services competing with those advertised on the Virtual Communities Portal.
A reasonably high standard union web site can be built for around $15 thousand and with an ongoing server charge of $12 hundred per annum. In addition, such a website may cost another $2 -5 thousand to per year to maintain and further develop. The value of Virtual Communities 'in kind' returns should be measured against this benchmark.
The standard of the Web-sites offered under this proposal is unknown.
Central Coast trucking company J-DemTransport this week informed employees it was going into liquidation without any prior warning of the companmy's financial state. They are left being owed redundancy pay, outstanding annual leave and rostered days off.
Sacked driver Spenser Morrison, who is nearing retirement and struggling to pay off his mortgage says he's owed some $25.000.
He's been told by company receivers that he'll get the money owed only when the banks are paid off - if there is any money left.
"I can't believe this has happened," Morrison says. "After 12 years they didn't even have the decency to tell me to my face."
The Transport Workers Union is organising a protest this Monday (August 23) - a picnic outside the home of J-Dem Transport companyowner John Vaugh - at 8 Platree Crescent, Warnervale.
TWU state secretary Tony Sheldon says the drivers' plight shows that the issue of employee entitlements will not be resolved until the government legislates on the issue. "There's always another Oakdale just around the corner," Sheldon says.
Miners Thank Rank and File
Meanwhile, the naitonal executive of the CFMEU Mining Division have paid tribute to rank and file members who backed the Oakdale miners with a decisive 24-hour national coal strike.
The executive have written to members, after Prime Minister John Howard rolled Peter Reith to find the $6.3 million in unpaid entitlements owed to the miners.
"Your concern and commitment to pursuing justice for the Oakdale miners and their families was the key to this historic victory," the letter said.
"Last Friday's national coal strike drove the message home to the public and the Federal Government that the issue was not going to fade away."
But they've warned that they will oppose plans by Reith to abolish the $240 million Long Service Leave Fund.
The CFMEU is now planning a movement-wide campaign around the Oakdale issuing, highlighting the value of union membership.
For more on Oakdale: see this week's Pierswatch
Olympics Minister Michael Knight agreed to send an official to inspect conditions in the Free Trade Zone in Fiji and his choice of Booth has been welcomed by unions.
"We think its good that someone with an understanding of the textile and clothing industry has been sent on this mission," Labor Council senior industrial officer Chris Christadoulou says
The Textile Clothing and Footwear Union called for the investigation after it was revealed that uniforms for Games officials, staff and athletes would be made offshore, The union believes that 130,000 pair of trousers and 7,000 blazers would be produced in Fiji and 60,000 jackets made in Malaysia.
SOCOG says the reasons are that Australia lacks expertise for the production of some garments, like non-iron trousers, along with the higher cost of Australian production.
The TCFUA maintains all production should be local, but that, as a minimum, SOCOG should take steps to ensure its own Code of Labour Practise" is met.
Under the code, SOCOG has undertaken that during the production of licensed goods, monitoring will occur to ensure:
- employment is freely chosen
- there is no discrimination in employment
- child labour is not used
- freedom of association and the right to collectively bargain are respected
- fair wages are paid
- hours of work are not excessive
- working conditions are decent
- the employment relationship is established and training provided
- the use of exploited outworkers is not to occur.
Steggles management offered to re-employ Mhauri Saunders after she threatened to argue that her resignation to care for her family amounted to "constructive dismissal". Fearing another public backlash, management have now indicator that Saunders can keep her job.
The move follows their backdown over a direction to another working mum, Kym Wood, to start work at 6.30am or face termination proceedings.
Ms Wood, who was unable to find child care for her three children at that early hour, has become - in the words of one newspaper columnist -- "a hero" for working mums everywhere.
The Australian Services Union (Clerical Branch) which had taken up the case of the Steggles workers, says the move shows how ordinary workers can take on management and win if they work together.
The builders staged high-profile strip in the Jeans West city outlet in June, after the company refused to sign the code, pushed by the FairWear Alliance of unionist and church groups to end outworker exploitation.
While Jeans West management was adamant on the day of the protest that they had no reason to sign the code, Workers Online has learned that the company subsequently agreed to sign.
Under the Homeworkers Code of Practise, a signatory undertakes to take responsibility for the labour behind their labels.
Retailers who have signed the code include: Best and Less, Big W, Brown Sugar, Coles Supermarket, Daimaru Australia, Davenport, David Jones, Dotti, Events, Fashion Fair, Gowings, Jacqui E, Jag, Jasprop, Just Jeans, Katies, K-Mart, Lowes Manhatten, Maggie T, Myer Grace Brothers, Neat'n'Trim, Najee, Pelaco, Portmans, Rockmans, Roger David, Saba, Scuttle, Sussan, Suzanne Grae, Taking Shape, The Clothing Company, Westco Jeans, Witchery, Woolworths.
Scully was this week forced to release statistics showing a 400 per cent increase on the City Circle line in the first six months of the year, after the Opposition obtained the figures under Freedom of Information laws.
Rail Bus and Tram Union secretary Nick Lewocki says the figures vindicate union opposition to the governments push to cut station staff, with another proposal this week to take static security guards off 19 city and outer urban railway stations.
"The RBTU currently has a proposal before CityRail to establish a CityRail ByLaws employee position which will undertake security on stations, customer service and revenue protection during peak hours," Lewocki says.
He says these positions would allow the private security guards on trains to be withdrawn, saving the government $35 million per annum and refocussing personnel to violence hot spots - the stations rather than the trains.
CityRail and the RBTU are due to report back to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission on September 13 on the process of negotiations over this proposal.
Country Rail faces Stoppages
Meanwhile, rail workers have authorised the RBTU to call stop work meetings across the state over the Carr Government's plans to cut pay rates for CoutryLink staff.
Lewocki says CountryLink has hired private consultants to benchmark award rates against the private sector, with threats to tender the work out if wages aren't reduced.
RBTU members authorised the action while condemning the Carr government and passing a vote of no confidence in CountryLink management.
"If public sector awards are to be abolished in the railways, then this process will flow through to all public employees and will require a coordinated public sector campaign of opposition," Lewocki says.
Music to our ears
And finally, the RBTU has decided to pun-ish Scully with this response to his plans to improve rail security via Beethoven.... in this letter to the Labor Council.
Transport Minister Carl Scully's off beat proposal to provide music to deter station crime, is out of tune with commuters, who perceive him to be merely blowing his own trumpet with this poorly orchestrated stunt.
What commuters really require, are real solutions, which would be music to their ears not just fiddling about beating his own drum.
He has also hit a sour note with rail staff and unions who in harmony, would offer a chorus of support if he hit the right note on this issue.
The Minister could castanet of security by retaining rail staff on stations rather than private security guards with limited strings to their bows whose powers are merely cymbalic.
He should stop beating his own drum, singing his own praises and get in tune with commuters and rail staff before crime levels reach a crescendo.
We bet him a tenor that this will not reach a finale until the fat lady sings.
by Bernadette Maloney
The OEA has given one company 24 hours notice to remove the posters or it will commence proceedings in the Federal Court. The signs in question include the following words: "ON THIS JOB WE AIM TO BE 100% UNION" and "For workers to refuse to be financial in the union is not to exercise a democratic freedom, it is to accept benefits that others have worked for without contributing to the costs."
Others contain trenchant criticism of the policies of Workplace Relations Minister Peter Reith.
"Clearly there is nothing unlawful about these signs," said John Sutton, National Secretary of the CFMEU Construction & General Division.
"They are, in fact, one of the hallmarks of a reasonably open society where people are able to engage in political debate in public without fear of recriminations."
"If a group of workers feel strongly enough about issues to erect signs at their workplace which express their views, surely, in the absence of a contravention of any law, no government agency should censor those views.
"That such heavy handedness is justified by Reith's Advocate as being in support of various 'freedoms' in the workplace, gives the whole episode a particularly Orwellian resonance," said Mr Sutton.
"Peter Reith not only wants to deny workers their proper entitlements; he'd gag them from expressing their views as well.
This episode comes at the same time as he is spending millions of taxpayers dollars on advertisements claiming he supports freedom of expression and association."
by Phil Davey
Released only five weeks ago after three years in prison for organising a strike of textile workers, Sari couldn't have missed a gigantic "Free Dita Sari" banner across the back wall of the auditorium. The thankfully redundant banner is now definitely a collectors item, but also served as an apt illustration of the strength of the international campaign to secure Sari's release.
After warm welcomes from Meredith Burgmann and John Maitland and an emotional rendition of the Internationale from the ubiquitous Solidarity Choir the meeting heard a powerful presentation from Sari, the new head of the Indonesian National Front for Worker Struggle (FNPBI).
Dita Sari began by acknowledging several members of FRETELIN, the East Timorese resistance, who were at the meeting. She spoke warmly of the good relationship between the Indonesian Trade Union movement and the East Timorese resistance.
Sari spoke with passion and conviction of the power that stems from a union, of her hopes for a free Indonesia and of the growing militancy of workers in Indonesia, many of whom do not receive even the legal minimum wage of A$1.50 a day. Sari commented several times on the good response she had got on her Australian tour from Australian unionists, particularly construction workers in Perth.
Those at the meeting were asked to maintain pressure on the Australian Government to halt training the Indonesian military and selling them arms that were then used to suppress Indonesian workers. Sari made it clear that she did not believe the Australian Governments policies on Indonesia reflected the views of the Australian people and stated that she had chosen Australia as her first place to visit upon being released because of the close links between the two peoples.
Dita Sari concluded her presentation by inviting the meeting to join her for May Day 2000 in Jakarta.
I'd like to congratulate the editor and John Passant for making Einstein's thoughts available to a wide audience.
We need statements like his to guide our thinking in these confusing times: Einstein is simple, straighforward and accessible.
Hi, I'm Michael,
Just wanted to say that I enjoy reading your email publication. I am not a unionist, never have been, but that's not to say one day I will be.
I am caused to often wonder about the ideals of a fair go for the 'average' human being.
I have always believed as human beings we are responsible for our own welfare.
However I am very perturbed about the Oakdale miners predicament. There is something very wrong with our current laws for this situation to occur.
As a tax payer there is no way I can agree with my money being used in place of the Oakdale owners funds. We should make all employers accountable for the wages and benefits due to their employees.
Rather than tell you what needs to be done, because you can't do anything about it, I am going to tell the minister responsible what should be done and include you on the email 'copy to' list.
My kindest regards,
Dear all, Just recieved my edition 26 of your newsletter and it appears you blokesare having a poke at our freind Piers Akerman (am I correct).
All I can say is keep up the good work. after all it was his declaration of war against the ALP in Vic that lead to the tirade against ALL workers in this state and the election on the Kennet Govt
Which I feel makes the Bjelke-Peterson government pale into insignificance. good to some on our side, the workers that is.
Kind regards Ray Wilson
I was distressed by the alegations made in the letter about the so-called "sell off of group homes" by the NSW government.
Anybody who has been listening to Minister Lo' Po knows that there is nothing being sold to private enterprise.
The proposal is for those group homes to be managed by COMMUNITY ORGANISATIONS, with long proven records of efficiency and caring practices, where parents and the community (instead of just the bureaucrats) have much more of a say in the running of the premises.
People are entitled to disagree with the proposal, but people should not be entitled to embark on slandering campaigns, misleading the people of NSW by telling them that this is a "sell off" of those services. In my view it could very well be, instead, a move to work closer and more efficiently in partnerships with the community.
I have to respond to your claim: " Another rally won't defeat Reith's Second Wave. But ordinary workers telling their stories of how the push into the unknown territory of deregulation is damaging their lives might.
How else do you suggest that we get our message across, how else should "ordinary workers" tell their stories? What better forum than a series of mass rallies, taking our message to the streets? Rallies are empowering to be part of, you don't feel as isolated as you can as an individual in a workplace or even as a unionist at work.
And seeing hundreds and thousands on the streets speaks loudly to those who are either not yet unionists or are feeling isolated, thinking it's just them this is happening to.
However, I do not advocate rallies with alleged labour movements stars like Jenny George and Kim Beazley. Neither of them have done much at all for workers.
They may have appeared to leave alone the union movement while Labor was in Government, but...! What did they do for the "non-unionists" University students spring to mind -- fees were introduced by Labor, not the Libs! Working class participation was beginning to increase at unis until Labor made it harder by introducing fees!
And wasn't it Labor which first tossed around the idea of a consumption tax (Hawke)?
And what of the NSW Labor Council secretary, hell-bent on selling off worker's heritage for a few pieces of silver...and hasn't he presided over the gentrification of Trades Hall and the bastardisation of worker's history?
Ah, the list is long and the betrayals are many. Workers need to stop pretending Labor is a union friend, and begin to organise themselves in their own political party which would look after the interests of working people, and their families. Labor looks after its mates, as you can see from the overwhelmingly white male ageing front bench!
In light of the Carr Government's recent rise in train fares, perhaps security has been beefed up a tad too much.
The other week, I came across THREE Cityrail security staff patrolling the same train, in the space of three minutes.
Now I see where my extra $1.20 a day goes... to a waste of human resources.
The conditions on our trains at the moment are acceptable, which is all we need. I really don't give a hoot whether or not our trains get better, because as far as I'm concerned, the whole point is to get me to the city, period. I'm sure most people agree that we don't need three star accomodation for a one hour trip from the West.
CityRail is doing the job just fine as it is.
by Peter Lewis
When you left on this overseas trip, one of the things you said to me was that you didn't want this to be another Australia Reconstructed. If it's not, what is it?
It's a practical report that focuses on what unions need to do to modernise, what they need to do to grow, and what they need to do to be stronger and more effective in the workplace. So it's not looking at a grand, macro position in the way that Australia Reconstructed did - about institutional components of the Australian economy and body politic and unions and employer relationships. This is really about what unions need to do in the current environment and to make sure that we can turn around the decline in membership and can start to grow again.
In a simple tag line, what are you advocating?
Emphasis on the workplace, activity in the workplace and organising for growth: I suppose would be the simple way to do it. Attached to that, making sure that we adapt information technology, so that we do provide professional services, and that we use it in a way that supports a growth strategy and a stronger organisational position in the workplace.
The big question is how?
All unions are quite different as you know, but we think that there are lessons in some key areas. One is to put a greater emphasis on organisational strengths in the workplace. Essentially, when you have a decentralised bargaining system we have to encourage delegates and activists in the workplace to play a greater role in the collective bargaining arrangements at the workplace level. A greater role than they have currently, still with the involvement of full time officials, but we need delegates to play a bigger role. We also need them to be more active over recruitment issues in unionised workplaces. And we need delegates in all union workplaces - and activists.
I mean the official statistics and surveys show us that we just are not adequately represented by activists in all workplaces. We don't have delegate structures in all workplaces, there is not a bargaining process going on in all workplaces where unions are. There's not even union meetings taking place or information getting out there and we've got to focus on that very fundamental element of union organisation as one of the key arguments.
It's not an easy fix is it? Basically you've had a fragmenting of the workplace and an insecurity of labour, so (a) they're smaller workplaces, but also (b) people don't feel like they've got those support networks. I see in your report you are talking about a code of delegates' rights but is that all there is to it?
Oh no, no, no, it needs a strong organisational emphasis from unions, to look at their industries and the workplaces that they deal with. I mean, there is still a lot of workplaces out there, even though they are smaller in many instances, there's a lot of workplaces out there, and unions need to be in them. And so, to encourage people to be involved we have to accept that they have a greater role; encourage them to play a greater role.
One of the strong emphases in this part of the report is on union education, that is equipping people in the most flexible ways of delivering union education to our members - giving them skills to bargain, educating them in organising strategies and recruitment methods in the workplace, educating them about union services, so that they can field a lot more of the enquires on the job. We must try to resolve issues on the job collectively, rather than the union being seen as a third-party fixer - as they primarily are at the moment.
But it's not only the educational aspects, there's also an issue about the rights that people need - the security that they need to have to play that role as workplace activist. I think that there's got to be a stronger industrial emphasis on making sure that we've got the industrial rights that activists, members and delegates need in the certified agreements that we are negotiating to protect them.
How geared are the unions as amalgamated structures to actually deal with the challenges of effectively going from Superman down to somebody who's nurturing people on the shop floor?
There's no doubt, as Bill Kelty has conceded in recent times, that some of the amalgamations probably didn't work as well as he might have hoped, and they haven't yielded the efficiencies and resources and economies of scale as a result. But we have to continue to push that process through. The key thing now within the union structure, if you like, is that they accommodate the focus on the workplace.
The report is not advocating some great structural change in unions, more a cultural change, to make sure that we do focus at the workplace level, and that we link delegates up. For example, there is a fair degree of emphasis on the importance of enabling people to be involved actively in the unions and workplace committees and using information technology to make sure that people can communicate about their industrial issues - and as you know, that's going on in bits and pieces here and there, and it's going on internationally in bits and pieces.
Some of our activists here are in touch with people overseas who are employed by the same company, but we've got to strengthen that process. That means recognising that people have a greater role in the union.
Within the unions, if you take the view that at best you will have a slowly increasing pie of money, to refocus resources into organising you are going to take resources go from somewhere else. So where does the money come from?
Well, one of the central themes of the report is that we do need to shift the resources. Because if we can encourage people at the workplace level to play a greater role in recruiting in their workplace, doing collective bargaining to the extent that it's possible, and taking some of the servicing requirements at the workplace level, it will help free up organisers' time and officials' time for focussing on a growth strategy.
We are also arguing, though, that in the delivery of union services, we not only need to be modern and professional but we need to look at it from a cost effective point of view too. One of the things that we noted when we were overseas was that, for large membership service organisations, we don't really utilise technology in the form of call centres. Yet you've got unions in the United Kingdom, like the Unison and the Public Sector Union and the Transport & General Workers Union, starting to develop a very large call centre operation in order to handle individual member issues, membership enquires from non-members, in order to be able to reach into workplaces where they don't have a delegate structure yet. They can promote the phone number, and it's helping the union reach out to new people. They can then identify activists to build up a complementary strategy, but they are very hard headed about why they are doing it, and they are doing it in order to yield some efficiency in their resource allocation as a union and to free up staff to go off on a growth strategy and organise on the ground and Unison were saying to us - "Look, although it is still early and it's teething problems and we are building it up slowly, it's taking a load off the organisers - you know, the traditional organiser. And it will take some time, but they expect it to yield some results." Well, we've got to assess what options and what opportunities that offers for us - and that's another one of our recommendations.
What about the huge amounts of money spent in the courts and commissions paying lawyers? Is that an area that unions need to look at?
Well, the report traverses a few areas, but one of the things it does say is that we've got to use modern management techniques and we have to make sure that we are expending our funds to meet our key objectives, and there is a suggestion about how organisations like the ACTU can help facilitate unions applying those types of methods to their operations.
To answer your question more specifically, you have to look how we are spending money in the courts. If it is over a demarcation dispute then you would really have to question the utility of it. We have to get away focussing on inter-union squabbles over existing organised workplaces and think about the 72% of employees out there who don't have union membership, lack the benefit of union organisation, and that we aspire to represent. That's where we have got to spend our money.
Taking that a step further - the more fundamental question is: if we do redirect these services down to the workplace, what is the message? What are we actually marketing? And in an era where the traditional notions of class may have collapsed to an extent, how do you see the unions pitching themselves at average middle-income earners?
I don't think that's all that difficult actually, and nor does it necessarily need to be too scientific. What we have always organised around is the issues that are of concern to employees in the workplace. And it might be wages, it might not be. It might be their employment security. It might be the fact that as casuals they are exploited and they have been working there for 20 years and have never had annual leave entitlements.
It might be in the IT industry. As you know, the ASU organised the workplace with Toshiba. Software engineers are not typically the people that you would expect unions would be organising, and yet it is possible because they had been exploited around their working hours, or there are other aspects of the production process that are of concern to them. And the key thing, I guess, is that we have to re-assert that it is the collective action in the workplace that can make real changes around the issues of concern to employees.
That's the opportunity for us, and I see it as an optimistic future, because those issues are everywhere. These are very tough times in the workplace and unions demonstrably deliver benefits to people. They deliver more secure jobs, they deliver better wage outcomes. They deliver wage increases more often. And they deliver safer workplaces and the issues are there in the workplace.
What we are arguing in the report is that it is very important in this environment for unions not to have a pre-conceived view necessarily, but to do some basic things, that perhaps unions haven't done so much in the past. Such as finding contacts in a non-union workplace and doing a survey of what the employee concerns are. Using that as the organisational opportunity in the workplace.
Someone remarked to me the other day that we have gone in with a National Council resolution about what the bargaining claims are this year, but it hasn't been tested anywhere and of course, when they have gone down to the workplace level, there has been very little relationship to what the national officials might have thought. That means we have got to change from that top down approach to a bottom up one.
The resolutions aren't what's going to drive policies?
No, obviously as unions, collectively and individually we are going to have views about important issues and what are the key workplace issues. But we have to make sure they are informed by input from people on the job as well.
On technology, I want to ask you about the Vizard proposal. How does that fit in with the notion of using IT as an organising tool for unions?
I think any proposal that involves getting hardware with appropriate software and internet access out to workers and to activists and delegates in particular, has got a lot of merit. I understand that there are plenty of other issues attached to any propositions that are put together, but the simple fact of making sure that we have the technology is an extremely important thing for us. I think unions collectively admit that the rapidity or the speed of communications that it makes available, the increased campaign effectiveness; the capacity to do online surveys; the capacity to do online education; the capacity for delegates to use it to get access to a data base of information about their collective bargaining negotiations; the capacity for an organiser to provide that info through the internet rather than driving out in the car to a workplace - they offer wonderful efficiencies for unions if they can use it skilfully.
Do you think those aspects should be rolled into any proposal that the unions and the ACTU adopt?.
I think our capacity to adapt to technology in that way is essential in any proposal that we've got - there's no doubt about that.
Finally, you are moving into a position that a lot of people think won't be around much longer. A union position. Are you optimistic about the future?
You mean, unions won't be around much longer? Or the ACTU, or the ACTU secretary?
All of the above...
I am optimistic, because I think that unions have a great record of achievement for working people. There's been difficult times. The economic change and the change in the industrial and legislative environment have been very difficult for unions to adapt to, but I think demonstrably we are starting to change.
Many unions, under the pressures that their membership are feeling in the workplace, recognise the importance of doing it. I think as a first step for the future, once we've launched this report we have to have a good, healthy debate. I intend going around each of the States, and I will go to some of the regional areas to present the issues in the report, but we are not putting it up as a document that "this is the master plan", we are inviting people to have input about the issues and discuss them on the job. Get the delegates involved. You can't make these changes unless the organisers and delegates and the members understand the issues and are prepared to make a contribution. They will identify for us, as officials, where some of the shortcomings are and where we need to place additional emphasis. And we have to have that input.
I think if we can do that and we engender some enthusiasm about the change that we need to make, and we activate people, we've got a really bright future because unions deliver outcomes for people. Collective organisation will work for people. Individual bargaining on the job - I don't believe it is the future. For a small proportion of the workforce that have got the bargaining capacity and the skills and the education to negotiate with their employer, then that's fine, but for the majority of the workforce, they don't individually have that sort of bargaining power, and a collective organisation has always been the way that they have been able to achieve improvements in living standards and safety in the workplace and the like.
That's what unions do and we've got to focus on those fundamentals I think. And with that view of the future and understanding the changes that have taken place in the workplace and the economy and the change in technology, if we are modern and efficient about how we go about it, I think we've got a good future. I think that we will be able to turn it around.
by This Working Life
Under the agreement permanent part-time jobs will be created and the level of casual employment will be targeted at no more than 10% to 20% of the workforce (depending on the port). About 450 full-time jobs will go as part of a voluntary redundancy plan.
Around 150 permanent part-time jobs will be created, guaranteeing a minimum of 35 ordinary hours work each week and an existing, but little used category of "guaranteed wage employees" (gwe employees) will be expanded.
GWE employees are guaranteed a minimum number of hours work each week (16 hours work a week in most ports, but less in some regional or very small ports), with the opportunity to work more hours if the work is available. GWE's employees in major ports will have work opportunities to earn an income of about $30,000 a year, which means better wage certainty and the ability to make longer term plans, such as taking out a mortgage. Previously, casual workers had no guarantees about hours or wages.
MUA Assistant National Secretary, Mick O'Leary said that the P&O agreement showed that the union was committed to representing casual workers on the waterfront and achieving a better deal for them, as well as its traditional full-time membership.
"Like most industries, the use of casuals on the wharves has grown like topsy over the past twenty plus years. For example, prior to this agreement 35 per cent of the total workforce of P&O in Brisbane were casuals. Now there'll be about 120 permanents, 55 permanent part-timers or gwe employees and less than 20 casuals, or only 10 per cent of the workforce.
"In Melbourne and Sydney, we've replaced all casual jobs with permanent part-time or gwe employment. Previously in Melbourne there were only twenty people employed as gwe employees, with a 15 hour guaranteed minimum and 73 casuals who had no certainty at all about their hours. The new arrangements will mean 55 people will be employed as permanent part-timers and another 55 as gwe employees," O'Leary said.
The new collective agreement also sets the maximum working day at 12 hours. Previously, shifts of up to 16 hours could be worked by permanents who had the option to work the extra hours as overtime before casuals could be used for the work.
BRUSSELS: The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions has called on the International Labour Organisation to send an urgent mission to Venezuela and warned the country's President, Hugo Chavez, that it may seek action by international lending institutions should Venezuela renege on its obligations under international law.
The move followed publication in Venezuela of a draft decree considered by the new Constituent Assembly for adoption on August 17 providing for the dissolution of Venezuela's national trade union organisation, the Confederacion de Trabajadores Venezuelanos (CTV). The CTV is one of Latin America's largest trade unions.
This would constitute a flagrant breach of Venezuela's international obligations contracted as a member state of the ILO. ILO Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association, ratified by Venezuela in September 1982, prohibits any government interference in trade unions and recognises workers' fundamental rights to form and join unions of their own choosing. Freedom of association is also enshrined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.
In a strongly-worded warning to President Hugo Chavez, the ICFTU said that freedom of association is now also "an element for consideration by international financial institutions in their assessment of funding application."
This suggests the possibility of bringing the matter not only before the ILO, if the anti-trade union decree should be adopted, but also to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
The draft decree would also affect the CTV's 3,000 affiliated unions and provides for the confiscation of all trade union assets. It would prevent trade union leaders from travelling abroad pending a government "audit" of the trade unions.
The dissolution of trade unions is part of the so-called "radical reform process" contemplated by democratically-elected President Chavez, ostensibly to improve the political and economic situation in the country, where rampant poverty coexists with fraud and corruption.
Yet, according to the ICFTU, "economic and social progress can only be achieved in the full respect of democracy, and human - including workers' - rights".
by Meg Smith
Judge Deborah Payne in the Wollongong District Court gave a direction to the jury that Eric Wicker be found not guilty on all counts. Counsel for Wicker, Phil Boulten, had earlier applied for the charges to be dropped on the basis that the witness testimony was unreliable.
Eric was the honorary President of the Port Kembla branch of the Painters and Dockers Union during the 80s and early 90s.
In the charge laid against Eric, the New South Wales Director of Public Prosecutions contended that, along with Stan Woodbury, he demanded work on eight ships in Port Kembla in 1991 and 1992. Moreover, the two unionists fined the owners of those vessels sums of money for work performed by the ships' crews rather than shore based labour.
The charge against Wicker was always curious because the authorities could have named dozens of ships tied up at Port Kembla in similar industrial action. Indeed this tactic of tying up ships and demanding work for shore-based labour has been a standard industrial tactic in virtually every port in Australia. It has been necessary because Australian governments, unlike other countries, refuse to legislate to ensure necessary repair and cleaning work is carried out by local labour.
Why were the charges initially laid against Eric?
There is only one explanation - this was a political prosecution designed to demonise maritime workers in the lead up to and during last year's MUA dispute and a further component of the conservative assault on Australian unionism.
The role of the Workplace Relations Minister Reith as the main provocateur in the wider MUA dispute is well known - the courts decided that he had an arguable case to answer. His role in Eric's case is less well known but equally odious.
On 9th January 1998 in a speech given in Launceston Tasmania, Reith referred to the 'illegitimate demands of hold cleaning' being investigated by the Australian Competition and Consumer Council. He followed up on 19th February 1998 on ABC TV's Lateline Program Reith again referred to the MUA and hold cleaning being an 'ugly problem', and intimated that the issue would shortly envelop the MUA. At the Liberal Party Convention in March 1999 in Brisbane, Reith continued the attack and indicated that the Australian Federal Police were investigating matters and prosecuting in one case - clearly a reference to Eric Wicker.
The implications of the charges against Eric are clear. If this prosecution had succeeded it would mean that any official or delegate pressing a wage claim or some similar claim on behalf of their members will be guilty of extortion. It's simply impossible, at law, to distinguish between such a claim and the claims made by the maritime unions since 1946.
Eric was supported by the Eric Wicker Defence Committee which set itself the task of publicising this case, raising money for legal costs and prevailing on the responsible authorities to drop the charges. Support was received from Eric's former work mates, shop stewards and a number of local union branches. Assistance is still required to meet Eric's legal expenses.
Any support that you can give us is much appreciated.
Eric Wicker Defence Committee
310 Farmborough Road
02 4268 1245
02 42 714 837
Write "YES" in the box on your ballot paper on November 6 and write "and MORE!" or stick on a sticker with the same message, to register a protest at the wrong question, and a demand for the next elected Convention to pursue democratic change to the Constitution.
This position was held by 22% of the 45 elected republican delegates to the 1998 Constitutional Convention. Their most prominent speakers were Pat O'Shane, Moira Rayner, Tim Costello, Mary Kelly, Misha Schubert and Catherine Moore.
The NO Republicans represented 18%, led by Phil Cleary, Ted Mack and Clem Jones.
The NO Republican strategy is long on hope and short on a definite program.
Their basic message is that the best way to get a directly-elected President is for this referendum to be defeated, because this would spark an unstoppable public movement to "get it right". On the other hand, the NO side argues that a win for the referendum would close off any further constitutional change.
This flies in the face of the broadly supported decision of the 1998 Convention that a second Constitutional Convention, with 75% elected delegates, should be held within 3-5 years of the passage of the 1999 Referendum.
A "YES" win, accompanied by a loud demand for more change, is a more certain pathway to comprehensive constitutional renewal than a NO.
Both direct election republican groups are making judgements about the potential opposition to democratic change to the Constitution.
The YES ... and MORE! see a far greater chance of a progressive majority for change if the threshold question of the monarchy is resolved now. That removes the Monarchists as a bloc in the debate, and re-groups the direct election republicans as a united bloc, and should also divide the minimalist republicans, with some of them moving across to the conservative bloc who will oppose any further change.
A win for the NO would maintain the Monarchist bloc, eliminate any commitment to the second Constitutional Convention from the parliamentary parties, greatly encourage the "no change" camp, and throw the republican camp into continuing recrimination.
Prime Minister Howard would have again demonstrated his superior political skill, declare that he had given the people the choice, and now it is time to move back to the "substantive issues" and the "main game".
There are 86 days to go before we the people have our say on November 6.
Working people have a powerful interest in constitutional change, especially a Bill of Rights which enshrines basic rights of workers, including the right to organise, collectively bargain, and to strike.
The CFMEU has formally committed to the YES and MORE! campaign. It deserves the support of all democrats across a wide range of social movements.
You can join the campaign by contacting:
Sydney - Peter Murphy, 02 9211 4164. Fax: 02 9211 1407. or mailto:[email protected]
Melbourne - Mike Hill, 03 9654 0333. Fax: 03 9654 0555. or: mailto:[email protected]
Young Australians for a Republic and Women for an Australian Republic...
Invite you to put the PUB in the REPUBLIC
Pub Night, Wednesday 25th August, 7:30pm at Tilley's Devine Cafe & Gallery Lyneham, Tilley's meals available
Special guests for a Republican Quest (Good News Week style) ..... Tanya Plibersek MP (Labor member for Sydney); Senator Marise Payne (Liberal Senator for NSW); Rachael Jacobs (President Australian Young Democrats)
- with discounted Carlton Crowns so you can down a crownie!
Call Sandy Pitcher 6262 6141/ 041 333 7025 or mailto:[email protected] for more details
Young Australians for a Republic - http://vicnet.net.au/~yesyouth
Women for an Australian Republic - http://womenrep.dynamite.com.au/
The internet and e-mail allow members, delegates and officials to communicate quickly and effectively, call centres offer efficiency gains, and the potential of websites to boost campaigns is largely unexploited. Effectively managing a process of change in the union is important in achieving growth.
THE KEY ISSUES FROM OVERSEAS
Some overseas unions are using call centres to streamline and professionalise the way they handle inquiries and provide services and, at the same time, allow other resources to be redirected into organising and recruiting. Unions generally contract their requirements to a major call centre operator.
Opportunities with IT
Unions are exploring ways of using computers, e-mail and the internet to communicate, boost campaigning capacity, link delegates, and speed organisational change. The wildly enthusiastic welcoming of the internet as a tool of empowerment for workers, as a great leveller between corporations and workers internationally, is far from realisation - but it is an increasingly useful tool. The union representing hydro-electricity workers in Quebec attracts new members via its website.
Dealing with change
The pursuit of membership growth through delegate education, workplace organisation, and recruitment at non-union sites is a demanding and difficult process of change that is often compounded by shrinking revenues.
The AFL-CIO has established an Organisational Change Working Group to help union locals maintain representational effectiveness and shift resources into organising. The Working Group also examines ways in which national unions can promote change at the local level.
Successful change requires a well-focused strategy, efficient and professional resource management, and vigorous leadership. Leading overseas unions and peak councils employ executive assistants with broad political, administrative and managerial skills to work with and advise senior leadership on strategic issues.
Many General Secretaries of unions in Great Britain have attended a strategic planning and management course at Cranfield University. A number of unions, such as the AEEU in Great Britain, a large electrical and engineering union, routinely assess the performance of officials and staff.
Scrutinising traditional approaches
Union structures and methods are being overhauled in response to falling membership in traditional industries and occupations, and the necessity to attract and involve young people, women, shift workers, and casuals. Decades-old branch structures and meeting procedures are giving way to communications through technology and other flexible approaches driven by issues and the new preferences of members. Surveys are used to identify issues, test the effectiveness of unions, and fine-tune campaigns. Updated media and marketing methods are also emerging.
Economies of scale
Unions are negotiating with hardware manufacturers and internet service providers for discounted purchasing and leasing deals, free internet access, website development, and training and advisory support.
Unions in the US have negotiated a 50% discount on telephone usage in union offices, Swedish unions have bargained with suppliers for discounted electricity, and there are a range of union discount and credit card arrangements.
ILLUSTRATION OF THE KEY ISSUES - CASE STUDIES FROM OVERSEAS
UNISON embraces change
UNISON is Britain's largest union, with 1.3-million public sector members - but it must recruit 150,000 members each year just to stand still. UNISON strategically reviewed its operations as an initial step towards change. As part of that review union surveys revealed that:
� one in four members do not know their shop steward;
� four in ten workplaces do not have a shop steward; and
� people will join a union if asked, providing the union offers reasonable service.
UNISON responded to these challenges by becoming an "organising union", and by streamlining its operations using new technology. It established a call centre called UNISONdirect, which is contracted to a major call centre company. The call centre is seen as the key to providing more cost-effective advice and information, and releasing resources for delegate education and organising.
UNISONdirect is a free-call service and is still being developed. It currently receives about 1,500 calls per week. Three main numbers give access to shop stewards, members, and membership inquiries. Agents can generate a personalised membership application form based on information given by callers, and a 999 service deals with urgent cases - dismissal, suspension, disciplinary, or harassment. The call centre also provides information on union services.
If a member needs immediate help, the call centre agent contacts an organiser through a pager or e-mail. Eventually, organisers will be armed with hand-held computers, giving them access to e-mail, facsimile and the internet. Defining the level of industrial advice that can be given by the call centre is a dynamic issue, but the long-term objective is to ease the servicing and advisory workload of officials.
The union also uses the outgoing call facility to handle 'customer care' calls - to check that the member received the expected level of service.
UNISON has also harnessed new communication technology, offering free internet access to members under an arrangement with POPTEL, a non-profit internet service provider.
The internet and e-mail will be used to communicate with and organise members, and UNISON will eventually provide all delegates with internet links and e-mail addresses. The package for officials and delegates currently on the drawing board includes internet and e-mail access, facsimile facilities, and bulk-leasing hardware deals.
T&G on the cutting edge
The Transport and General Workers' Union in Britain (T&G), which has 6,000 branches, has negotiated bulk deals on PCs, established a union intranet, established IT training centres, and includes computer training in delegates' courses. This is not seen as an end in itself - more as one facet of a strategy to equip delegates for servicing and bargaining, and therefore free resources for organising.
The T&G also offers a 24-hour legal hotline, which will be extended to an open-line on all union services when training and referral arrangements are complete. The legal hotline receives more than 61,000 calls each year.
The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions is developing a password-protected campaign website, which will allow unions from many nations to share up-to-the-minute information on actions, results, and suggested improvements during campaigns. The site will act as a rapid-response clearinghouse, dramatically cutting the time taken to transmit information to a multitude of organisations during a campaign, when speed is often critical.
The International Chemical, Energy and Mineworkers' union is also actively exploring the campaign potential of the internet, running successful corporate campaigns via its website against major mining and manufacturing firms operating across the globe.
Politicising the web
The Canadian Labor Congress (CLC) uses its political action website to mobilise members for community campaigns, including those run by affiliated unions.
The CLC posts Fax Your MP campaigns on the website (faxes are more effective than e-mail because recipients do not necessarily read e-mail). A participant chooses a campaign from the topics listed on the website and then enters their name, address, and postcode. The database automatically calls up the electorate associated with the postcode, generates the relevant MP's name and address and places it on a standard letter. The letter can be amended before being faxed via the internet.
The user is invited to leave an e-mail address, which is loaded on to a database. At the end of the action, letters are sent to each participant, thanking them and advising them of the campaign outcome.
The CLC also posts a "union-made" database on the website so browsers can identify goods and services provided by unionised workplaces.
WHY THE ISSUES ARE RELEVANT FOR AUSTRALIA'S UNIONS
Unions can make great gains by maximising technology to improve operations, communications, campaigning and political activity. Linking delegates by e-mail and the internet can be a powerful industrial tool.
Providing professional service
Unions are membership service organisations. As well as focussing on collective strength, unions must also provide professional service, and maintain effective communication, with individual members. Call centres and information technology can be developed to better meet individual service demands.
Efficiencies yield resources
The increased emphasis on education and organising requires funds and staff. Resources can be released by improving the efficiency and management of union operations, and finding cost-effective ways of providing information, advice and services such as through a call centre.
Union amalgamations aimed to create significant cost savings through the sharing of resources. This objective remains relevant, as many unions proceed to streamline union operations. But the process of change must continue with a greater emphasis on education and organising - and the realignment of resources in order to make the new priorities a reality. Careful planning and union management will be vital.
ACTION FOR AUSTRALIAN UNIONS
1.Sharing ideas, exploring potential, building expertise
Many unions are well advanced in the use of information technology. Their experiences, and ideas for the future, should be better shared amongst affiliates by:
� holding a Unions and Technology Conference; and
� building expertise at the ACTU so that information, advice and strategic direction on the use of information technology can be gathered and shared amongst unions.
Specific initiatives for consideration by the Conference, the ACTU and individual unions must include the development of:
� modern membership systems;
� union websites;
� websites to support political and corporate campaigns (domestic and international);
� on-line campaign coordination and reporting;
� on-line vocational learning for members;
� on-line education for officials, delegates and members;
� union intranet capacity, containing a data-base of awards and agreements;
� communication with members and delegates;
� delegate networks, including international links;
� communicating industrial information to mobile organisers and delegates;
� on-line surveys and union news;
� hardware, e-mail and internet access requirements and proposals for bulk purchasing and leasing; and
� education in IT for officials and delegates.
The proposal for an integrated hardware, software training, website development, internet access, and entertainment package under consideration by the ACTU Executive would promote all of these objectives.
2.Examining call centres
Unions should explore the potential of call centres to more professionally and cost-effectively deal with:
� simple queries from members;
� membership inquiries, particularly in response to marketing campaigns;
� requests for information about services and membership benefits;
� requests for basic industrial advice, with possible referral;
� outgoing calls, including surveys and polling;
� follow-up calls to new members, as well as those who have resigned; and
� responses to campaigns about specific issues.
Call centre operations could be developed in a staged process, allowing adequate training of staff and development of the information data-base, testing of effectiveness, and a slow build up of investment as the benefits are demonstrated.
3. Developing a union call centre
The ACTU call centre should be developed and marketed as a contact point for the community with unions. There is currently no well-known, easy method for non-union employees to make contact with a union. A collective union call centre could offer potential new members, particularly those in employment growth areas, basic information about unions via one telephone number. Reliable telephone transfer arrangements to each union would be required for industrial advice and for existing members.
The ACTU call centre also has great potential for use in organising campaigns, developing delegate networks, and has been a successful weapon in retaining members through cost-effective contact with those who have resigned but have new jobs in the same industry.
To develop the call centre will require union agreement, assessment of funding needs, and professional management, development and marketing.
4.Modern union management
Unions should ensure that modern management methods are adopted. The achievement of membership growth is linked to the most efficient use of resources. Many unions use modern management methods, however all unions should establish criteria and methods to assist, such as:
� strategic planning of union operations and objectives;
� modern financial and budgeting methods;
� staff management which encourages the achievement of clear goals;
� standards to be met in the provision and marketing of membership services;
� industrial bargaining and campaign objectives;
� communications and IT planning;
� identification of membership growth targets;
� levels and quality of union education to be achieved;
� democratic membership and delegate involvement, reviews of delegate effectiveness;
� means to plan campaigns and measure outcomes against objectives;
� modern and proven membership record systems; and
� analysis and appraisal by an external organisation.
In the search for additional resources, Australian unions should ensure that post-amalgamation union structures are closely aligned with the objectives of democratic membership involvement, industrial effectiveness, and the efficient use of funds.
5. Building union management expertise
Unions should put in place a strategy to educate officials in union management. Officials must have the skills to assert control over finances, assets and staff to ensure growth, and to manage a process of change.
NewTUTA already conducts a union management course which has been completed by 70 officials. When unions review their education plans they should increase the number of senior officials attending union management education.
6. Collective support for change
The new ACTU Organising Centre should develop the expertise and resources to help unions review their operations and allocate resources to growth. Help could be offered with:
� strategic reviews and planning of union operations and objectives;
� financial planning and resource allocation;
� staff management methods;
� union education planning;
� establishing an organising section; and
� managing the process of change.
Collective knowledge of modern and professional union practice could be built in this manner, drawing upon international experience, and what is working in Australian unions (as well as what is not working).
NewTUTA has helped some unions review operations, develop strategic plans, and develop better financial and management methods. Advice of this nature can be invaluable during a process of change, especially when reallocating resources for education and organising.
7. Regional approaches to union organisation
Unions need to evaluate the potential for collective approaches to union organisation in regional Australia. Individual unions are often unable to resource an organiser and/or a union office in regional areas, however a group of unions can. In areas such as north-eastern NSW and south-eastern Queensland, where there is rapid population growth and economic development, union activity can be built by cooperation.
Overseas unions are co-locating in regional towns and areas in an attempt to achieve economies of scale and release more resources for organising. Trades and Labor Councils could facilitate such change in Australia.
The database includes a file on each union or instance of worker organisation as well as industrial action, court litigation and political lobbying they became involved in. So far the database contains records of more than 2,200 unions and informal worker alliance and it is expected that the figure will exceed 6,000 when completed.
According to the chief investigator, Professor Michael Quinlan of the University of New Wales, informal alliances of workers were important but have often been overlooked by labour historians. Most strikes before 1860 did not involve a union and the same applied to some very large disputes after this date such as a revolt by navvies building the South East Queensland railway in 1866. Further, many unions formed during the 19th century survived only a short period, indicating the difficulty of building a cohesively organised labour
movement. On the other hand, by 1890 the Australian union movement had a combined membership of over 150,000 and could claim to be perhaps the most strongly organised union movement in the world at that time.
Professor Quinlan said the database should provide insights into Australian unions that are relevant to the current difficult climate. The database will form the basis for a book on union and worker organisation in Australia. It is also planned to eventually put the database on CD ROM format so that it can made available to unions and libraries. The software and technical support for the database was undertaken by Peter Akers (formerly of Griffith University). Peter has built the database in a way that makes it comparatively easy to use. This will obviously benefit unionists and others who may wish to use it in the future.
by Jeanti St Clair
'Shows like these only come around once every 10 years' - the audiences are passionate about Who's Afraid of the Working Class?.
Who's Afraid Of The Working Class? is a compassionate, harrowing, hilarious and mysterious play about life on the margins of society penned by some of Australia's best writers of the stage. It presents a search for the working class at the end of the millennium, a time when the traditional concept of the working class is being replaced by a workless underclass.
A family is split apart by poverty. Two children yearn for some notion of family against impossible odds. A woman finds solace in an encounter with a stranger. A Koori man struggles against his own self-loathing. A Greek woman laments the loss of her son. A young man rails against the failure of his parent's ideals. Two outrageous working class girls shoplift their way across the city and boldly declare "We ain't got nothing."
Each occupies a human landscape torn apart by years of economic rationalism; all are remarkable, flawed, complex souls in real, challenging situations. The result is hard-hitting, left-wing, political theatre that doesn't preach but entertains and enthrals. Rare, indeed.
Commissioned in 1997 to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Melbourne Workers Theatre, Who's Afraid Of The Working Class? brings together the work of controversial novelist, Christos Tsiolkas (Loaded/The Jesus Man) with award-winning dramatists, Patricia Cornelius (Jack's Daughters), Andrew Bovell (Speaking in Tongues/After Dinner), Melissa Reeves (Road Movie) and a haunting score by Irine Vela (Little City).
Since its premiere season in Melbourne last year, the play has received award upon award -including the Gold AWGIE Award from the Australian Writers Guild, an award it shares with the play Cloudstreet.
Each playwright has constructed a series of stories and characters which director Julian Meyrick skilfully interweaves into Who's Afraid of the Working Class?. The result is a gripping, emotionally powerful and dynamic form of theatre, reminiscent of Robert Altman's Short Cuts. Storylines cut into each other and Irine Vela's score, Requiem for the Working Class, is performed live on stage - a melancholy double bass and cello.
Powerful political theatre is rare today with only a handful of companies taking up the challenge. Melbourne Workers Theatre has gone from strength to strength over the past 12 years, surviving in a rough terrain of arts funding threats when other small companies have been cast aside.
As Patricia Cornelius, the author of Money (one of the four plays that make up the whole) said in a recent interview with The Age, that "[t]he most cynical view would be to say that you can't trash them all, so you keep the [company] that's overtly political so that you appear to be maintaining an even perspective in the arts."
Who's Afraid Of The Working Class? has just performed a hugely successful return season at the Trades Hall in Melbourne and received a high level of support from local unionists who came in droves to see the play. Patricia Cornelius explains, "people are so greedy for political content that hits hard." On stage at night that week, the stories of retrenched workers, the under-employed and their families played themselves out to packed houses.
Outside the doors of Trades Hall on Thursday 12th August tens of thousands of workers marched against the Federal Government's changes to workplace relations - a reminder that the issues raised in this Melbourne Workers Theatre show are real, too real indeed.
Who's Afraid of the Working Class?
Belvoir Street Theatre, August 25 - September 5
Cut-Price Preview August 24 ,Tues - Sat 8pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 5pm
BOOKINGS 9699 3444
Discounted tickets available to union card holders throughout the season.
Full $27/ Conc $19; Union Members, Under 26, Groups 10+ $ 22; Preview all tickets $18
Bored to bloody tears of rich lists, A-lists, door lists, in lists, out lists? Un-intrigued by Who magazine's "most intriguing people". Find the "twenty most beautiful people" an ugly sight? Find the publicity shots accompanying the Herald's six young novelists of the year (young?) even uglier? Want an awards night where award winners don't turn up and don't give speeches? Well join Strewth!'s hunt for Australia's Most Earnest. Why be jealous of BRW's biggest earners when you can cringe at Strewth!'s most earnest?
The mood of Sydney was set early - by the 'mockers of Botany Bay' - the city's convict founders. They had little time for the earnest prayers offered up for their deliverance and reform, and who can blame them. In those days the most earnest bloke around was the Reverend Samuel Marsden, the famous flogging parson, who made sure a sanctimonious sermon came with a damned good whipping. The cat-o'-nine tails aside, not much has changed. Pumped-up, parsimonious tub thumpers prowl the land pontificating about the evils of society, tearing metaphorical strips off their poor unfortunate congregation - Us!
Through a Chardonnay glass darkly the dinner party set fume about drugs, greenhouse emissions, cyber-porn, lazy trade unionists, screen violence, moral collapse, fatty food, homosexuality, American TV shows, women, sport, schools, lack of sex, too much sex, sex with the wrong people, art, the republic, Bob Ellis and, of course, religion.
But it's not the causes and issues Strewth! objects to, but the humourless, holier-than-thou, poker-faced righteousness of the hectoring. We want to shame the humourless. Don't protest to us about what zany funsters you are in the privacy of a publicly funded long lunch. We don't care if a John Pilger BBQ descends into games of flaming arseholes and up-side down skulls. We don't give a shit if a Doogue dinner party in Balmoral ends up in a Catholic version of nude Yahtzee with Geraldine leading the charge in wide-mouthing schooner glasses. We were not invited. It's their public personas we have to put up with. Being so serious, so often, in public makes them a burden to society. In the interests of public safety we think it's time the earnest were outed. Read on as Strewth! exposes Australia's Most Earnest.
The following are nomination for Strewth!'s "Most Earnest Awards". There can only be one winner, and that person will see their name enter the vernacular as the new slang term for 'earnest bastard'!
The nominations are...
Dick Smith - Takes all the fun out of being a millionaire. Ever wondered why all those helicopter trips are done solo?
John Hewson - Baptist, econometrician and early rising jogger.
Poppy King - Smudges her make-up with crocodile tears. Accepted Young Australian of the Year Award.
Alan Jones - Sleeps 3 hours a night but never wakes up. Manages to qualify despite being unintentionally funny. Unlike Akerman and Zemanek, actually believes what he says.
Kerry O'Brien - The autocue cracks more gags and has a less repetitive interviewing technique. Would look for gravity in the space shuttle. Thinks he speaks with authority. Appeared in The Good Weekend's "The Two of Us".
Anne Summers - They say by thirty you get the face you deserve - no-one gives better furrowed brow.
Geraldine Doogue - Holy hockeysticks! We're praying for a miraculous Assumption. Bon Voyage!
Paul Sheehan - "I've been published in the New Yorker".
Quentin Dempster - turned the term "dobber" into "whistleblower".
Brian Harradine - Wants the species to multiply without dirty, explicit sex.
Gareth Evans - Anyone see him dance in Soweto or at the True Believers Ball? Now there's a man who hasn't been to a drunken party for years.
Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans - Stopped blue collar workers at Water Board parties from enjoying a smoko. Funny how these guys never want to ban Chardonnay. Democrat.
Natasha Stott Despoja - Youth is wasted on the ambitious. Democrat.
Adele Horin - The Sydney Morning Herald's atrocity aunt. A righteous connoisseur of the downtrodden. Owner of Australia's most earnest dinkus.
Bettina Arndt - Orgasm was not meant to be easy. From sexpert to concerned mother who abhors lesbian teachers.
Hugh Mackay - Turns a toothpaste survey into the meaning of life out of a lower North Shore focus group.
Dr Helen Caldicott - Missile envy with an irony bypass.
Dr Bob Brown - Crusades and drones in boats and anoraks.
Dr Peter Singer - Wears canvas shoes.
Peter Garrett - Greenie. Christian. NDP. Diesel and Bulldust. Rock star evangelist. As Frank Zappa said "Shut Up and Play Your Guitar".
Lynda Stoner and Peter Sumner - cute and cuddly 80's celebrities with a cause.
John Pilger - international passport to misery. White man's burden. Irons frown and fatigues on in the morning. Has had his irony substituted by conspiracy. Took Bob Ellis seriously enough to sue him.
Jenny Brockie - Campaigned against Darling Harbour Sega World and the playing of Cat Stevens' songs on 2BL. While on radio always telling us to "do drive carefully on the roads out there". Thanks mum.
David Goldie - Won a Walkley out of homeless kids but did he ever let them stay the night? Titillated Pymble and hit the top through those on the bottom.
Jocelyn Scutt - Feminist jurisprudence expert who refused to read Marx at university on spurious PC grounds. Does not own a TV.
Robert Manne - Mr Could-it-happen-here? Genuinely concerned about the influence of Helen Demidenko.
Sheila Jeffries - Unpenetrative thinker. Impenetrable text.
Humphrey McQueen - Doesn't own a TV. Is worried about gang violence in Manuka.
The woman who made "The Well" - For wasting taxpayers money foistering girlie, privileged Darlinghurst angst on a clearly bored world.
John Polson - Believes he is the buttress of the "Independent film industry" when he's nothing more then a self-indulgent slide night proprietor.
John Bell - Knows every Shakespeare quote except the one warning about the dangers of lean and callow men.
Whoever hosts The Arts Show on ABC TV - For taking every wanker in Australia seriously.
John McDonald - His journo mates think he'll expose the nakedness of contemporary installation wankers, but listen to the righteous clang as his mind snaps shut.
Michael Kirby - Caught working on Christmas day.
Friends of the ABC - These commandos in cardigans don't realise what a complacent bureaucratic junket they're defending.
The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Organising Committee - Get the name wrong and you won't get into their party. Remember when sex was ambiguous and dangerous and not something to be proud about?
No Aircraft Noise Party - Weekends weren't meant to be spent letterboxing and whingeing.
Noam Chomsky - Stars in an American film about American films brainwashing us.
Salman Rushdie - "Why don't young people today make great music like we did in the 1960s?"
Ken Starr - Seriously believed the public would give a shit about Clinton getting a blowjob.
Winner to be announced in next issue of Strewth!.
Strewth is now on sale in The Union Shop, 377 Sussex Street
Workers Online asked some of the doyens of the Industrial Reound for their favourite memory of the man they know as the "white golliwog".
Mark Robinson SMH (formerly AAP and the Daily Telegraph)
One of the rites of passage as a new industrial reporter is to try and interview Bill Kelty. I made my foray in late 1994, aware of Bill's reputation for shunning the media but knowing if I succeeded I would be considered an instant hero on the round and able to dine out on the story for at least three consecutive dinners. Anyway the opportunity arose at a function Bill was speaking at in Sydney where no other reporters showed up.
I approached the fluffy haired leader after it was over and introduced myself, as Mark Robinson from AAP. Never to this day has anyone ever responded to my introduction with less enthusiasm. I don't even think he spoke and his eyes dropped to somewhere between knee and shoe level. I tried to press on, asking him about the latest stoush between him and the great IR minister Laurie Brereton.
Without looking up Bill took off, saying he didnt want to comment. I pursued him briefly through the chairs and received the following response: "Clearly there is a problem and we will fix it." I can still remember the quote, mainly because he has never spoken to me since. I think I tried to make a story out of that one quote but sadly my colleagues did not deem it sufficient to enter that rare world: Those Who Have Interviewed Bill.
Brad Norington -SMH
It was towards the end of the Weipa dispute and a settlement had been reached meaning unionised workers would receive the same pay as contractors. Only problem was, the Weipa workers were so pissed off they wouldn't agree to end the strike. While everyone was trumpeting a union victory, I ran a story to this effect. Next day in the Commission, Bill was livid, waving the front page of the Herald around and telling the Commission it was "untrue".
I was watching somewhat bemused from the front row of audience. After he had addressed the bench he turned to me and said - "I want to see you, now", which is not something a journalist hears from Bill very often. We went outside and Bill starts going at me, waving the thrusting the article in my face. The news camera crews who were waiting for the decision saw a bit of action and sprang into action to film the encounter. I looked at him and said: "Bill, the cameras are on, let's go up the hallway." We went into a room and continued the debate. I suppose it's a mark of Kelty's emotion and passion that he didn't realise the cameras were on him.
Stephen Long - Financial Review
1997 ACTU executive meeting in Newcastle, Bill came back latish from dinner - I'd stayed in the hotel to eat with Greg Combet and ABC reporter Suzy Smith. Brad Norington came back from dinner with the Telegraph's Paul Molloy - they'd both run an article that there was a serious Left push to oust Kelty. They sat down with Combet, me and Suzy. Bill came into the room with a couple of other right-wingers. He came over to us with a smile on his face, put his arm around Brad's shoulder and said: "let me just say you won't win," then he pointed to Molloy "and you won't win" and stood there smiling. A deathly silence fell over thre room and Kelty just hung around. It was a most uncomfortable scene. It shook everoyone up, but it showed the drag them down and knock them out Kelty. I was in the good books because I'd written a piece rebutting the challenge, so I was invited into drinks with Kelty and his entourage.
Sid Marris - The Australian
Many political figures have stories and anecdotes that circulate about them. Few are as complex, psychologically, as those attributed to Bill Kelty. It is a mark of the man himself.
There is the alleged (as all these are) story of the dinner with journalists in the early 1980s where hamburgers and chiko rolls were on the menu. Or the time he compared him self to the central character in Antoine de Saint Exupery's The Little Prince, tending the rose in the glass case on an asteroid spinning through space.
There are the stories of his negotiating style: "Give us what we want or we will .... you''. Or appearing in a case in the Industrial Relations Commission, where counsel for the employer objected to one of Kelty's statement saying there was no evidence to back it. Kelty promptly swore himself in as a witness and repeated his assertion. The dumbfounded employers' rep did not think to cross-examine, allowing the ACTU secretary to continue his argument: "the unrefuted evidence in this case is ...''
The Kelty mind has always struck me as a combination of extremes: mechanistic and emotional. The Labor Council has in its historical records a serviette originally given to Pamela Williams (AFR) with an elaborate sketch explaining the Accords, two-tiered wages, restructuring and a "pipeline'' effect delivering a wage rises in the long term (before the recession "we had to have'' ruined the plans). It is like cartoonists Bruce Petty's giant economic and political machines. Kelty loved to resort to a white board to explain his point. It was part of the "big picture'' - "egomania'' as Paul Kelly calls it - approach that characterised his partnership with Paul Keating in the 1980s.
On the other side, it is obvious that a shy and private man operated at a very emotional level. His 1996 pre-election speech at Melbourne Town Hall - the symphony speech - was essentially an emotional appeal. Arguably that is why it backfired, because it was intellectually out of step with the mood of the electorate. Emotional appeals can be the hardest to communicate because what a person feels can be almost impossible to translate. As one observer described that speech at the time: "It was like watching a child taking a run to jump over a fence and not quite making it''.
Kelty once gave a speech to a group of organisers about what it meant to be a union official. He told the story of when he first started with the Storeman and Packers Union in the early 1970s and one of his first jobs was to assist a senior official win back the jobs of some workers dismissed over some misdemeanour. They were successful. He remembered the message of that official: there is no greater achievement for a union official than to win a workers job back. As he finished Kelty's face had again adopted that reddish hue and his eyes glistened. And the group in front of him were enthralled.
Much can and will be written about whether Kelty's policies and tactics across nearly thirty years of unionism were right or wrong. But there is no doubt he loved his movement.
The final story is often recounted on the round, although the participants seem to change depending on who tells it. Perhaps it's apocryphal:
In the days before he cut out the media, a younger Bill Kelty invited a group of journalists to his house for dinner. Thye all arrived and were given a drink and sat around chatting. The only strange thing was there didn't appear to be any action coming from the kitchen. The night wears on, but no cooking. Where's dinner? the hacks began to wonder. Finally, Bill appears with a pen and paper. "I'm having a hamburger and Sue's having a Chikko roll," he says. "What do youse want?"
Workers Online favourite all-time line on Bill Kelty - delivered by gonzo columnist Peter Ruel during the Weipa dispute:
"Wake up and smell the Vodka, little buddy!"
But before he gets to the Sydney 2000, Rick has a tough year of fighting ahead of him.
"I've got to win the State title in October, Australian title in November and the Oceania Games in April," he says.
Rick says the hard men of Tonga and Samoa are going to be tough to beat.
"But I'm pretty hard myself. I'm not a real technical boxer - but I get the job done."
Rick's record includes, sixth in Atlanta in 1996, a gold in the Oceania Games and a previous world top 10 ranking.
Training twice a day, six-days-a-week is not easy, but getting to the Olympics will make it all worthwhile.
"When you walk out for the opening ceremony the atmosphere in the stadium is unbelievable. There's nothing else like it," he says.
Rick's 32 and is on cloud nine after the age limit for Olympic boxers was lifted.
"They've increased it from 32 to 34. It's an omen. It's got to be my year," he says.
Rick's a stonemason by trade and reckons he's an old-fashioned-sort-of-bloke. He likes to buy flowers for women and take them out somewhere nice for dinner.
But he also believes the strong should look after the weak, the young and the old.
"It's a bit like being in a union -- sharing and looking out for each other."
There is much to thank Bill Kelty for. On a practical industrial level, Bill was instrumental in ensuring that all Australian workers have access to superannuation. Without his vision and determination super would have remained the exclusive privilege of the rich. He also played the crucial tactical role in many successful industrial disputes, none as significant as his stewardship of Reith's assault on the MUA.
Bill understood the need to ensure that the lower paid shared at least partially in the benefits of economic growth. Many argue that one of the key positive affects of the Accord was the redistribution effect. Lower paid workers under many of the Accord arrangements were the winners. Like any redistribution this did cause some resentment among those with stronger bargaining positions who were required to exercise restraint.
Bill Kelty was instrumental in educating the trade union leadership that it could not ignore economic reality. This was particularly critical once the decision to float the dollar had begun the process of global integration. Without Bill Kelty the economic stability of the Accord period which benefited Labor politically would not have been achieved.
His place in Australia's political and industry history is assured, the fact he shunned the media means that many of his achievements were unsung. But he also leaves the union movement with many challenges, some of his own making, others the result of changes he never fully comprehended.
The changes of his own making were union amalgamations which he single-mindedly pursued and which the trade union movement is still struggling to deal with. What appeared to be good in theory - industry based unions - was overwhelmed by internal union politics and a changing economy. It is a pity Bill Kelty hadn't led the union movement a generation earlier, as the amalgamation strategy was a logical response to Industrial Age Capitalism.
The Information Age has changed the economic structure fundamentally. Big company structures have devolved to a matrix of virtual corporations which have created increased casualisation and sub-contractors, altering irreversibly the way trade unions need to do business. The large super-union model is a poor fit with the
modern economy. It is a measure of Bill Kelty's intellect that as he leaves the union movement, he has sought to embrace information technology and empower workers in this new world. It is a pity, however, that what appears to be emerging illustrates his inability to grasp the full implications of working in a wired world.
While initially the Accord was an innovative way to deal with the macroeconomic problems Labor inherited from the Fraser Government - declining productivity, stagnant employment growth and recession - for the union movement it was a policy framework that by the end of Labor's time in power had well and truly passed its used-by-date. Ultimately the Accord benefited political Labor more than industrial labour.
Greg Combet, who will succeed Bill Kelty, confronts an ACTU structure that is struggling for relevance. The national union movement is, without a doubt, in crisis, membership levels are dropping both relatively and absolutely. In the past few years the ACTU has operated as if the Accord partnership had only been suspended whilst there was a brief interlude between Labor governments, its Executive passing resolutions that had no real effect. The changing structure of the labour market and the sustained period of conservative government federally mean that the ACTU can no longer rely on Kelty's political approach to asserting trade union influence.
Unions are faced with the challenge of reinventing themselves. It is not just a case of going back to the pre-Kelty approach of direct bargaining for over-award payments in a regulated labour market. Unions need to learn new skills and approaches. We must learn to organise a new workforce: nurturing and invigorating groups of workers who have no background in unions and are sceptical of their benefits, but are as in need of them as any workers in the past 100 years.
It's no longer possible to sell unionism as a concept, organising is about working with the issue that workers find important and empowering them to address those issues through their own collective action. This represents a tremendous paradigm shift for a union movement conditioned during the Kelty period to believe that the right structure was the key to salvation. Large industrial age trade union bureaucracies have to give way to networks of workplace activists.
The Organising approach will inevitably bring into question the very need for structures such as the ACTU and State Peak Councils. Combet's challenge is to reassert the ACTU's relevance through its ability to let go of authority and devolve it back to the workplace. His challenge is to eschew certainty in the master plan and accept that in the contemporary labour market, traditional central structures are a hindrance rather than an asset to worker empowerment.
The line was delivered at a dour Sydney doorstop where Reith also made some most mean-spirited remarks about Bill Kelty, exposing a deficiency in his character that could ultimately frustrate his leadership ambitions.
But back to Oakdale. Reith's spin is probably between half and quarter ways to the truth. The mainstream media did pick up on the plight of the Oakdale miners and as Liberals' polling was obviously showing, public opinion had swung firmly behind them.
A series of front-page stories in the Daily Telegraph humanising the injustice obviously helped. So too did the spirited advocacy of the miners cause by radio talkback king and miner's son, Allan Jones.
The combination of Telegraph front-page and 2UE inevitably shaped commercial television news values, which is where opinions are really changed. Honest miners ripped off by shifting Ministers on foreign junkets do tend to resonate with the punters.
But this would be to ignore it was a rival newspaper, the Sydney Morning Herald, that led the charge on workers entitlements, running a week-long series of major reports in the middle of the dispute when other media had lost interest.
And somewhere in the equation the miners, their union and other workers across the state deserve some credit for refusing to let the issue die when it had passed the mainstream media's one week attention threshold.
The series of protests, rallies and ultimate 24-hour coal stoppage kept the attention on the Oakdale miners, defying the cliches to humanise the victims and thus win the public relations war.
Regardless. In backing the Oakdale miners through to the end the Daily Telegraph has done a truly good thing. It has been a positive influence on a political debate that has the potential to have a very real impact on the lives of its audience.
For once, the Telegraph has remained faithful to the ideals of a workers' newspaper. The only tragedy is that this is the exception rather than the norm.
And where does Piers fit into all this? Leading the charge on behalf of the Oakdale miners? Not on your Nellie.
As Federal Cabinet was moving in to roll Reith, Piers was tapping out his tortuous prose to provide some sort of justification for ongoing government inaction on the issue.
"The unfortunate Oakdale miners", may have been ripped off, but Piers is more interested in accusing them of inflating the amount of entitlements they were owed.
Piers then backs in Reith's soft-option of a minimalist insurance fund to provide a safety net for retrenched workers - or at least keep them off the front page of the Telegraph.
He rejects the notion that the government should be more actively involved in protecting workers from the impact of economic restructuring because of "the loathing of centralised government that many Australians feel". Vintage Piers - government should not act because people (probably some of Piers' closest friends) don't like government.
But Piers saves the best for last, pre-empting the PM with the old Precedent Argument - the idea that you can't give justice to the Oakdale miners because then everyone would want it.
He then tries to wrap the predicted Howard cop-out into ideological pyjamas, with the strange conclusion that we needed less government intervention not more.
Less than 12 hours later, Howard had decided to intervene to restore the Oakdale entitlements and stop the damage to his "battler's friend" image. At the end of the day, he too accepted that Piers lines of reasoning were just too shaky to sustain.
And so he rolled his Minister, who could only give credit to the Telegraph's campaign. Even in victory, Piers was glorious in defeat.
© 1999-2000 Labor Council of NSW
LaborNET is a resource for the labour movement provided by the Labor Council of NSWURL: http://workers.labor.net.au/27/print_index.html
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005