|Issue No 29||03 September 1999|
The View from the Street
By Peter Zangari and Paul Howes
- Unions NSW Organising Centre
Its 8.25am and a shady Sussex street is beginning to receive its first share of morning daylight over from the east.
Early morning courier drivers have been on their shifts for a few hours. One driver parks his van in a truck zone and heads across the road to Moors for the usual cup of coffee. Meanwhile the padlock on the door of the Union NSW Organising Centre has been unlocked and the Centre is soon open for another day of union activism and organising.
Welcome to the Unions NSW Organising Centre. The Union Hotline 1800 688 919 is linked to the shopfront and here you will be able to wander in from the bustle of Sussex street and have your inquiries handled by a Shopfront Organiser.. There has been a broad cross-section of membership inquiries which ranges from waiters, chefs, clerks and nurses to storemen, bike couriers, spray painters and even mobile pet groomers!
The Workers Compensation Referral Service is also now up and running with the cooperation of several Labor Law Firms. The service has received calls from workers from a whole range of industries inquiring bout their rights in Workers Compensation.
The firms participating in the service all have years of experience in workers compensation and always put the workers interests first. A lot of workers inquiring with the service find this approach as being something of a rarity after dealing with sleaze merchants whose only interests were their own pockets. The service is free to union members, another reason why it pays to be in a union.
Living in the age of technology people expect results quickly. Half-hourly internet usage is available free for union members through the centre. Jump on the Internet and at the DIR website you can access the updated rates for most private sector awards. At ABC.NET you can find out the latest breaking news around Australia and at CitySearch you can find out all the events happening in Sydney this week. If you walk into the Organising Centre or phone the hotline 1800 688 919 and are a union member, legal and financial advice can be arranged on the spot. But if you aren't a union member and want to join, don't despair because you can be referred to the relevant union just as quickly.
What can you expect to get out of the Organising Centre? First of all the idea of a shopfront combats the well nurtured bias that unions are not accessible. The centre is accessible as any other shopfront on the street. The presence of a Unions NSW Officer at the front desk provides the nexus between a curious public and a union movement ready and willing to service its members. Potential members do not want to be given the run around, they just want to be represented.
Second, judging from the first four weeks response, the Organising Centre is definitely a step in the right direction for organised labour in Australia. A series of advertisements in the mainstream media are starting to play an educative role for those outside the movement. With every problem or enquiry that we field at the Centre comes the opportunity to organise around a particular workplace issue. The union movement which has been in decline for the past 20 years has not fared well from the bias in the media. Coverage in the media for a trade union usually translates as a disruptive obstacle to productivity. The widely held view for many workers is founded on the principle that unions do not have a place in society. With a significant proportion of the workforce dependant on safety net adjustments , the public has taken for granted the work of unions in the past and their relevance in protecting the interests of the low-paid.
This new venture into the public arena cannot be a bad thing. The industrial climate has been changing and so too have the strategies of organised labour. Who knows, there might be a shopfront popping up around the corner from you in the not too distant future. Given this, merely relying on a public face is not enough to survive in the confrontationalist environment that the employers have been advocating. Unions must be proactive in their activities to ensure their survival.
Sure its only been in its inaugural month of operation but there are signs that the Centre will be a success. The phone calls about workers compensation and membership have been steadily streaming in as have the potential members off the street. Many unions are now using the slogan "Its your union" well the same goes for the shopfront "its your shopfront" and it can be anything we want it to be. So drop in next time your in Sussex Street and have a chat to us and find out what your union can do for you as well as what can you do for your union.
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International: Dateline Dili
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Unions: Secret Herbs and Spices
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Politics: Loosening Laborís Links?
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Labour Review: What's New at the Information Centre
Our regular update on papers and articles for union officials and students.
History: Immigration, Racism and the Labour Movement
An upcoming conference asks some hard questions about the politics of immigration.
Satire: Crime Figures Down: NSW Elections Postponed
The release of statistics showing decreasing crime rates has threatened to delay the next NSW election.
Review: Trains of Treasure
A new CD of poems and songs pays tribute to our rich locomotive history.
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