|Issue No 90||30 March 2001|
Labor Council's Chris Christodoulou reports back from this week's ACTU Organising Conference
If there is one thing that can be said about the Australasian Organising Conference, it is that a lot of people care about our movement, its future and what we stand for.
Over 600 participants attended the Conference, and whilst there wasn't a lot of time in the sessions to debate issues, there were enough breaks and informal networking to make an observation that the Conference was indeed a success.
I don't intend to summarise the issues, the speaker's notes, or indeed preach the organising gospel, but rather focus on the process of change.
The Pushers of Change
Although he can be at times condescending and self-opinionated, sometimes arrogant, always the performer, Michael Crosby has one mission - to rebuild the trade union movement from the bottom up, and restore real rights for workers.
The only criticism of Michael's approach to change is that sometimes his overzealous approach can inadvertently send the wrong message to both the union leaders he is trying to win over, and the young organising disciples he has trained over the years.
An example of this was in the last plenary session of the Conference where Michael said, "You need to challenge the leadership of your unions".
I'm sure Michael meant that you need to engage and debate with your leaders about adopting an organising approach, however, he then went on to talk about disgruntled union members and changes in union leadership. This made a number of people in the audience feel very uneasy
The last thing we can afford in rebuilding our union movement is for dissidents in unions to somehow use the "organising" debate to mask a political challenge within a union.
We need to rebuild with unity and consensus - not division!
Notwithstanding the above comments, there is no doubt in my mind that there is now a critical mass of union officials, who if not totally in agreement with the organising approach, are certainly willing to engage it, pilot it, and in many cases adopt it. The real challenge for all of us is to ensure the change continues in a positive way.
The Progress of Change
The "change" to organising will be gradual. I say gradual because it requires training - and lots of it; culture change - and lots of it; hard work - and lots of it.
If we consider that organisers will spend more time organising in un-unionised sites or industries, and finding activists/delegates in unionised sites and re-training them to take on more responsibility in grievance handling and recruitment, the task will not be easy. We also need to re-educate, if not force major employers to respect the role of delegates and members on organised sites, and to regard them as no lesser negotiating representatives than full time union officials.
As difficult as this is, it is actually what unions were doing a hundred years ago, when they relied upon rank and file activists to organise and service the membership - but without cars, faxes, e-mails, or mobilise phones to help them along. They had issues to fight for, commitment, and lots of hard work to do.
The challenge to rebuild unionism will not be easy and requires continued resources to be committed to training, as Triana Silton said:
"Activist development is the first thing that falls off the plate because it/s not something that will stop the union overnight, it will just slowly kill it."
The Role of a Peak Council
The Labor Council can't organise for unions, nor can we tell unions to adopt an organising approach, but we can facilitate both the debate about rebuilding unionism - and more importantly - be active participants in the rebuilding process.
The Labor Council's traditional role was to help fix up disputes quickly; service a range of public sector awards; and play a role in keeping the peace bet ween the industrial and political arms of the labour movement.
These days the role and approach is somewhat different:
· we help finance (through various means) the ACTU Organising Centre;
· we spend much more time engaging the community on issues important to workers through the media, Workers Online, and alliance with community organisations;
· we assist unions in campaigns and promoting organising approaches to issues;
· we provide officials directly to unions to assist in organising campaigns; and
· we don't turn a blind eye to things that Labor governments might do to disadvantage workers and/or their rights.
The Labor Council of New South Wales is a strong supporter of rebuilding our movement and a strong advocate for using an organising approach to issues, where it is appropriate.
I say "appropriate" because in some cases a shift to organising will take longer because of the circumstances, resources and the culture of a union.
The Australasian Organising Conference was a great success, but we must move forward on a united basis - and that means winning people over and not trying to push change in a way which inadvertently might cause division. Having said this, I pay tribute to Michael Crosby and his crew for their drive and enthusiasm to keep our movement alive.
Interview: On the Up and Up
On the eve of new figures showing the slide in union membership may be bottoming out, ACTU secretary Greg Combet takes stock of the state of the movement.
Unions: Organising Theory
Labor Council’s Chris Christodoulou reports back from this week’s ACTU Organising Conference
Economics: The Failure of the Third Way
In his presentation to this week's ACTU Organising Conference, John Buchanan painted a dark picture of the emerging labour market.
History: Emblems of Unity
The Gregory J. Smith Collection of Trade Union badges was auctioned today in Sydney. Smith compiled a book on 763 of his remarkable collection which was published in 1992.
Legal: Della's Compo Plan
Labour lawyer Richard Brennan places the NSW workers compensation reforms under the microscope.
International: East Timor Goes Union
Workers in the fledgling nation have established their equivalent to the ACTU to build a safety net for workers.
Satire: Management for the Post-Industrial World
A new management fad is sweeping the post-industrial world, which has major social and political implications at the macro and micro level. We have called it "Purge Management Strategy" (PMS).
Review: Surviving The Temptations of TV Island
Cultural analyst Mark Morey rakes over the coals of American TV culture to find very little is there.
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