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August 2003   

Interview: The New Deal
US union leader Amy Dean expands on her agenda to give unions a real political voice

Unions: In the Line of Hire
Unions have lobbied and negotiated in a bid to stem casualisation and insecurity. Now, Jim Marr, writes they are seeking protection through a formal Test Case.

Culture: Too Cool for the Collective?
Young people are amongst the most vulnerable in the workforce. So why aren't they joining the union, asks Carly Knowles

International: The Domino Effect
An internal struggle in the biggest and strongest industrial union in Germany IG Metall has had a devastating wave effect across not just that country, but also the rest of Europe, writes Andrew Casey.

Industrial: A Spanner in the Works
Max Ogden looks at the vexed issue of Works Councils and the differing views within the union movement to them.

National Focus: Gathering of the Tribes
Achieving a fairer society and a better working life for employees from across Australia will be key themes at the ACTU's triennial Congress meeting later this month reports Noel Hester.

History: The Welcome Nazi Tourist
Rowan Cahill looks at the role Australia's conservatives played in supporting facism in the days before World War II.

Bad Boss: Domm, Domm Turn Around
Frank Sartor might have shot through but Robert Domm still calls the IR shots at Sydney City which pretty much explains why the council is this month�s Bad Boss nominee.

Poetry: Just Move On.
Visiting bard Maurie Fairfield brightens up our page with a ditty about little white lies.

Review: Reality Bites
The workers, united, may never be defeated but if recent episodes of Channel 10 drama The Secret Life Of Us are to be believed, this is not necessarily a good thing, writes Tara de Boehmler.


The Soapbox
Fighting Words
Craig Emerson gave what could be the most spirited Labor spray in a decade to the NSW Labor Council this month. Here it is in all its venom.

Out of Their Class
Phil Bradley argues that Australia's education system should not be up for negotiation in the global trade talks.

The Locker Room
The ABC of Sport
Phil Doyle argues that the only way to end the corporate madness that is sport, is to give it all back to the ABC.

Locks, Stocks and Barrels
Union Aid Abroad's Peter Jennings updates on the situation in Burma, where the repression of democracy is going from bad to worse.


The Secret Life of Us
The fact that casual workers are too scared to come forward and testify about the need for job security seems to prove their basic point � no matter how long or how well you work, you can never feel safe in your job.


 Tough Women Draw Line at Sacking

 Witness Protection Urged on IRC

 Max Swings Axe at Safety

 Sick Twist in Drug Testing

 Sacked Mum Goes to the Top

 Cuts Sour ADB Birthday Bash

 Howard Enlists Russians for Military

 Vic Workcover Invests in Worker Misery

 Public Hole in Power Shortage

 Whistleblower Sacking Sparks Zoo Walkout

 Truckie With Conscience Wins Back Job

 Indigenous Labour honours Tobler

 Asbestos Blocks Liverpool Road Works

 Activist Notebook

 Bullies in the Ranks
 It Is Still About The Members Isn't It
 Tom's Purpose
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Too Cool for the Collective?

Young people are amongst the most vulnerable in the workforce. So why aren't they joining the union, asks Carly Knowles


The latest research suggests young workers need unions more than ever. They feel vulnerable, fear the loss of their jobs, and face increasing casualisation and part-time work with a lack of quality training.

So, why is it the majority still aren't joining unions? Do they just have attitude? Are they all no-good whippersnappers bludging off their hard-working, fee-paying elders? Or, is there another explanation?

The Employment Studies Centre at Newcastle University suggests several alternatives, the most common being that young workers simply aren't familiar with unions, and some don't even know why they exist.

The Newcastle research took place in 2000 but interviews conducted by Workers Online, this month, make it clear some of the perceptions - and misperceptions - still exist.

Sam is a 21-year-old TAFE student who works part-time. "I don't really see the point in having a union", he says, "I mean, you can always look after yourself or seek legal action".

Yet, like others, he is unwilling to reveal his full name or where he works, "just in case".

Sam says entitlements are "all legal now" and it has never occurred to him to become a union member.

Why would it? He wasn't taught about unions in school, they are not part of his work culture and union reps probably haven't even been able to access to his workplace.

Sales manager Karen offers further evidence that unions struggle to reach young workers. The 24-year-old recently had to make a sexual harassment claim against one of her workmates in Sydney.

When the company's industry body conducted a formal investigation, she had to pay for her own legal representation.

"At that stage I was thinking 'oh my gosh, where's the union?'...but if we have an association or a union, I've never heard about it", she says.

Fortunately for her, a lawyer friend provided his services free, but her case shows that often, young workers only think of the union once they've got a problem. Even then, Karen didn't know whether or not she even had access to a union.

Often, there is misunderstanding about what unions do, why they do it, and what they have achieved in the past.

Twenty four-year-old Luke is an air conditioning apprentice who thinks union officials are "bloody bullies". You aren't allowed on a job site in his trade, he says, unless you're a union member. He thinks the movement as a whole might be "alright", but asks, "why should I have to pay $400 bucks every year? What has my union ever done for me?"

Not only does the next generation have little concept of the battles the union movement has fought, and sometimes won, but many are taking their que from employers.

To tackle these difficulties, some unions are going back to the chalkboard.

A number are successfully recruiting younger members through the education system. They visit TAFEs and universities, have stalls at careers fairs and even recruit and organise at the Big Day Out music festival.

The Nurses Association's Judith Kiejda says her organisation realised five or six years ago, "we just had to start at the beginning".

The Association visits university and college campuses putting on barbecues, giving away t-shirts and information about the union. It offers students reduced membership fees, accommodation, scholarships, links up regional students and helps with a student newspaper.

Kiejda says as a result "nurses are becoming more aware".

The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) targets the mock theatres and newsrooms of universities and colleges where budding actors and journalists are cutting their teeth.

The MEAA's success with youth may have something to do with the lime green couches and bright blue and purple walls in its retro Redfern office, but there are other reasons for NSW secretary Jonathan Mill's assertion that his is "the youngest and funkiest union around".

The students at NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Arts) welcome Mill, and other union representatives, with open arms, excited by the contacts and knowledge of the industry they bring.

The MEAA's methods of keeping in touch are also in tune with the transient nature of its members. Who wants a home address that is bound to change every few months when you've got email? Who needs a home phone number when you can send bulk text messages cheaper and get immediate responses?

"There's extra pressure with our union to be up with the times. Some of the areas of our work are cutting edge, even though some areas - like activism - have been around for years and years," Mill says.

Despite the successes, though, he admits some potential members still "slip through the cracks".

Janet (not her real name), a cadet journalist who got her free membership at an MEAA uni open day a few years ago, no longer pays membership fees. She says it's partly because she can't afford it, and partly because she's under the impression the MEAA can't do anything for her while she's a cadet.

Meanwhile, her bosses are trying to phase out the nine-day fortnight she's entitled to for giving up her lunch breaks.

"I'll probably join after my cadetship is over, because I think I need to", she says.

Young people are notorious for continually changing their habits. The challenge for the union movement - if it wants to connect with future generations - is to change with the times.

Caf� blitz is the new phrase buzzing around the MEAA office. The strategy hasn't been implemented yet, but there are plans to visit popular caf� streets frequented by the young and trendy, and ask each table if they work in the media or arts.

"You're bound to get at least some actors or journalists and if not, you're still talking to the community", says Mill.

He wants to continue to look at new ideas to bring people in.

"I think that unions have to find new ways to engage with young workers, and be prepared to look stupid", he says, "because some ideas will work, and some will flop.

So, it appears, unions haven't given up on young workers. Committees, networks and fresh ideas are popping up all over town. But is it working or has the current generation given up on them?

The comments of at least one young worker give unionists some ground for optimism.

Twenty-three year old Rahul is an apprentice electrician and a member of the ETU. In a prior profession he was a committed member of the AMWU. He says his union membership is "worth paying for".

"It just makes things easier having the union behind you if there are any issues or problems. The union is in a better position to look after you than you are yourself," he says.

Rahul first heard about unions through industrial disputes in the news, but admits most of his views now come from his workmates and the union itself. He is convinced that "without the union, conditions would be a lot worse".

If the union movement is to have a future, it lies with people starting out on their working lives and the latest available statistics show it is behind the eight ball. According to the 2000 Newcastle University study, just 18 percent of teenage workers had taken up the union option and anecdotal evidence suggests that figure might have dipped in the intervening three years.

However, the same research showed that 61 percent of workers aged 18-24 would "rather be in a union ... if (they) were totally free to choose".

The next generation, it seems, is still up for grabs.


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