Economics: Super Seduction
Interview: Bono and Me
Unions: The Eight Hour Day and the Holy Spirit
Technology: From Widgets to Digits
Education: Dumb and Dumber
Health: No Place for the Young
History: The Work-In That Changed a Nation
Review: Dare to Win
Poetry: Labor's Dreaming
The Locker Room
Morals Beat Hasty Retreat
Uncounted Cost Of Asbestos
Voting Farce Expands
I Beg To Differ
Dumb and Dumber
By Neale Towart
Trade unions have been at the forefront of the redevelopment of the training agenda in Australia, as they seek to ensure a vital industrial future for Australia, with all the associated employment benefits.
They have been involved in ensuring that universities have resisted the dumbing down of their role in the search for more fee income from students. These concerns help point the way towards the key role unions will play in the greater integration of universities with the communities and the innovative job and training paths required to maintain and develop sustainable city space. The universities will be part of the knowledge hubs that will enable knowledge diffusion amongst the innovative firms establishing on a regional basis, that will share skills, ideas and creativity in ways that all I the clusters will benefit from and quality jobs will be in place and maintained,
Trade unions are also at the centre of opposition to the federal governments' attempts to dumb down industrial agreements. The attempt to further reduce standard awards to 12 items and to further emphasis Australian Workplace Agreements (individual contracts that aim to give the worker no scope for negotiation and no room to consult, means the government and backward looking employers want workplaces where workers turn up, don't think, stay "at work" fro as long as the boss wants and go home with no satisfaction gained from problem solving, working with others or influencing the processes used for a better outcome. They are deemed incapable retrospectively.
How does this place Australia in a world where innovation, skills and consultation have been shown to be crucial and where management that pursues the low-road to cost cutting ultimately outsources itself to those who will always be able, to undercut you if you seek to compete on a cost basis. It locks us into the role the squattocracy and its successors amongst the Australian ruling class have always felt was correct - miners, farmers and branch plant churners for the innovation that occurs somewhere else. The federal government funds sustainable regions, but is unwilling to see that crucial to sustainability are. Co-operative workplaces. The Irish approach could not be more different.
The Irish economy s one that can show that small economies do not have to be trapped into a peripheral role.
As Roy Green said of the Irish approach recently in a talk at a CPP Symposium in Melbourne - 'The Workplace of the Future - Innovation policy, skills, work and management systems' ( December 10 2004) - we need to "focus more clearly on the need to build national innovation capacity - and to create higher skill jobs". He also sharply contrasted the trade balance of Ireland in the ICT sector - more than 20% surplus - to that of Australia - close to a 20% deficit.
Green backgrounds his argument by placing the Irish approach in the context of the European wide initiatives. Ireland sees opportunity, not threat in being part of Europe. By April next year, the EU25 must give legal effect to a sweeping new directive on information-sharing and consultation at the workplace.
This EU directive provides new information and consultation rights in undertakings (50 +employees) or establishments (20+employees)
Consultation must be with employee/union representatives - covering the economic situation, employment issues, work organisation changes.
The Information Sharing Directive supplements recent and emerging legislation in this area:
Traditionally, a moral case has been made for involving employees in decisions, addressing the 'democratic deficit' at the workplace. Now this case has been joined, if not superseded, by the economic, social and technological imperatives of the European 'single market' and knowledge-based economy.
The Australian government seems intent on heading in the opposite direction, with less consultation, less positive intervention (as opposed to negatively impacting on workplace negotiation by legislatively limiting it) and stepping back from funding and directing national training systems. Sue Richardson pints out that:
This is in stark contrast with Europe. Green highlights that European approach is "embedded in the social structure and...depends on that structure for its capacity to operate effectively... It sees a need for the active cooperation of workers in the work process... and it recognizes the importance of institutions and the role they play in creating a framework in which a market operates, in mediating the relationship between the economy and society, and in reconciling economic efficiency with other social goals. (Osterman et al, Working in America, 2001) "
Europe isn't adopting this approach simply because of a concern for workers rights and social responsibility but because the aim is to be the world's 'most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy' by 2010.
The renewed approach has been developed in the light of a perceived widening of a labour productivity gap in comparison to the USA since the early 1990s. The EU, however, is resisting the US road of driving down labour costs by attacks on workers rights. Instead it seeks worker and union cooperation. "This emerging innovation narrative is not just about technology but also institutional support and, crucially, effective delivery at the organisational level."
The Irish approach, within Europe is firmly based on partnership. "Few countries have developed a coordinated and focused policy for organisational innovation: this is an area where Ireland, with its positive experience of social partnership, can gain early mover advantage".
The positive example of the early years of the Accord resonates here. How can we seek to renew social dialogue and cooperation in Australia for mutual advantage, in spite of the federal government's ideological commitment to the master-servant relationship.
The recent headlining of a Greater Sydney Metropolitan Strategy by the Dept of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources (DIPNA) provided an opportunity to think about how regions can act to develop a high road approach to economic development, security and equality. As Frank Stilwell puts it, "We may be getting richer in the aggregate, but our urban economies are becoming more insecure, more unequal and less sustainable."
"The labour market challenge for Sydney over the next twenty years is to achieve better spatial balance through the coordination of consumption and production activities."
The trade union agenda is part of the high road in these economic and planning processes must be to seek quality jobs, increased union membership and increased union involvement and partnership with business, government and community in area planning, training, education and community building.
That unions are crucial to this cooperative process has been highlighted by Bronfenbrenner's work in the US on the productivity levels of unionised manufacturing sectors as compared with non-unionised, uncooperative, antagonistic low wage sectors.
In an earlier incarnation Roy Green was based in Newcastle and also did work for the Hawke/Keating governments Industrial Relations Bureau where he and colleagues looked at the importance eof cooperation between management and unions. They found that "the role and impact of consultative schemes in improving workplace performance was found to be directly related to the 'intensity' of collaboration between management and workforce"
(Alexander & Green, 'Workplace productivity and joint consultation', 1992)
The Irish reports are clear on the importance of people and consultation: "Knowledge creation and diffusion are at the core of economic activity. Knowledge is embodied in people, and it is the quality of the human resources that will determine the success or otherwise of firms and economies in the years ahead."
The federal approach excludes collaboration. The further development of Sydney as a global city requires active intervention, not a market based let it rip approach if we a re to have a region that is attractive to investors and workers. Local attachment to place can overcome cost based location decision. Industrial clusters and knowledge hubs involve capital-labour-state cooperation, conducive to sustained capital accumulation in regions.
The NSW government has progressive industrial laws in place. NSW is the driver of the Australian economy, its industrial relations system is not a hindrance to economic development. Rather its fostering of active employer-union negotiation are a large step along the path to social partnership that enhances social equity and can, with research, networking and continued collaboration, ensure that we are a part of the emerging global knowledge based manufacturing and information technology society.
Active policy support and proper ongoing training systems are essential for Australian workers to be part of a more equitable global society.
Rodin Genoff is an academic who has gone off to implement what he taught. He has co-authored a book, Manufacturing Prosperity some years ago, and is now Industrial Strategist for the South Australian City of Playford, based in Elizabeth, north of Adelaide. Peter Roberts in the AFR (January 22-3, 2005) provided a useful outline of someone seeking to develop a creative region.
A finer example of industrial age landscape would be hard to find in Australia. Established post war with the influx of migrants, and the heart of the growth of South Australia under Thomas Playford and the ideas termed now, disparagingly, McEwenism, it was an area of large factories and strong unions, with high levels of employment. Its decline mirrored the downturn in manufacturing and the era of Fordism from the 1970s. It is still the home of car makers, and also electronic manfacturers.
Genoff knows that the mass employment in the old style is gone and he is seeking to shape the future around the knowledge economy. The area has a low household income and a high level of unemployment. Genoff himself lives in the inner city of Adelaide, much more likely to be a home for the creative class, as Florida sees it. However, the Playford area is developing a regional plan, as outer Sydney is, and unions could benefit from the ideas Genoff has about manufacturing. "Innovation occurs within networks of companies. In the knowledge economy, companies depend for their success just as much on the innovativeness and competitiveness of the companies they do business with in the vlue or supply chain as they do on themselves."
Holden for example outsource almost everything in their car making, just putting it together. Here we could see opportunity for unions to act and organise knowledge workers and skilled workers who are not based at a central plant but have the skills needed by all the companies in the cluster around Holden. Unions can be the key players in what Genoff is organsing for the Playford cluster. He is helping capability audits, business plans and he formation of networks and joint ventures
Genoff is aware that, as Phil Toner has argued, most research and development in Australia is based around manufacturing. Our manufacturing exports are still growing, just not keeping up with imports as we have lost the capability to produce many things.
It is not the job of unions to tell companies how to operate, some would say. However the rebuilding of regions to create sustainable futures is about people as much as about physical infrastructure and unions will be in a position rebuild themselves as well as employment, equality and lifestyle by becoming key players in the shaping of the future of regions such as Playford and the greater west of Sydney.
The federal government likes to depict unions as part of the problem. What Genoff says about manufacturing applies equally to unions: What is often seen as part of the problem is I fact part of the solution."
AFR 22-23 January 2005 p23
Frank Stilwell Changing Track
Frank Stilwell (2003). Overview: The urban economy Analytical, research and policy challenges. Address to the State of Australian Cities. National Conference Carlton Hotel, Parramatta. 3--5 December
Bob Fagan, Robyn Dowling, John Langdale (2003). Suburbs in the 'Global City': Labour markets in Western Sydney since the mid 1990s. State of Australian Cities. National Conference Carlton Hotel, Parramatta. 3--5 December
Jane Marceau, Kate Davison (2003) The Greater Sydney knowledge region: A basis for future development. State of Australian Cities. National Conference Carlton Hotel, Parramatta.3--5 December
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