Interview: Organising In Cyberspace
Industrial: How Low Is Low
Industrial: Cloak and Dagger
Unions: Bad Medicine
History: Right Turn, Clyde
Economics: Long Division
International: Union Proud
Politics: Howard’s Sick Joke
Indigenous: The year of living dangerously
Review: Lights, Camera, Strike!
Culture: News Front
The Locker Room
Organising In Cyberspace
Interview with Phil Doyle
You've just picked up ACTU Organiser of the year. Tell us about the things that led to you picking up this award?
This is a result of the hard work of the delegates, and members in particular, in the Pacific National dispute; a dispute that's gone on for about twelve months now, we're in the twelfth month. It's a reflection of the hard work shown by them; the solidarity shown by them; and I think the key has been for us our communication strategies and the fact that we've been totally transparent with everything we've done.
It's the involvement of the rank and file delegates in every key decision that's been made and the ownership by the delegates and the members.
You've come off the job, how do you come to be somebody whose working as an organiser for the national office of a trade union?
Every morning I wake up I have to pinch myself.
I fell into this job accidentally. I couldn't believe that someone would ask me to do a job where I had to argue with people I don't particularly like and they wanted to pay me to do it.
I came off the job as a workplace delegate; thrown in the deep end. I was at that time assistant national secretary of the Rail Operations Division [RTBU], a paid position. That was then converted into a national organiser's role. Didn't have any training. Didn't have any idea what I was doing. I just felt my way through it in the dark, but I've got the best job in the world, there's no doubt about that.
Sometimes it's frustrating, sometimes I think to myself 'what the hell am I doing here' but I honestly couldn't see myself doing anything else.
I had two stints with the rail. Started with the State Rail Authority back in 1984 and worked for State Rail for about 18 months to two years. I left that and went into lots of different things. I did quite a few jobs in my life, lots of different things. I started with National Rail back in 1992, just as a terminal operator. I was asked a couple of times to be the union delegate there, which I declined the first couple of times, and then, I guess as a lot of people become involved in the union, I was pissed off about something one day and it coincided with being asked to be the delegate again so I decided to do it. The more I did it the more I enjoyed it and that's how I ended up here.
I came in to work for the union in 2001, so this is my fifth year in the national office.
The rail and public transport industries have traditionally been a strong area for unions, what is the impact of WorkChoices going to be on these industries?
To some extent we are the masters of our own destiny, but there are obviously other things going on that are out of our control. We have extremely high densities of up around the 95-98% mark. The challenge for us is going to be to keep that. People are going to feel pain because of Howard's legislation; the boss is going to get the upper hand. The only way that we can counter that is to stick together. The challenge is, not just the union officials but for the rank and file members, is to stick together and not be conned by the carrots at the end of the stick I suppose, which we know to be AWAs.
There have been members of ours in South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania were weï¿½ve got members that have been through that and they come out the other side realising that its not about going to the back page of an agreement and looking at what the all-up figure is because there's a cost to that, which is your conditions.
Currently our members, particularly in Pacific National, are saying the conditions are worth a lot more than the money.
We've just got keep fostering that, reinforcing that, and use the people who have been through the AWA experience in the past, to demonstrate to members that havenï¿½t, what the pitfalls are of things like individuality as opposed to collective bargaining.
What are you doing differently now compared to what the union was doing five or ten years ago?
I think it's the involvement of the members. I think there were 'wise' union officials who sat in offices behind desks and made decisions for the members, I think those days are gone. I think you have to involve all the people that are affected in the decision making process.
I think that's what we've done most successfully through this campaign [at Pacific National] where we've kept everybody involved to the point where there are some complaints weï¿½re putting out too much information. But I'd rather be criticised for that than not putting out enough.
I think there is a new generation coming through. I'm not exactly a spring chicken, but I'm part of that new generation so I have an understanding of new technology. It's really important to embrace that technology because our members do.
Everyone's got a mobile phone, for example. So when something important happens we do a mass SMS thing. It's cost efficient for us and everyone knows whatï¿½s going on in a heartbeat.
We follow that up with newsletters. We send them to people's home address rather than to their work address so people who are concerned about the boss seeing them being involved don't have to be.
The website that we set up for the delegates is really good. Delegates from right across the country can talk to each other through the message board. It's a secure site. It's not anti-union. It fosters the solidarity because they talk to each other, people know what's going on in other business divisions.
We can set up real time chat, that option is there for us.
We're looking at setting up sites for different divisions within the RTBU with real time chat and have the notice boards so that people from different divisions across the country can talk to each other without necessarily having to get together and meet.
There are other sites [that are similar] but they're not always that union friendly.
Where do you see as the future of trade unions in this country?
I take a lot out of history. The history stuff that I've read is that we've been in this position before. This is basically how we started. To quote some famous words, I'm alert but not alarmed.
We're in for some tough times. We're really going to struggle over the next five to ten years, but I'm buoyed by the fact that other countries have been through this, New Zealand for example, and the UK, have been through this and worse and have come out the other side.
Which is not to say we won't get battered around on the way through, we certainly will, I have no doubt about that, but we've been here for well over a hundred years and I expect we'll be here for well over another hundred.
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