user preferences

New Events

Indonesia / Philippines / Australia

no event posted in the last week

Australia: State of the union movement

category indonesia / philippines / australia | workplace struggles | opinion / analysis author Friday January 27, 2023 18:58author by MACG - Anarkismo Report this post to the editors

The union movement must be rebuilt and as soon as possible. It will only be harder the more the movement declines. Rebuilding can only be done through a rank and file insurgency. There may be times and places where it is appropriate to organise new unions (for example in entirely unorganised parts of the workforce, or where the existing union is wholly on the side of the bosses and cannot be recaptured by its members). Most workers, though, will not break with the officials until they are already mobilised and a practical decision is in front of them, so the insurgency must operate largely within existing unions.
download.jpeg

Australia: State of the union movement

We are witnessing the slow extinction of Australia’s trade union movement. In 1976, 2.5 million Australian workers (some 51.6% of the workforce) were members of a trade union. As of August this year, trade union density in Australia has fallen to 12.5% (1.4 million people). The Australian trade union movement is older than ever before, only 2% of employed 15-19 year olds and 5% of 20-24 year olds are members of a union (ABS 2022).

The decline in union membership is mirrored by a decline in industrial action. In the December quarter of 1991, 589,000 Australian workers spent at least a day on strike. The latest quarterly figures for this year record 28,000 workers involved in industrial action. As bad as this seems, it still represents a relative uptick since the COVID lockdowns.

Trade unions are built in struggle. Unions are built and grow when workers strike and win. In Australia, successive Labor and Liberal governments have built one of the most restrictive legal frameworks for industrial action in the developed world. It is exceptionally difficult to go on strike in Australia, and without the support of the union bureaucracy, almost impossible.

The union bureaucracy has strong incentives to avoid strikes, and especially to avoid the kinds that would be necessary to break out of the legal straightjacket of the Fair Work Act. Australia’s legal framework, and the loyalty of the union officials to the ALP, create a relatively privileged position for the formal union leadership. For unions that step out of line, there are substantial fines, and the threat of deregistration. The threat of deregistration is significant, since unions depend on the few legal privileges that registration brings in order to maintain what membership they have.

The trade union bureaucracy has shown that it cannot break from its legal and political straight jacket (one partly of its own making). There are relative strongholds in education and healthcare (where the fear of legal liability compels workers to join their union) but the unions, as currently organised, are doomed. The officials cannot defend the institution over which they preside.

However, the death of the union movement would not be a good thing. Despite the inadequacies of formal Australian trade unions, the 1.5 million members of Australian unions are still the most organised segment of the Australian working class. The loss of union organisation will only lead to further losses in wages, conditions, and the relative strength of the class.

The union movement must be rebuilt and as soon as possible. It will only be harder the more the movement declines. Rebuilding can only be done through a rank and file insurgency. There may be times and places where it is appropriate to organise new unions (for example in entirely unorganised parts of the workforce, or where the existing union is wholly on the side of the bosses and cannot be recaptured by its members). Most workers, though, will not break with the officials until they are already mobilised and a practical decision is in front of them, so the insurgency must operate largely within existing unions.

Though the Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group advocates a rank and file movement within the existing unions, it mustn't be bound to the current legal structures. It needs to operate independently of the union bureaucracy in order to build the strength that is needed to break with the legal and political limits of Australia’s industrial relations system. And it is only by breaching those limits that the union movement can survive.

IF YOU DON'T FIGHT, YOU LOSE

*This article is from “The Anvil”, newsletter of the Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group (MACG), Vol. 11/ No 6, November-December 2020.

https://melbacg.wordpress.com/

Photo Credit: Wall Street Journal

This page can be viewed in
English Italiano Deutsch

Front page

International anarchist call for solidarity: Earthquake in Turkey, Syria and Kurdistan

Elements of Anarchist Theory and Strategy

19 de Julio: Cuando el pueblo se levanta, escribe la historia

International anarchist solidarity against Turkish state repression

Declaración Anarquista Internacional por el Primero de Mayo, 2022

Le vieux monde opprime les femmes et les minorités de genre. Leur force le détruira !

Against Militarism and War: For self-organised struggle and social revolution

Declaração anarquista internacional sobre a pandemia da Covid-19

La révolution du Rojava a défendu le monde, maintenant le monde doit défendre la révolution du Rojava!

Anarchist Theory and History in Global Perspective

Trans Rights is a Class Issue

Capitalism, Anti-Capitalism and Popular Organisation [Booklet]

AUKUS: A big step toward war

Reflexiones sobre la situación de Afganistán

Αυτοοργάνωση ή Χάος

South Africa: Historic rupture or warring brothers again?

Declaración Anarquista Internacional: A 85 Años De La Revolución Española. Sus Enseñanzas Y Su Legado.

Death or Renewal: Is the Climate Crisis the Final Crisis?

Gleichheit und Freiheit stehen nicht zur Debatte!

Contre la guerre au Kurdistan irakien, contre la traîtrise du PDK

Meurtre de Clément Méric : l’enjeu politique du procès en appel

Comunicado sobre el Paro Nacional y las Jornadas de Protesta en Colombia

The Broken Promises of Vietnam

Premier Mai : Un coup porté contre l’un·e d’entre nous est un coup porté contre nous tou·tes

© 2005-2023 Anarkismo.net. Unless otherwise stated by the author, all content is free for non-commercial reuse, reprint, and rebroadcast, on the net and elsewhere. Opinions are those of the contributors and are not necessarily endorsed by Anarkismo.net. [ Disclaimer | Privacy ]