Paul Howes on the HSU debacle:
IT hasn’t been a great week to be a union official. Once again the ongoing stories of alleged corruption and unethical behaviour at the Health Services Union (HSU) have dominated the headlines.
The actions of a few in a union of 77,000 members have tarnished the reputation of the entire union movement which represents two million Australians.
… Unfortunately, with a small minority in our movement giving our enemies free kicks things have become that much harder for the rest of our members. But at the end of the day what we seek to achieve for working people is the right thing.
Providing strength and unity for workers is still necessary in our society. That’s why taking action against the enemy within was the right thing to do for the labour movement — and will be the right thing to do in the times to come.
What strikes me about the two million workers he speaks of: that is less than 10% of Australians. By most accounts, it’s around 18% of working Australians. So even assuming that the Unions all do their best to represent their membership (which they don’t – say what you want about HSU, but I can’t believe that there is no uncovered corruption going on elsewhere in the movement), that means that the Unions are an interest group representing less than one in every five workers and fighting for what those workers want.
Yet this group has 50% of the internal votes in Australia’s only real social democratic party and numerous other ties, which means that leaders like Kevin Rudd who are not especially pro-Union can never be allowed to last long. It also seems to mean that the Labor party can never get passed its anachronistic dogma about what’s “good for workers”, in spite of very clear evidence to the contrary. It also makes Wayne Swan’s bizarre conspiracies about “vested interests” look even worse.
The sad thing is that unionised labour is actually a great idea in theory and once worked very well. There is a lot to be said for people who work uniting democratically in order to achieve better conditions for themselves. Unfortunately, the Union movement in Australia has long ago ceased to be anything resembling this.
Also, will someone please point me to the Union leader in Australia who spoke out against worker conditions in China when the whole world recently focussed its eyes on Apple and conditions in its manufacturing plants at Foxconn? I would really love to see the person who pointed out that Foxconn really has better working conditions than most Chinese factories and we are letting an even bigger evil go completely unscrutinised. Thing is, that wasn’t a Union leader, it was an anti-Union leader. The Unions were too busy trying to distance themselves from HSU to notice.