I recently had a long conversation with a Union representative who was trying to convince me that I was wrong about the Australian Union movement. As I explained, my thoughts are generally that I am theoretically in favour of an organised workforce and I have no qualms with workers coming together to demand certain rights – but this is no longer what the Union movement is (which is the reason I capitalise the “u”).
From my perspective, Australian Unions are mostly opaque, bloated, entrenched organisations that represent a very small portion of the workforce. Their institutionalisation and the extend to which they are favoured by successive Labor governments have given them hubris, to the point where they seem to care more about perpetuating their own existence than actually doing anything in the interest of Australia’s workforce and spend a lot of time playing political games instead of concentrating on their nominal mission.
What bothers me the most is the dogmatic adherence to certain anachronistic principles because these used to be good for “workers”. I see absolutely no self-reflection and no desire to reevaluate the policies of the movement in light of the world that we live in. As I have noted before, this has resulted in Australia having ridiculous penalty rates and bad teachers.
Well here’s yet another example, which follows this post:
In an increasingly bitter dispute over the management of the mining boom, ministerial splits are emerging within the Gillard government and unions have started a racist campaign to hound West Australian-based minister Gary Gray from his seat. …
Yesterday, five unions ran a full-page newspaper advertisement in Mr Gray’s seat of Brand, south of Perth, alluding to high levels of indigenous unemployment and accusing the Special Minister of State and former ALP national secretary of not standing up for “Aussie jobs”.
Joe McDonald, the assistant secretary of the West Australian branch of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, accused Mr Gray last night of betraying Australians and vowed to run a union campaign to get rid of him.
“He’s betrayed the people of his constituency,” Mr McDonald told The Weekend Australian. “He’s betrayed them. He should pack up and piss off. If the union movement puts a politician in, they shouldn’t forget where they came from and if they do then we should piss them off and put someone else in.”
Last night Mr Gray, who won his seat with a margin of just 3 per cent in 2010, said EMAs, for which projects with more than $2bn in investment and 1500 jobs are eligible, would create “many, many mining jobs for Australians”.
Note that the story calls the campaign against Gray “racist”. I don’t like when a news story editorialises like this, but in this case I don’t see a lot of other ways to describe it.
The CFMEU is notionally a “progressive” Union, yet its officials are spouting rhetoric that would not have been out of place during the days of the White Australia Policy. I am also disgusted by the way that McDonald is threatening to remove Gray from Parliament if he doesn’t “play ball”.
This is the tragedy of Australia’s major social democrat party being beholden to these groups; it is also a problem that the Union rep in the conversation that I mentioned above did not seem to understand. The current system of preselection means that we get exactly the wrong people into Parliament. A few conversations between key people within the Union movement or the ALP can be enough to get someone a safe seat for life – the process is completely opaque and prone to corruption and abuse. Once there, do/say the wrong thing and upset the wrong people and goodbye – no matter what the public may want. (Incidentally, this is not a partisan issue. Union movement aside, the same principle holds for the Liberal party.)
So now we have a situation where the Government is being pressured from inside to bow to xenophobic demands and prevent people who want to come to Australia and contribute to the country’s economy from doing so. They are also using arguments like this gem from Senator Doug Cameron:
Since when was it unreasonable to expect that highly profitable mining companies should provide Australian workers with the skill upgrading, training, travel support and accommodation to ensure they have genuine access to employment opportunities?
I am constantly amazed by the Union mentality that the way to achieve these demands is for the Government to force mining companies to provide them. What is preventing the Unions from doing something useful like developing their own training programs and apprenticeships, investing in the development of mining towns to allow workers’ families to move there, or forming recruitment initiatives to connect their members with the mining companies to fill employment vacancies? (Note: I’m aware that some do this already, but obviously not very well, or else there wouldn’t be an issue.)
Why do they think that playing the political system to force the mining companies to do it would be a better idea?
I am shocked by the silence from people I know who are generally pro-immigration and usually speak-out against xenophobic rhetoric like this. Even the Greens are behind the migrant workers idea – and they think that Australia is overpopulated and the world is ending.
Clearly, there is something wrong here. I could go on, but plummeting membership figures speak for themselves. It is paramount that we introduce stronger requirements for Union transparency and accountability and remove the disgraceful Rudd/Gillard industrial relations reforms that force workers to be represented by organisations that they have no intention of joining. Otherwise, backwards thinking may just win the day yet again.