Chapter 5: Arise ye workers from ye slumbers — New direction for unions

The future of unions is of paramount importance, and unions themselves have played on the grim statistics to try to shore up commitment to recruitment. The ACTU-supported publication Power at Work argues that if the percentage of workers in unions declines at the current rates the union movement has only eight years to live.1 This forecast is most likely exaggerated with a more probable scenario being unions confined to the public sector and big industries such as mining and construction.

Such hyperbole, if designed to cause panic among union officials and members, is a little late, in that union leadership was warned of the crisis to come by the 1998 MUA dispute and its aftermath. Union leaders have had plenty of time to analyse and adjust to the prevailing conditions since the Patricks dispute, but perhaps the real worry is the failure of strategies employed to date.

Membership levels – strategies for recruitment

A period of militancy after the 1998 MUA dispute coincided with a brief halt in the decline in union membership followed by another sharp fall between 2001 and 2002 and subsequent decline (see table ABS Trade Union Membership Figures 1993-2006).

ABS Trade Union Membership figures 1993-20062

Year % Membership Total workers
1993 2,376,900
1994 2,283,400
1995 2,251,800
1996 2,194,300
1997 2,110,300
1998 28 2,037,500
1999 26 1,878,200
2000 25 1,901,800
2001 24.5 1,902,700
2002 23.1 1,833,700 7,938,095
2003 23.0 1,866,700 8,116,087
2004 22.7 1,842,100 8,116,500
2005 22.4 1,911,900 8,526,600
2006 20.3 1,786,000 8,776,000

Declining membership has followed the strategic failure by the union movement to adequately represent workers' interests. The union leadership's focus has been on entering the power structures such as the Parliaments, the Reserve Bank, the Industrial Relations Commission and the boards of various public utilities and super funds.

The ACTU has consistently been fixated on building the corporate strength of union management structure when it should have focused on building solidarity and membership through shop floor action.

Most often, union membership increases follow activity in the workplace and workers' recognition of the need for cooperative action, rather than the skill of union management or changes in union structures. Growth in membership often follows success, not the converse.

The author of Power at Work, Michael Crosby, says that Australian unions will reverse membership decline with a so-called organising model followed by unions in the USA:

"They should embrace an American model, with less concentration on providing supplementary services and more emphasis on organising in workplaces."3

But it is nearly as far from the ACTU to the shop floor as it is from US unions to Australia. Furthermore the success of the 'organising model' in the USA is dubious, where union membership levels were at 14% in 2002 and still in decline.4 Moreover US unionism has been concentrated mainly in only three centres: San Francisco, New York, and Detroit/Chicago.5 This concentration of unionism has its parallel here in Australia where the hub is Melbourne.

Greg Combet, in his foreword to Power at Work, says the book argues that: "unions can no longer rely on institutional support from governments, industrial tribunals, awards or 'passive employers' and unions must direct their resources towards building organisational power in the workplace and the industry."6

These are strange words indeed from an ACTU leader who sought refuge in the courts during the 1998 MUA dispute then sought minimum wages to be set by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission and finally sought a seat in parliament. Who helped give credibility to these institutions if not the unions themselves?

In the lead up to the 2007 federal election campaign, union leaders were on the lookout for workplace disputes that would deliver their message against the IR laws to the electorate. But what about the workers? In 2005 ALP officials paid lightning visits to hotspots like the Boeing workers' pickets in Newcastle. It was like the Prime Minister's quick visits to Baghdad. What would Kemalex workers picketing after a lockout think of Bomber Beazley's meagre words of encouragement outside the gates?

During the 1998 MUA dispute Labor members and candidates, some cynically carrying slabs of beer to dry pickets, visited the wharfies' tents to win favour with the workers. This behaviour is no different from left-wing political organisations selling newspapers at pickets and thereby looking for a foothold in a union through connections with militant workers.

Combet might be thinking of unions as propaganda units in a Labor Party game of arbitration and industrial relations policy; the groups outside the ALP might simply want more newspaper sales.

Some hoped militancy would continue to grow under the Federal Coalition Government. However leftists have tended to fall in behind the ALP which played the role of dampening what militancy there was. This brought about tensions between unionists themselves and seriously threatened the unity of the union movement.

About the time of the MUA dispute several Victorian unions signalled they could break with the ACTU's continued support of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC).

One such unionist, Michelle O'Neil, said:

"Well, I think there’s only so many times that you get sold out."7

Victorian unions abetted by the Federal Labor government left the State Industrial System en masse in the early 1990s to submit to the federal umpire. To worsen matters, the conservative Victorian state government of 1996 referred its power to legislate on industrial relations to the Commonwealth with significant consequences. The upshot was the unions shooting themselves in one foot and having the other hacked off by conservatives.

The unions pursued a short-term strategy that depended upon the Labor Party remaining in power federally for its continuing success. The Labor Party's inevitable loss of office exposed the poverty of a strategy which preferred legal manipulations to organising workers' industrial strength.

Other Australian states retained their own conciliation and arbitration systems. These mirrored the federal laws but they were perceived under Labor to offer a softer approach to unions.

Under successive ACTU leaderships of Kelty, George, Burrow, and Combet, tensions arose between the ACTU and some Victorian unions. This led to the emergence of alternative union leadership contenders such as Dean Mighell (ETU), Michelle O’Neil (TCFU), Martin Kingham (CFMEU) and Craig Johnston (AMWU).

Existing trade union leaders seem more preoccupied with developing their career path outside the trade union movement – either as members of parliament or corporate consultants – than with the development of a strong labour movement. Such leaders can hardly be expected to make workers’ interests paramount when they are conscious that their desired “career” depends upon ingratiating themselves with those opposed to working class power.

Are emerging trade union leaders destined to follow the path of many other ACTU union leaders to safe Australian Labor Party (ALP) seats? Jenny George obtained a sinecure as a senator in the NSW upper house. Bill Kelty became a director of large super funds. More recently, ACTU secretary, Greg Combet, obtained ALP endorsement in the safe seat of Hunter in NSW.

From 1999 the ACTU took up what it calls the'Organising Model of Unionism.' The idea behind this model is to run "campaigns where the union focussed on person-to-person contact, housecalls, and small group meetings to develop leadership and union consciousness and inoculate workers against the employer's anti-union campaign."8 The ACTU is taking advice to get away from leafleting at the workplace entrance, mass meetings and mailings to non-union workers.

Greg Combet says:

"At a time of unprecedented change and challenge many unions have trusted Michael (Crosby) to shine a light into every nook and cranny of their organisation. He has advised them how to modernise their union and to rebuild their membership. His experience, and his passion for change, has informed this book [Power at Work]. His account of the strategic imperatives confronting Australian unions in the 21st century is the most comprehensive statement of the issues yet written."9

Union membership and revenues

For all the dire predictions, the ACTU speaks for a workforce of more than 8.7 million workers, about 20% of whom are union members. In 2004 those unions had an estimated annual revenue of $506 million.10 They maintain costly resources: head offices and call centres in capital cities and expensive lawyers to run court actions, and paid advertising in the press, on television and radio.

However, in a sharp contradiction with their resources, they are at their weakest where it counts – on the shop floor.

While almost all union officials would argue they are acting strictly in the interests of their members, they also have a vested interest in their future within these organisations. It may be that they take decisions that aim to minimise risk to the structures that underpin their power. The flow of officials into the political elite would suggest that their personal interests and those of their members may not be one and the same.

Membership (and with it, revenue) is only one indicator of the effectiveness of strategy. Active participation (militancy) is another.

But what is needed for workers' organisations to grow strong? Is it numbers alone, or is it militancy?

Victorian Militancy

Following the 1998 MUA dispute there was a growing militancy within union ranks in Victoria where the mobilisation of workers had been greatest. In March 2000, the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union undertook vigorous campaigns like the building workers' 36-hour-week campaign. Militants like Dean Mighell, Martin Kingham and Craig Johnston were elected to the leadership of the ETU, the CFMEU and the AMWU respectively. Their collective strength was established through a system of pattern bargaining, which proved to be an effective strategy for improving wages and conditions. Later Joan Doyle was elected by the rank-and-file to lead the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union (CEPU) postal and telecommunications branch.

This new militancy was soon to come into conflict with employers and government officials keen to curb this growing tendency.

The Cole Royal Commission was established to attack the unions representing workers in the building industry, and soon produced its first casualty, with Martin Kingham from the CFMEU being charged with contempt. The contempt charge flowed from Kingham’s refusal to provide information to the Royal Commission about shop stewards who attended a CFMEU training course.

While militancy grew, there was no effective strategy to defend workers who were taking greater risks. This is exemplified by the case of Craig Johnston who was jailed for defending the jobs of locked out AMWU members.

Workers First

A group of militant workers in the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union created Workers First. After a number of campaigns the Victorian Branch of the AMWU, Workers First broke with the ALP faction that held control of the federal AMWU (under the leadership of Doug Cameron).

Workers First initiated a campaign of defiance of Section 45D of the Trade Practices Act (TPA) through 'pattern bargaining'.11 Craig Johnston voiced the feelings of a number of unionists when he said:

"These laws (Industrial Relations legislation) are bad laws, they are crook laws, they need to be broken."

But Johnston, despite the support of many rank-and-file workers, Workers First, a few union officials and the Socialist Alliance, still ended up in jail. After being involved in an action in response to a lockout, Johnston was charged with affray.12 At the court hearing five thousand workers stood outside the court with placards claiming Johnston's innocence while inside his lawyers entered into plea bargaining with the expectation of mercy from the court.

The Green Left Weekly portrayed the incident that led to Johnston's jailing:

"The media has perpetuated an image of the sacked workers’ protests being violent. But there were no threats or acts of violence towards any people during the protests. However, some property was damaged. The protest on each premises only lasted a few minutes."13

Johnston was not guilty of the charge of 'threat to kill' or the charge of 'affray'. However Johnston's lawyers did not account for the resolve of the employers and the establishment in Victoria to make an example. He was sentenced to two years and nine months’ jail, with nine months to be served prior to parole. In hindsight, Johnston was poorly advised on the guilty plea.

In the end, both Kingham and Johnston relied on the same strategy that led to the reduction in MUA militancy and loss of jobs and conditions on the waterfront in 1998. They both sought refuge in the legal system to extricate themselves from repression. Their approach of defying repressive industrial laws was not matched by the same defiance in fighting quasi-criminal (the law of contempt which was the charge against Kingham) and criminal laws (the criminal law of affray). This reflects a lack of experience in the union movement of how to combat the full arsenal of repression available to the state.

The militancy of Workers First created tensions with the leadership of the ACTU, and eventually saw a split in the AMWU, with the ALP-aligned federal AMWU secretary, Doug Cameron, wresting control of the Victorian branch from Workers First. Cameron and the ACTU thought tactics used by the emerging militant unions might threaten their position and disassociated themselves from Johnston. Cameron publicly supported Johnston's jailing under the pretext that he was a bullyboy. On the other hand Kingham secured sufficient ALP support to beat charges of contempt brought by the Cole Royal Commission inquiry into the building and construction industry.

In the short term, Johnston's jailing severely weakened the attempt by Workers First militants to challenge industrial laws and militants to challenge ALP leadership of the union movement.

Comparison with the case of Ted Roach

Johnston's case is reminiscent of a prior era when Communists in the Waterside Workers Federation were jailed opposing the penal and other anti-union provisions.

Yet the contrast between Ted Roach (WWF) and Johnston (AMWU) is striking. Roach was a member of the Communist Party of the 1950s and was sentenced to jail under the following circumstances described in his own words:

"In 1949 the Chifley (Labor) Government decided to bring down legislation to prevent the miners obtaining any funds, so they froze trade union funds … The WWF (Waterside Workers Federation) had three Branches on strike and had a five shilling levy collected for strike pay. I quickly drew all the money out and put it in three different places so I had access to it and the only other person who knew where the places were, was Della Elliott, the wife of E V Elliott, the secretary of the Seamen's Union. I’m paying the strike pay and they whacked the miners and McPhilips (another prominent Communist). They sent them all and give them 12 months. Then I get up to show cause why he shouldn’t sentence me and I’m doing a bit of haranguing and he said 'It is the law Mr Roach.' I said 'Yes your Honour it is the law to starve the miners’ wives and their kids.' … Isaacs said 'I’ll hold you responsible for this unseemly outburst in my Court.' He said '12 months.' The law to starve the miners’ wives and kids… didn’t like me saying that. We got out in six weeks anyway, with demonstrations."14

However there was no getting out in six weeks for Craig Johnston, who served the full nine months of his non-parole sentence and had the threat of two more years in jail if he were involved in similar actions.

Political alignment

The emergent leadership of the militant unions in Victoria had sworn to support each other, and they did, up to a point. The new militant leadership could mobilise on an industrial agenda; but could they defend a political one? When Kingham and Johnston went to court their support base rallied outside the court in protest. But that was as far as it went.

They lacked a coherent political focus as was apparent from by their diverse political affiliations. This reflects the lack of an effective political organisation and strategy to bind militant workers and union officials together.

Kingham was in the socialist left of the ALP, Mighell had a brief flirtation with the Greens, returned to the ALP and was asked to resign in May 2007 by the new ALP leader, Rudd. Mighell swore not to go back. Johnston signed up with Socialist Alliance. And when the federal ALP opposition reversed its party platform of tariff protection for the footwear, clothing and textile industry prior to the 2004 federal election O'Neil threatened the TFCU would withdraw from its relationship with the ALP.15

The spike of militancy proved to be just that. No new workers' political organisation emerged from it. However this is what was needed; workers' political organisations were needed to build militancy and organisation to improve worker conditions.

After the 1998 MUA dispute there was little socialist organisation apart from the occasional protest or public meeting. There were a few public meetings held when Craig Johnston was sent to jail but these subsided as the reality of the repression sank in.

Emphasis has been placed on protest by Left groups to try to re-establish some links with the rank-and-file lost in the years of the decline of the Communist Party and the years spent in single-issue campaign groups like Refugee Action and Stop the War collectives in each state.

In the US, Europe and to a limited extent in Australia protests took the form of an anti-globalisation movement. In such a political climate the ideas of socialism lost meaning to workers. The risk of pushing for real change became too great. The sins of capitalism are evident and may be opposed through protest; but, in the end, what would replace it?

The workers have little say or involvement in the capitalist world and could only watch the antics of the machine men in the union or the socialist newspaper sellers at protest rallies. Union delegates are either lectured by paid officials or by others preaching that it is up to the workers to win the EBA contest or even to stop the war in Iraq.

These Left organisations are hampered by their inability to rise above the failure of their political strategies. The ideas of Marx are still relevant but today's socialist organisations have been unable to effectively deal with the changes brought about by the capitalists, their imperialist wars and the suppression of workers' rights. Marx famously said "the traditions of the past weigh like a nightmare on the brains of the living."16

Existing Political Parties

The Labor Party was one of the earliest workers' political organisations in Australia. However, despite its support from rank-and-file workers, the Labor Party has always rejected any suggestion of representing class interests. Rather, it has portrayed itself as representing some broad "national" interest, which rests upon the false assumption that bosses and workers share common interests. The ALP, long ago adopted the corporate culture which surrounds it.

Within the trade union movement, the dominant tradition has been one which emphasized cooperation between classes. Notwithstanding a more militant leadership than today's the ideas of social democracy dominated unionism during its heyday in Australia from 1945 to 1975. This coincided with the post-war capitalist boom. Beyond 1975, capitalist ideology has been on the up and socialist ideology in decline: waves of capitalism have weakened worker organizations.

Increasingly, union leadership has adopted the language and ideological assumptions of corporate capitalism.

To quote a transport worker:

"'Best practice’ unionism is an empty phrase; we want militant unions with a socialist focus. Terms such as ‘strategic unionism’, ‘corporate unions’ or ‘best practice unions’ come straight from business text-books and reflect a mentality and agenda totally at odds to the cast of mind which workers must develop to fight the forces mounted against us. We need militant unions engaged in action, every day, which always makes it clear to the membership that their interests are not only opposed to those of employers but are in fact crushed by the employers’ agendas."

It may take a hurricane for the ACTU to adopt this proposal. The ACTU performs a dual role. It looks after the political interests of the Labor Party as well as being the peak body of the union movement. This close association is no more evident than in Queensland where the Queensland Council of Unions (the ACTU) is a tenant in a building where the ALP has its Queensland headquarters. To be employed as a media officer, organiser or industrial officer often requires ALP membership as a pre-requisite.

Several attempts have been made by rank-and-file groups to win positions in union bureaucracies dominated by Labor Party members. Most have failed.

Some support (up to 30% in some union elections) has been generated from disaffected workers burdened by large mortgages, declining public education for their children, and the failure of the health system. However no organisation has been able to follow this through and to build rank-and-file organisation, even though fledgling attempts exist.

For example, in September 2007, there was rank-and-file concern about the use of a fund set up by the NSW branch of the Transport Workers Union. The fund was financed directly by labour hire companies employing workers at Sydney airport to carry out contract work for QANTAS. The employers and union did a secret deal in exchange for 1% of the workers' payroll. This deal was to fund the Transport Workers Union's salaries and expenses bill for lawyers, consultants, and officials. It is clear that the rank-and-file were not told about the secret deal or the fund.

When rank-and-file members of the union became concerned that their wages and conditions may have been traded off, who did the rank-and-file turn to?

They turned to the Labor Party.

More specifically they turned to Kevin Rudd whose wife runs labour hire firms like the ones that did the secret deal with the TWU officials. It was the NSW Labor Party who had set up this scheme and hidden it from rank-and-file workers for ten years. And who did the ALP send out to defend the union? The Labor Party sent out the president of the ACTU, Sharan Burrow, the same person the ALP sent out to defend Therese Rein's labour hire companies both here and in the UK:

"The leader of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Sharan Burrow, said she would seek briefings with the British union on whether Work Directions UK would harm workers…"

After Ms Burrow's inquiry the media were able to obtain a clarification from the UK union:

"But yesterday Mr Flynn said his union (British Public and Commercial Services Union) had voiced general concerns over the privatisation of work-placement services, not Ms Rein’s company in particular."17

The rank-and-file had turned away from their own power as heart and soul of the union and gone to the architects of corporate unionism, the true believers in top-down unionism. They went to the very people who forsake the interests of rank-and-file workers to finance corporate unionism. Sharan Burrow's predictable defence was to argue that union officials had followed sound business practice in having appointed independent auditors to ensure that the TWU fund was constitutional and that the constitution had been followed.

We argue that this is but one example of how the debate over the future of unionism in Australia remains centred in success or failure of social democracy. We do not accept that the Labor Party can deliver to workers good conditions and wages. This is because the ALP rejects working class interests, making them subservient to the 'national or the public interest'. We argue that social democracy (the ALP) is wedded to business and the employer class.

Socialist Groups

We have not analysed various theories put forward by existing socialist groups. These theories remain like our proposal for workers' political organisations — one view of how to advance the interest of workers. We do not believe that the various alternatives have taken any lasting root in workers' thinking or practice in Australia for a long, long time. It would be utopian to think they had.

Most of the book’s critique is aimed at social democracy. There is no sustained analysis of the far left at all. We doubt the existence of socialist organisation in the working class in any meaningful sense. We do not pretend to have any easy solution for the continuing isolation of socialist groups.

The distractions have been many.

Broad issues of war and refugees have been the focus with a narrow base of supporters. Disheartened rank-and-file candidates (in union elections) have fallen back into the rat race, working longer hours to find some refuge in the consumer society they oppose.

But the working class is always far from defeat. An alternative to the focus on strategic unionism, modernisation and rebuilding membership is to re-establish working class consciousness through workers' political organisation.

In arguing for a political alternative aimed at advancing working class interests, the following questions need to be addressed:

  1. How should a workers' political organisation be built?
  2. Should it be a socialist party with tight discipline or should it be a looser grouping?
  3. If such a project were able to be launched by the existing, albeit small, socialist groups, would the rank-and-file support them?
  4. Has the economic upturn in capitalism over the past 15 years delivered enough to blunt the desire for an alternative?

Workers' political organisation is not merely a proposition. It grows out of contradictions inherent in the master servant relationship. We concern ourselves here mainly with an argued rejection of social democratic (i.e. the ALP) ideas and practice. This is because these ideas are dominant in the union movement and have not been seriously challenged in the past 30 years.

Workers' political organisations

This book has attempted to discuss the broad trends in the Australian labour movement within a context of dwindling socialist ideas and organisations. We have argued that the historic mission of the Australian Labor Party has been the modernising of capitalism in moments of crisis, and subsumed workers' interests into the so-called national interest, thus thwarting attempts to achieve socialism, specifically worker control of production.

We have shown how the ALP-style approach has been used by the union leadership to manage class conflict. The net outcome, we argue, is a gradual slide in workers' conditions and a retreat from the socialist aspirations once held as a fundamental tenet by workers' organisations. Alternative approaches to workers' struggle were also discussed, with historic examples provided, showing that on occasions when alternative approaches were adopted, far from being utopian, they delivered better outcomes for workers and contributed to the developing strength of the trade union movement in the early and middle years of the twentieth century. Yet the organisations of that period carried their own weaknesses, which were later exploited by a class determined to roll back any advance that the working class had made, in order to maintain their wealth and power.

So, where to from here?

For those who maintain their socialist aspirations the challenge seems daunting. The demise of the Communist Party of Australia, and the shift of those who had been active in the New Left into 'issue politics' meant that there are no organised formations of the political left that have any significant leverage within the organised workers' movement. Those with an uncompromising class perspective have been pushed to the extreme margins of workers' struggle.

A generational shift has compounded the problem. Many of those militant unionists who cut their teeth in struggles of a previous epoch retired, and became increasingly out of touch with the day-to-day state of the working class. Younger militants joined environmental organisations and fought for peace and the rights of refugees, but strangely kept their distance from union organisation. There was no counterweight to those individuals from Labor families who sought personal gain and advancement through the union movement, convinced of their own working class credentials; they mistakenly viewed their advancement as a legitimate substitute for the advancement of the class as a whole.

With the failure of the radical left to engage seriously with Australian workers and their organisations the Australian union movement, the gap between socialist ideas and unions engaged in day-to-day struggle widened. Unions became part of a romantic narrative that increasingly had taken hold in the left. They took on a distant and elusive character, idealised into a static mythical past, but in their current state seen as a corrupted shadow of their former selves. Yet we have shown that the dynamic within the union movement, between leaders and members, between progressives and conservative elements has characterised the whole history of the movement and that the present is a particular moment in this dynamic relationship. That is to say, the debate to which we have contributed has been going on for well over a century, and will continue to inform working class struggle, with all its ups and downs for some time to come.

In the early years of the twenty-first century the conservative trend within the labour movement has been ameliorated by some militants within the workforce who have taken up the challenge of becoming active within their unions. However they face many hurdles including:

  • the mistrust of fellow unionists who are ALP members, particularly those in the union hierarchy who are deeply involved in ALP machinations, preselections and electioneering, (and intent on containing their members aspirations to a Labor victory);
  • the indifference of fellow workers who are not interested in their politics;
  • the bemusement of other active unionists who try and ignore them (except when they offer useful left cover); and,
  • the lack of rank-and-file structures which allow them to engage directly with workers on the job.

While the prospect for worker organisation is limited, however, out of the contradiction of master and servant (boss/worker) comes conflict. When workers take action to advance their own interests, there is an opportunity to link with other workers engaged in similar industrial disputes. We argue that as the political nature of workers' struggle emerges there is a need for new structures or organisation to take workers out of the bureaucratic framework that confines unions today. A new possibility may be realised — workers' political organisation.

Workers' political organisations (WPOs) have significant historical precedents in Queensland, inasmuch as they successfully laid the foundation of labour organisation in the early part of the 20th century. For example workers' political organisations in Rockhampton, Fitzroy and Ipswich were the vehicle for taking workers into the ALP. Similarly the women workers' political organisation, under the leadership of Emma Miller, sought political representation in state and federal parliaments, and the promotion of the interests of women in the body politic. Grass roots organisation leading up to the federal election of December 1903 were aimed at achieving these aims. Their activities included three mock elections, public meetings, distribution of leaflets and door-to-door canvassing, and visits to women in factories and workshops.18

Subsequently we have seen the formation of many organisations that might be characterised as workers' political organisations, including strike committees, union support groups and rank-and-file committees. Their role has been critical at times, and less successful at others due to circumstance and their own organisational capacity. While not necessarily consciously related they have had as a common element their focus on grass roots activity, and especially shop-floor organisation.

What would workers' political organisations look like today? We would not presume to offer formulaic prescriptions but, for what it is worth, recommend some general guiding principles, which are open to interpretation within a specific context. We argue that workers' political organisations:

  • are founded in workplace organisation;
  • are focused on workers themselves achieving their goals without appeals to members of the ruling elite;
  • seek to extend democratic principles throughout their workplace and unions;
  • aim to advance workers interests as a whole, not on a sectional or even national basis;
  • cast aside the dogmatism and narrow discipline of the sect and seek an engagement with workers as human beings, not on a one-dimensional ideological basis;
  • should ignore zealots, and be wary of agent provocateurs and adventurists;
  • strive for unity between workers, organisers and officials of their unions. Their argument is with the boss and their lackeys; and,
  • are based upon the aspirations of workers to socialism, the abolition of private property and worker control of production.

There may be other options to tackle the entrenched dominance by the captains of industry, the global moghuls and their business empires, who have for centuries inflicted misery, wars and mind-numbing propaganda on the working class. We are hopeful that this book will move the debate into a space from where we can examine all options that will help build organisations that effectively challenge the capitalist might, and usher in a truly human age.

  • 1. Power at Work – Rebuilding the Australian Union Movement by Michael Crosby The Federation Press 2005
  • 2. ABS Employee Earnings, Benefits and Trade Union Membership Cat No. 6310.0 August 2006.
  • 3. Michael Crosby quoted in Drastic remedies prescribed for shrinking unions Sydney Morning Herald Weekend Edition September 24-25 2005.
  • 4. ACTU’s Union Renewal in Australia 02 October 2002 by Michael Crosby.
  • 5. The ACTU sent a delegation to the US in July 1993 and it was from this time that unions in Australia began to study seriously the strategies being pursued by American and Canadian unions.
  • 6. Power at Work, Crosby op. cit.
  • 7. Victorian secretary, Textile Clothing and Footwear Union (TFCU) in 2004.
  • 8. Bronfenbrenner, Kate and Juravich, Tom, Union Tactics Matter: The Impact of Union Tactics on Certification Elections, First Contracts and Membership Rates, Institute for the Study of Labor Organisations, Working Paper
  • 9. From the Foreword of Power at Work by Michael Crosby
  • 10. The ACTU claims that union officials generally are poorly paid. The low level of wages is a function of the ‘poverty’ of most Australian unions. Annual subscriptions’ range given in Union Renewal in Australia were from $200 to $350 p.a. These are conservative figures with some union fees charged on a sliding scale up to $500 per annum.
  • 11. Pattern bargaining is collective bargaining to achieve good conditions across different workplaces. It is banned under the Trade Practices Act and WorkChoices Legislation.
  • 12. Affray is a charge where there is unlawful fighting or unlawful violence used by one or more person against another, or there was an unlawful display of force by one or more person without actual violence.
  • 13. From Green Left Weekly, 1 September 2004.
  • 14. Interview with Ted Roach 1990: Recording by Greg Mallory but omitted from Mallory’s book about Ted Roach and Jack Mundey Unchartered Waters 2005.
  • 15. Labor lily-livered over tariffs: union ABC Radio National PM – Tuesday, 30 November , 2004 Reporter: Louise Yaxley
  • 16. From The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte by Karl Marx.
  • 17. The Melbourne Age “UK union backtracks on Rein criticism” Julia May, London September 27, 2007
  • 18. Young, Pam, 1926-, Proud to be a rebel : the life and times of Emma Miller, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, Qld, 1991, 286 pp.