Organising model and the attacks on union rights

(originaly pubished October 2005 in now defunct Livejournal blog)

Michael Cosby in Workers Online discusses the IR changes.

Michael Cosby is an advocate of the “organising model” for unions. He says that unions could fall over in the next five years, as they did in New Zealand. “I don’t want to be a doomsayer, but let’s understand clearly what the Howard Government is doing. They are designing the worst legislation in the world for workers to have power. Their aim is to destroy the Australian union movement. To the extent to which legislation can do it, it will do it. Now, it doesn’t mean that it happens. Our response is critical. If we respond correctly, if we change as we need to, then we will survive it.”

What is Cosby’s “correct response”? “The problem with the campaign is that it is not enough. No matter what we do – even if we win the next election on the back of this campaign, we will still have the world’s worst industrial relations legislation. When that happens we have got to have unions that are capable of surviving in that environment. “

Cosby proposes some essentials for survival – “the capacity to win”.. “activists everywhere you look. Members of the union have got to be absolutely engaged in every part of the union they are members of. And the union needs to have money.”

But Cosby implies that the union movement now does not have the capacity to beat Howard or the “world’s worst industrial relations legislation”. The “capacity to win” seems to mean capacty of individual unions to win against employers, but not capacity for the union movement as a whole to win against a government. “Unions are about giving workers power at work. Well, we have got to describe to members exactly what kind of union will give them power. They don’t want to pay cheap rates and lose! They are prepared to pay whatever it will take to change their lives, to get some power at work.”

Even though union density and membership has declined, there are still a couple of milion unionised workers in Australia, with considerable industrial and political clout. The currently unionised do have the capacity to defend the union rights that will give workers more power at work and in politics. It is disappointing that Cosby who is advocating an agressive campaign to rebuild Australian unionism with the organising model, takes such a narrow and passive view of the union movement’s capacity to force a backdown by Howard.

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