Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: Australian Union Revival
journal contributionposted on 08.06.2017, 06:20 by Hanley, Glennis, Holland, Peter
Australian union membership declined at over one per cent per annum through the 1990s, and unions now represent around a quarter of the workforce. The Australian Council of Trade Unions [ACTU] has pursued several strategies aimed at tackling this malaise. The central purpose of this paper is to chronicle two of these strategies: union restructuring and the move to an 'organising' model of trade unionism. These strategies were championed by the ACTU as key planks in encouraging union recruitment and retention. The union restructuring strategy was successful in reducing the number of federally registered trade unions from 326 to 142. However, according to one observer [Fairbrother 2000], the result of these mergers is the creation of large-multi-sector and occupational unions, beset by uneasy internal political alliances and class compromises. The move to an `organising' model of unionism has been met with successes on the one hand, and resistance on the other. There are still unions locked into the servicing model rather than adopting a dual or balanced approach of servicing and recruitment. It seems like these strategies are like the curate's egg - partly good and partly bad and not wholly satisfactory, especially in arresting the carnage associated with declining union membership.