The Big Foot of Unions Fits A Smaller Slipper

Aug 13, 2012
Essential Research

Judging by the fear-mongering, anti-union rhetoric spilling out of the mouths of business and the Coalition, you would think that unions are a massive power, with a majority presence in every corner of the workforce. But, the intensity of the rhetoric only tell us one thing: how determined anti-union forces are to destroy the basic standard of living of every work.

What brings this to mind this morning is a column by Ross Gittins on the Fair Work Australia decision in the Qantas dispute. While I do not agree with Gittins’ conclusion that the Transport Workers Union’s actions were, in his words, “bloody-minded”, he does make a much more cogent point on the hysteria coming from the anti-union quarters:

Read too much of their stuff and you come away thinking the union movement has risen from its death bed to pose the greatest threat to our continued prosperity. Remember, union membership is down to 18 per cent of the workforce (from 50 per cent in 1982) and 14 per cent of private-sector workers.

Another figure to keep in mind when you read about the union monster poised to eat the economy’s lunch: more than 80 per cent of enterprises don’t have a union presence.

Two labour lawyers, Dr Anthony Forsyth, of Monash University, and Professor Andrew Stewart, of Adelaide University, note in their submission to the Fair Work review that ”the concerns about union activities that so animate certain employers in the resources, manufacturing and construction sectors are very far removed from the issues confronting businesses in other parts of the economy”.

Truth is, many more workers are covered by collective agreements than are union members—but employers overstate union power for political gain. The real issue is: bosses can’t have it both ways—either the unions are weak or an irresistible force. Make your choice, fellow.

So, when you hear the anti-union forces pontificating about the huge power of unions, remember that really this is a cover for a different agenda: business and the Coalition wants to destroy unions as a force and to extract every dollar possible from working people and put it in the pockets of the elite.


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