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The Forum > Article Comments > We’re unionists not outlaws > Comments

We’re unionists not outlaws : Comments

By Col Harrington, published 17/7/2007

The union movement is endlessly maligned by the Howard Government.

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Col, what you have described is the innocent dream.

In November 2000 I also shared that dream. I was a union activist and an active member of the Labor Party. Then I tried to discuss the unsupervised groups of children who were roaming about my school. I spoke at a staff meeting. I did not rabble-rouse. I spoke calmly for two minutes. But it was the end of my career. The acting principal - who had not seen me teach or looked at my program all year - claimed that "lots of" allegations had been made against me in "lots of" documents, and I was told that I would be in a two year punishment process, starting in 2001. The immediate and only advice of the union organiser was to "accept the things you cannot change". To this day I have not been told what the allegations were, so I can never prove myself innocent and have the decision to punish me struck off my file.
After five years of asking for help the union allowed me a maximum of $1000 in legal assistance.
Teachers and their bosses are in the same union. How crazy is that. When you are bullied at work the union just tell you that it is a "member versus member issue" and you are on your own.
Having teachers and their bosses in the same union saves the union lots of time and money that would otherwise be wasted supporting teachers who are being abused.

You are describing the dream.
The reality is that unions are not really being run for the benefit of members. My experience suggests to me that unions are being run as money-raising ventures to fund Labor Party advertising. Which sells us the innocent dream that we are better protected at work if we are in a union.
Posted by Dealing With The Mob, Tuesday, 17 July 2007 9:57:06 AM
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Well said and I hope many other readers are drawn to comment.

I think, however, some of your views are through 'rose coloured glasses' because I can so easily recall some appalling power abuses by union leaders (too). Yet you are so right about the present situation ... it is the government's one step too far and I am sure that is the way history will see it.

I think we need a new age of unions and a new form of leadership and management. Must it be adversarial? Certainly that has been the culture. The future?
Posted by aka-Ian, Tuesday, 17 July 2007 10:02:18 AM
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I agree generally with your comments. I must say I have not been 'angered or frustrated' as you apparently have but I have been amazed at the lack of response to the negative publicity about trade unions. There are many good and positive stories to be told about what trade unions have done and are still doing for their members. What has amazed me is the apparent lack of response from prominent trade union leaders. Greg Combet is an obvious exception to that but there are many other people of considerable ability in the trade union movement who should be publicly promoting what unions stand for and what they have done as a positive force in our community. Just so people know where I am coming from I am now retired after some 40 plus years in the industrial relations field. During that time I worked for prominent employer organizations and dealt with union officials of sound judgement and ability. [There were also some ratbags but not many] For the last 26 years of my working life I practised as a Barrister in NSW, the last 12 years of that as Senior Counsel. My practice at the Bar was almost exclusively in the Industrial Relations field, appearing, again almost exclusively, for employer interests. All I am saying here is that I was opposed, almost every day, to union representatives and I came across many good ones in that time. I had a long case against Greg Combet in 1995 and I felt then that he was going somewhere. Anybody with any substantial knowledge about industrial relations [and I include in that captains of industry] knows that when representatives of the current federal government talk about 'union leaders controlling every workplace and controlling the IR system' they are telling, not to put to fine a point on it, furphies, or lies. But some good trade union leaders apart from people like Greg Combet really do have to stand up.
Posted by herbie, Tuesday, 17 July 2007 10:48:00 AM
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Interesting piece. Right for the most part.

I find it rather interesting that in many media circles, unions are both blasted for their irrelevance, as well as the danger they pose to the Australian economy... seems to me you can't really have it both ways.

That being said, I think the wharfie standoff early in Howard's time as PM cemented in the minds of many Australians the uglier side of unionism. They were the example of union power gone too far.

Now however, the pendulum has swung. The paranoia that greets the union movement from the conservative set isn't questioned. This truly concerns me - this is business, and pressing your case is paramount. Unions and the business sect are often diametrically opposed, and when we question the motivations of one side and not the other, we're only going to end up with a system that represents a certain sect of society.

A recent example of this paranoia can be seen in the response to the comments made by Dean Mighell and John Robertson.

Take Robertson for instance - okay, he used some pretty inexcusable language - but the substance of his calls, was essentially, that he would lobby a Rudd government for better conditions for his union members.

This was portrayed in many media circles as some nefarious plot to influence government policy - the thing is, when business organisations follow a similar line, they are not given the same scrutiny. When was the last time you heard the Business Council of Australia being lambasted for their lobbying? Lobbying's a part of democracy, so I can only assume if the unionists clean up their language and phrase their requests with a little more eloquence instead of altering the substance, perhaps they'll be a bit less vilified... well, one can only hope.
Posted by TurnRightThenLeft, Tuesday, 17 July 2007 11:22:13 AM
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My experience is similar to, but not as bad as, Dealing with the Mob’s. I have given the details on the “Farewell” thread on the discussion forum of, so I will not repeat them here. In essence, an acting principal purported to dismiss me from my timetabling position as a leading teacher in my school after he had been there for one week because the school administration needed a scapegoat for its bad decision-making. As the injustice was so blatant and I had the overwhelming support of my colleagues, was in a strong union school and had the confidence of many years of school leadership experience behind me (probably more than my “superiors”), I did not take it lying down. I took him to the Merit Protection Board, which upheld my case and ordered my re-instatement.

The union involvement is instructive. I was assisted by the AEU, as was the acting principal. I have no problem with that. The problem I have is that his AEU representative did not simply try to support the unsupportable – my dismissal as timetabler; he went further and argued that I should have been sacked outright. So we had the principal class section of the AEU acting to support the bullying of teachers in the workplace.

There are good and bad union officials, but overall unions do an important job representing their members. If the members are unhappy with their leaders, they can vote in new ones. The attacks on unions by the current government simply show how out of touch it is.
Posted by Chris C, Tuesday, 17 July 2007 11:22:43 AM
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The romantic notion of unionism is presented here in all of it's glory. However it isn't the full picture.

Let's talk about the waterfront dispute: Let's talk about the years of inefficiency in handling containers prior to the dispute in 1998. Let's talk about the direct effect on the stevedoring companies, and let's also talk about the downstream effects on the rest of the economy. It's disgraceful.

Let's talk about the head of the ETU recently boasting about ripping off employers.

Let's remember that Keatings recent comments about the terrible state of unions today.

In my own experience, I've watched the FSU attack their own members, much as the stories of the teachers presented here.

I've watched the ETU and CFMEU threaten to walk an entire workforce out of an energy company because 2 apprentices were being paid differently - an annual figure of 5 cents per year.

Unions have done good things in the distant past, however their collective recent behavour is abominable. Time to go.
Posted by BN, Tuesday, 17 July 2007 12:55:36 PM
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