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19 responses to “Accord nostalgia, Labourism and the fact challenged ‘economic debate’”

  1. paul of albury

    Perhaps the contemporaneous forced amalgamations were at least as important in discouraging grassroots activism. it’s easy to imagine the primary reason for them was to avoid embarrassment to the government from smaller rogue unions, whether the BLF or the AOPA.

  2. monkeytypist

    I find it interesting, given the overwhelmingly negative view of the Accord era I’ve encountered amongst the union officials I’ve met, that people like Peter Brent assume that union leaders still hanker for it (and believe it’s a good example for why unions should be cauterised from the ALP). It seems like Brent is stuck in the 90’s here. He’s certainly not alone on this point among the professional political commentariat in Australia. I doubt many of them have a serious understanding of the organising model or even have had a conversation with a union leader about what it means (the Australian was terribly confused by the nature of the Your Rights at Work campaign, for instance).

    The organising model tends to de-emphasise institutional ties, so I do foresee that union affiliation to the ALP as it currently exists will probably disappear, but that’s not at all to agree with the proposition that it would be helpful for the ALP to have no kind of formal union ties (or mutatis mutandis the union movement). Both sides of the movement definitely need each other.

  3. Russell

    “They believe that union members, and potential recruits, want engagement in campaigns, and activism more broadly, rather than a union movement that pursues its policy goals through elite negotiation and public support for an ALP government”

    Wasn’t so in my branch of the public service, back in the Accord era. I was the union delegate, and the last thing people wanted was to have to DO anything. Experience eventually taught most people that any, ANY, form of ‘activism’ marked you out for permanent and unrelenting hostility from senior management. Eventually, you just had to leave, as I did, one more lesson to the rest.

  4. Paul Norton

    Mark @3, that wasn’t in the script for the amalgamations. According to the ACTU’s key strategic documents and the associated publications written by union researchers in the late 1980s, the amalgamations were supposed to enable greater workplace activism to match the new bargaining regime by creating genuine industry unions and in the process rationalising the upper echelons of bureaucracy, improving the research and policy capabilities of unions and freeing resources to support workplace activism.

    Of course that isn’t what happened. Pre-existing political interests, ideological conflicts, cultural affinities and bureaucratic empires managed to preserve themselves through the amalgamations process and in so doing subvert the original intent. In retrospect, perhaps if was naive of Bill Kelty et al to embark upon a project that required the cooperation of union secretaries when one of its intended effects was to abolish the jobs of 95% of said union secretaries.

  5. Salient Green

    The Unions failed when they allowed their political arm, the ALP, to embrace neoliberalism.
    They failed again when they allowed business to take the majority share of the profits gained from the accord.
    Unions failed even more miserably when they allowed neoliberal policies to go unregulated to such an extent that jobs began streaming overseas and have continued to ever since.
    While free trade fundamentalism dominates the thinking of the two major parties unions will never make any gains, either in the share of profit or taking back some control of the ALP.

  6. Charlie

    May or may not be relevant, but a journalist friend who covered the early Hawke era for serious print media often commented that they were VERY impressed by the coherency and COMPETENCE of the union/ACTU advocacy, whilst business (incl big business) literally palled by comparison. That was in the Kelty days. . (….’better days’ for those who have been to see Bruce). Things have changed.

    Recently the AWU’s Paul Howes (who wrote a book about Paul Howes) was featured on the TV saying to the current PM, “we’ve got your back”. It would seem that was/is the case.

    My recollection of the early Hawke era (if era is appropriate, rather than just government) was that there was a general and genuine want to drive towards consensus, to discuss and resolve issues by working together – even if being dragged together reluctantly. Maybe it was winning the Americas Cup.!!! We were together. People were prepared to sit around the table and resolve matters… and the silver bodgie must take some credit for that. The results speak for themselves.

    Contemporarily, the only example I can think of is Rudd’s CPRS which won both party support (was it McFarlane who was there negotiating for the conservatives – great effort for all concerned) and then the Greens scuttled (maybe Brown was playing a long game). That raised and resulted in the Abbot spectre. Enuf said.

  7. Salient Green

    charlie, surely you remember the Greens reasons for not supporting Rudd’s CPRS was that it was worse than useless and locked in failure.
    Now you may choose to judge them the same as the major parties who are liars but you would be wrong and a bit of logical deduction would support this. Why do you think the two major parties, who are supported by massive donations from big polluters, with one of the Greenhouse Mafia as a major negotiator, were able to come to a consensus?

    There was a genuine effort for repair of the union-employer relationship and it worked in so far as peace was restored in a combined effort to lift productivity and survive globalisation.
    Workers were able to have their good ideas implemented through consultation with management and self directed work groups but the trouble was employers took all the profits and ended up sacking the workforce and moving to China anyway!
    It seems to me that the union movement has lost control of it’s political arm, the ALP, in a similar way that farmers have lost control of the NFF.
    The NFF’s free trade mantra is harmful to the majority of farmers and even those who rely on export aren’t that happy with them.
    The ALP’s free trade fundamentalism is hurting most unions as manufacturers move overseas and their traditional base is eroded.

  8. Russell

    “It seems to me that the union movement has lost control of it’s political arm, the ALP, in a similar way that farmers have lost control of the NFF.”

    Yes, the old ‘why do people vote against their own best interests’ question. Given its role in pre-selections you would think the ALP must represent the unions. Those union leaders do seem to be paid an awful lot of money though, perhaps they come to adopt the views of people of similar means!

    I never did understand how someone like Rick Farley was leading the NFF. Rick Farley and Mick Dodson were surely the best two prime ministers we never had.

  9. David Irving (no relation)

    Salient Green, a couple of Labor people I know abused the Greens (and Bob Brown in particularly) for failing to support Rudd’s CPRS. Unfortunately, they only got angrier when I reminded them that:
    a. Rudd had totally failed to talk to Bob about it (or anything else) for months; and
    b. Rudd was much more interested in wedging the Opposition that actually getting a workable scheme in place.

    The ALP really needs to rename itself ‘Revisionism R Us’.

  10. Terry

    I wonder if a call for “a return to the Hawke-Keating years” may mean something slightly different. One view might be that political longevity for Labor governments is best achieved by “capturing the centre”, which was also the Wran/Carr/Bracks/Beattie model at a state level, as well as that of Hawke and (to a lesser extent) Keating federally.

    This contrasts to the current strategy, which appears to be “securing the base” of union members, welfare recipients and particular ethnic communities. It would be argued that this is, at best, a defensive strategy aimed to minimise losses in hitherto safe seats and the Senate. It is easy to forget that, as late as 2007, Labor won Bennelong, and fancied itself as an outside chance for North Sydney and Wentworth.

    The other issue here is the relationship political Labor has to particular unions. If (unnamed) sources are to be believed, what turned Crean to the Rudd camp was not so much a change of heart about Rudd, but how alarmed he was at the sight of Gillard and Swan at the AWU annual conference, holding hands with Paul Howes and Bill Ludwig, in lusty renditions of “Solidarity Forever” at Jupiters Casino.

    It is interesting that it is the ex-ACTU heads who are raising the issue about being too beholden to particular unions. They presumably know where some of the bodies are buried in the current labor movement. They may also have a sense that this does not lead to good policy once in government. Perhaps their message is as much to whoever takes over the ALP leadership after September 2013 as it is to the current leadership team, who are clearly not interested in changing course.

    I note that Bill Kelty is saying something very similar to Crean and Ferguson.

  11. Brian

    DInr @ 11:

    Rudd was much more interested in wedging the Opposition than actually getting a workable scheme in place.

    It’s off-topic on this thread but FWIW this is how I see it.

    Late in 2009 two things happened. First, Turnbull was wasted and replaced by Abbott, essentially because Turnbull was out of line with the LNP AGW deniers. So the bipartisan deal hammered out between MacFarlane and Wong collapsed.

    Second Rudd worked his arse off as one of the special friends of the chair at Copenhagen. He was actually aligned with the US position. He failed, and thereafter acted a bit strange in lot of ways.

    No-one could engage him about the double dissolution option and I have not heard his rationale on that. He wasn’t interested in doing a deal with the Greens – again I don’t know why but probably because they would insist on concessions the ALP found unacceptable. The CPRS was not all that brilliant as a scheme. Rudd would have had to visibly cave in to the Greens. A lot to ask politically.

    Gillard wanted to try to achieve bipartisanship with the LNP, Rudd wanted to wait until the international ducks lined up better. Gillard was naive, Rudd was certainly going to blame the LNP in the meantime, but I don’t think wedging them was the primary purpose. Climate change was just too hard in practical political terms.

    Gillard subsequently did the necessary deals, and look how well that went down!

  12. Paul Norton

    Terry @12, your comment points to the authority of the ACTU and its collective leadership during the Hawke-Keating period vis-a-vis the afffiliated unions and its role as something of a gatekeeper for access by individual unions to the Labor government. That is an interesting point of contrast with the current government.

    Gillard and Swan both have long-standing associations with the AWU (notwithstandng her nominal membership of the Left), but it’s a bad look for them to be locking arms with Howes and Ludwig so openly. The point about Marn and Crean knowing where bodies are buried may be apposite here.

  13. David Irving (no relation)

    Perhaps I’m being a bit hard on Rudd, Brian, but it’s certainly what it looked like from outside.

  14. Salient Green

    David, the bigger the ego the harder they take a bit of worldview reality checking. If they’d read some of your comments on LP they may have been a bit more careful around you.
    Russell, thanks for the reference to Rick Farley. Never heard of him before but a quick search reveals someone well worth finding more about and have found a radio national broadcast to listen to later.

  15. paul walter

    Yes, I’d subscribe to Brian’s thesis, why wasn’t Rudd awake when the double dissolution option was pleading to be taken.
    Wise comment from Paul Norton in fleshing out the original thread starter… in fact not a dud comment in the entire intimate but relevant thread.

  16. Terry

    The warm embrace of the AWU has an interesting history in ALp leadership battles. Graham Richardson’s Whatever It Takes (pp. 315-317) recounts how, in the first Hawke/Keating leadership ballot in 1991, Bill Ludwig found his way to Richo’s parliamentary office one night, and helped himself to the Scotch that was there, while spending three hours tying up Richo with his various opinions on Paul Keating, as well as threats to any Queensland MP who dared to vote for him. Importantly, while Ludwig was in Richo’s office, Bob Hawke announced a leadership ballot to be held the next day, and the Keating camp was denied time to ring around for support.

    If the AWU could outsmart Richo and Keating on Caucus numbers, its not surprising that Rudd has presented few difficulties so far. At the same time, it may highlight the problems for a parliamentary leadership that the AWU as “got the back” of, which may be want Crean, ferguson and Kelty are alluding to.

  17. Paul Norton

    Terry, Whatever It Takes is one of my favourite books about politics.

    On the pages you cite, Richo also suggests that Robert Ray might have been behind Ludwig’s visit that night, and that it was a brilliant ploy because Ludwig was one of a very small number of people that Richo couldn’t simply tell to go forth and multiply and stop wasting his time.