Saturday, June 08, 2013

Unions #101

I am a member of a union of workers. I am proud to be member. Unions are very important, more than ever now. Strongly unionised workers generally have better pay and better working conditions than than non unionised workers.

Many workers say, what it the point? What can a union do for me? This sort of comment comes from someone in a non union work place.

Of course if you a white collar worker for a private company, you may be doing ok. It rather depends.......

I don't understand why low paid workers don't feel like they should be in a union. Governments (expenditure) and private companies (profit) want to keep labour costs as low as possible. Fair enough.

Workers want more pay and better and safer working conditions.

The twain shan't meet. As an individual, it is hard to stand up to bosses and argue your case. But if you have clever people, elected union officials, to do you bidding, then you will be in a much better position.

We have moved on from extremely dangerous workplaces to just dangerous workplaces. Far too  many people are killed and badly injured at their workplace and many suffer mental distress from work pressure and work place where customer contact is often fraught or relations with fellow workers are bad.

None of the above are good, but they would be a whole lot worse if it wasn't for unions keeping pressure on employers over safety.

Unions even have their own political party in Australia, known as the Labor Party, and it is presently in power, but not doing much for the workers of Australia. But to be fair, it has done a lot in the area of social justice, far more than our previous conservative government ever did.

Clearly even business can see how unions can work, as they set up their own, but with fancier names, such peak bodies, associations and other such words that essentially replace the word union.

Even dairy farmers had a type of a union, a co-operative which was owned by them and collectively bargained with those who would buy their milk products. They rid themselves of co-ops to go it alone with their negotiations by selling directly to private milk processing companies. Look how that turned out.

Wheat farmers? Shut down the Wheat Board and the same bad results for the growers.

Individuals have little power. Collections of individuals have a lot more power. Note the success of organisations such as Get Up and I was very surprised to learn recently that Change.org online petitions can be very successful, so don't think it is just a waste of time signing one.

15 comments:

  1. I was a member of the Public Sector union for my 'industry' for the 37 years I worked full time until my retirement and benefited form the pay and conditions they bargained on our behalf. However as I rose into and through the management levels of the industry the union had less impact and interest in the conditions of those at my level.

    In my final years I had a very satisfactory salary but for that was on call (and often called upon) 24 hours a day 7 days a week with not a cent of overtime or time in lieu a condition of the employment at the management levels.

    In my last two years I negotiated an individual flexitime agreement with a clearly reluctant executive and although I was officially working to those hours under that agreement the reality was that I rarely was able to take the time off that was its key condition.

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    1. Victor, I suppose that is very much how it works in the private sector too. I think even when up the ladder a bit, pay is still controlled by what the lower on the ladder unionised work force earn. That is, the gap must be maintained. Why do people in Australia work such long hours?

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  2. Succinctly put Victor.. For the last ten years before P retired, he worked many more hours than he was actually paid for and even then 45% tax was removed. I think unions are bit like governments BEFORE they get elected..idealistic! Then something happens, whether it's a power infusion or something, who knows :)

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    1. Grace I agree with what you say about unions and politicians. Something goes wrong soon after they are elected. Btw, tomorrow's post will have a link to one of yours.

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  3. A step further from Victor's comment - a union official actually told the management team in my organisation that they were not required to represent the management level for anything, and would not action management level complaints. Unsurprisingly, the management team defected en masse - at which time the union officials told the staff that management didn't support the union.

    Yes, that is anecdotal evidence. Despite it, I believe in the union principle. But there are unions, and unions.

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    1. Very interesting Red. If they are paid up members, they should be represented. But there is a clash once people start to rise in the workplace ranks. At which point do they divide between workers and management? Clearly they did the right thing by leaving the union. It is all quite political.

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  4. I believe unions do good things, even though our union led us in several strikes and then the company folded and moved offshore, where they could get cheaper labor that didn't go on strike.

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    1. River, you did not say because of union strikes the company folded. It was going to happen regardless of strikes. Your workplace was interesting because it was quite old style and I think the company treated its workers quite well?

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    2. You're right, the company was going to fold anyway, we all knew that even when management was saying no no it's not happening, right up until they could no longer deny it. We were well treated with fair sized redundancy packages according to how long we'd been there, I remember a workmate, older than me, I think close to 60 at the time, who had been there since leaving school at 14, she also got paid out all her unused sick leave and several lots of long service leave since she had never bothered to take any holidays.
      I still think that if the company had stayed, I'd still be there.

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  5. Glad to read you're a member of a union, Andrew. Imagine what working conditions would be like if it wasn't for unions. For years, conservative governments have tried to take powers from unions, so far unsuccessfully. Newman up here is trying at the moment.

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    1. Bill, it is rather sad that so few people are members of unions now. They are so important in stopping the exploitation of workers.

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  6. I'm in a union, not sure they have done much for the money they pilfer from me each pay.

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    1. Fen, I am sure things happen about your pay and various other matters that may not be well communicated.

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  7. I cannot imagine NOT being unionised, as much for its symbolic importance as for its actual benefits.

    Imagine how Australia's working classes would have been exploited, had we not had an early and strong tradition of unionisation. We were the first nation on earth with an 8 hour day for good reason.

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    1. They certainly would have been much worse off Hels. Even so, there are horror stories of union members against the bosses. In fact we don't have to go back far to remember Peter Reith.

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