Former ACTU assistant secretary Tim Lyons delivers a sorrowful indictment on the state of unions today in his essay, “The Labour Movement: My Part in Its Downfall”, published in Meanjin.
The focus on political campaigning has “effectively excluded core industrial and organising issues”, Lyons asserts.
“The most effective way to influence politics and win sustainable gains for workers is to build a social movement that is permanent and independent of the electoral calendar.”
He says, “There is no future for trade unionism if people experience it as internet memes and random issue phone calling and door-knocking about how every election is very likely the end of the world. At best, this is palliative care for the union movement: It might make you more comfortable for the end or a miracle but it’s no cure for the underlying disease. It’s not about rebuilding the power of working people”.
“Each time there is an electoral fight of the sort we saw this year or in 2007, the union movement emerges weaker and more vulnerable, whether Labor wins or loses,” Lyons adds.
“Industrial relations must be about workers doing better, about rising incomes and better jobs. And the labour movement somehow managed to have very little to say about this. Which left us opposing cuts, loving Medicare and being committed to funding someone called Gonski.”
While our staffing agreement delivered important gains, ongoing job losses in TAFE, prisons, increased workload, non-teaching councillors and the 2.5 per cent wage cap illustrates our failure to deliver.
Active unionism around wages, conditions and cuts must take priority over political campaigning if we are to rebuild our power and influence. This will produce the permanent social movement that delivers our full Gonski.
Taverners Hill Infants