DON’T TARNISH ALL UNIONS WITH THE CORRUPTION BRUSH


Below is an article that featured on The Courier Mail website this morning by Paul Syvret dicussing unions, associations, governments and corruption. What do you think? Should all unions be smeared for the action of a few? Read the article below and jump onto our Facebook page to have your say.

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The actions of a few members shouldn’t be used to smear the wider union movement.

 

Bill Glasson seems like a decent bloke.

Certainly, with his background in the union movement, the Liberal National Party candidate for Kevin Rudd’s former seat of Griffith has the pedigree to represent the hard-working members of this inner-Brisbane electorate.

Glasson wasn’t just any old unionist. He ended up running one of Australia’s most militant and powerful proponents of closed-shop arrangements and sky-high wages.

We refer here of course to his time as national president of the doctors’ union, otherwise known as the Australian Medical Association.

As the Right in Australia cranks up a campaign to demonise unions, their members and the principles of collective bargaining and a fair go, it is worth remembering that almost all spheres of endeavour in Australia have guilds, unions or associations – call them what you like – agitating and lobbying to further the collective interests of their members.

While the employee groupings representing often blue-collar workers may often be the most visible (and certainly the most vilified) they are just a part of the union equation in Australia.

We have powerful and well-funded unions for mining and energy companies (the Minerals Council, Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, the Queensland Resources Council).

We have farmers unions (National Farmers’ Federation and a plethora of smaller bodies representing industry subgroups).

There are unions for the legal profession in the form of law societies and bar associations, and big business flexes its not inconsiderable muscle through the auspices of the Business Council of Australia.

The list is long.

All such groupings of common interest stretching from my union (the not-exactly militant Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance) through to those representing the interests of industry groups share a paid membership base represented by an executive body that we expect to go out and campaign on our behalf.

Apparently, though, some unions are less equal than others, especially when they represent the interests of labour rather than capital or the professional classes.

The talk now, of course, is all about thuggery, corruption and standover tactics in sections of the building industry, specifically revolving around elements of the BLF and CFMEU.

A few points here. Firstly such behaviour is indefensible and the unions condemn it and organisers have been dismissed as a result.

Secondly, police and anti-corruption bodies such as the Crime and Misconduct Commission are already well-equipped to deal with allegations of wrongdoing and some former union organisers have been jailed.

The problem is that those who have an ideological bent against trade unions conflate such examples of malfeasance and criminality to smear the wider movement, conveniently forgetting that when it comes to allegations of corruption it takes two parties (not just a union official) to exchange the proverbial brown paper bag.

The aim, of course, is to tar all unions with the colour of scandal – be it the allegations surrounding Craig Thomson or links between criminal motorcycle gangs and elements of the construction industry – to the point where “unionist” (and I am proud to call myself one) becomes almost a pejorative term.

Mind you, in the current climate of crackdown and legislative overreach, guilt by association seems to be the new black, no matter how illogical or unfair.

In this context, the actions of a rogue few do not mean that your average unionist is a thug or bomb-throwing Bolshevik, in the same way that the sins of a few in the Catholic church do not equate to every parish priest being a sex offender.

The same could even be said of the organisation I work for – just because some rotten eggs in London allegedly bribed public officials and tapped telephones doesn’t mean that is the standard modus operandi across the company.

There are scoundrels and miscreants to be found in all walks of life and it is disingenuous to portray extreme examples as representative of the majority.

Scott Driscoll, for example, does not typify the Liberal National Party any more than Christopher Skase is an archetype for the way corporate Australia approaches business ethics.

And for those who love to demonise and dismiss the relevance of the labour movement, remember it is thanks to trade unions that you enjoy paid annual leave, the right to a safe workplace, sick leave, accident cover, penalty rates and a host of other benefits that many just idly take for granted.

Those rights were not handed to us on a platter by grateful bosses. They were hard fought and won over many decades of struggle. Without unions, their erosion can come almost overnight.

 

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