Home Editor The unions are pretending to protect workers while acting against their interests

The unions are pretending to protect workers while acting against their interests

In an unequal fight, you can rely on Australians to sympathise with the underdog. There’s something very appealing in this default preference for the righting wrongs and supporting the weaker party. You could say, we’re generous to a fault.

The problem is, the fault is a grave one, which leaves us open to manipulation. Powerful interests exploit it by hiding behind the weak to prosecute their agenda.

There is no better example of this phenomenon than Australia’s modern trade unions.

Trade unions played an important role during the industrial revolution, giving workers a voice in negotiating wages and conditions. Union membership grew over the course of the 20th century – peaking, in Australia, in the mid-1960s. But they were made obsolete in the best possible way: by succeeding. Government accepted the need the need to protect workers and took on primary responsibility for balancing the needs of work-makers and work-takers.

the unions are at odds with the interests of the workers they claim to represent

With the machinery of power in place, but suddenly bereft of their original purpose, the unions embarked on a destructive spiral which has put them at odds with the interests of the workers they claim to represent.

A professional class of unionists has sprung up. These unionists rarely have experience working in the industries they are attached to, let alone creating value as business owners. Unsurprisingly then, while they are very good at the rhetoric of organised labour, they are blind to how their actions actually impact workers. Perhaps it is unkind to suggest it, but it can look to the untrained eye as though they also don’t care: after all, they will never lose their livelihood if they throttle a small business, or go hungry if they stand in the way of employment.

This kind of unionist sees the skilled worker who would like a higher hourly wage, but not the unskilled worker trying to get a toehold in the employment market from which to develop her skills.

They see the work that an intern performs, but not the time the business invests in training him.

And they certainly don’t see the business which would like to hire a good casual on a permanent basis but is daunted by the compliance cost each additional employee represents.

people have every right to be angry that their retirement savings are being used to shore up the power of the unions

And yet the unions continue to pretend they are protecting the weak, while making deals which disadvantage both workers and jobseekers. Union membership is now down below 10 per cent of the total workforce, so it seems most people have cottoned on to the con. Workers need to know how they are being used by the unions – and they have every right to be angry that their retirement savings are being used to shore up the power of the institutions they refuse to join, funding campaigns that run counter to their interests.

Even if you leave aside for a moment the horrendous misuse of member money that was showcased by the Health Services Union, this attack on the vulnerable in their own name is an affront.

It’s time to return the power to the people who work in and create real jobs. Let’s start by making the unionists get real jobs themselves.

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