People's Issues


United Workers Union: Workers Vote for Strength in Numbers

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Ned K.                                     7 October 2019
On 1 October 2019, the Fair Work Commission website posted its Decision to approve the amalgamation of two unions, United Voice and National Union of Workers.
An article in the Australian Financial Review on 30 August 2019 noted that 95% of the two unions' memberships voted in favor of the amalgamation to create the new United Workers Union which would represent 150,000 workers. The newspaper article reported that about 45,000 members took part in the non-compulsory voting ballot, an unusually high 30% participation rate for a ballot of this nature.
Given the general and varied attacks on workers’ rights across the whole working class, it is a good sign that so many workers see that there is strength in numbers. The Australian Financial Review also reported that the new union formed by the amalgamation will make a significant break from the past by doing away with "state branch divisions" and having "one single leadership team with different industry and campaigning teams". Both unions, United Voice and National Union of Workers have long histories of predominantly state-based decision-making branches with mixed results across states and within each union during their history.

For 95% of voting members to vote in favor of a union speaking with one national voice is perhaps a sign that workers see the need for combined action across the whole country as so many industries in which they work are now dominated not just by national corporate interests and/or federal rather than state government funding, but by multinational corporations which cross over whole industry and services supply chains.

Another reason for the higher than usual participation rate in the vote for the new union may be that the membership of both unions has never been a trades-based union. As the Australian Financial Review article explains, the two unions and the new United Workers Union cover "members who often work low-paid and insecure the sharp end of social and economic inequality in areas such as education, logisitics, cleaning, building services, health and aged care."

Consequently, they see that strength lies in numbers across many occupations that they find themselves in due to the insecure nature of their work, rather than relying on the strength of numbers in one occupation.

Whatever their reasoning, there are sure to be thousands of members of the new union with high expectations of the new leadership.

Will the new union stand up in "the guerilla fights between capital and labour", and will the new union leadership build a new unionism that, as Marx said, "learn to act deliberately as organising centres of the working class in the broadest interest of its complete emancipation...They must convince the world at large that their efforts, far from being narrow and selfish, aim at the emancipation of the downtrodden millions"? (Marx - August 1866 "Trade Unions -Their Past, Present and Future")

Time will tell.


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