EDITORIAL

A working-class recipe for ensuring union integrity

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Almost every week, there is a new scandal about bosses behaving badly. The term “wage theft” has entered everyday language — from hip small business cafés to corporate giants like Woolworths, employers have been caught out paying workers less than their lawful entitlement. But the agenda of the Morrison government to address workplace problems is to attack unions! 

The new government’s first order of business was to reintroduce the Ensuring Integrity Bill, which the Coalition failed in getting passed in 2017. The goal of this legislation is to bust unions by providing the State with an unfettered licence to interfere in union affairs. The State would be empowered to ban or jail officials, block union mergers democratically decide by members, impose administrators and deregister unions. This bill — a blatant breach of international laws guaranteeing the right to association, which Australia is a signatory to — sailed through the Lower House on 31 July. In the face of this threat, the union movement’s “fightback” is almost exclusively focused on requesting members to politely lobby cross-bench Senators! As we go to press, a vote on the bill by the Senate has been postponed. 

Yes, there are instances where individuals elected as union leaders or employed by unions behave unethically, dishonestly or exhibit personal behaviours that are not in the interests of working people. When this happens, the enemies of the trade union movement will posture as the guardians of workers’ interests. They are no such thing!

What’s needed to guarantee the integrity of the union movement is to institute genuine collective trade union democracy. Hold regular union meetings. All critical decisions should be made at mass membership meetings. Make trade union officials directly accountable to the members they serve. There must be mechanisms which members can use to recall trade union officials if a significant section of the membership has lost confidence in them. 

Returning trade unions to rank-and-file members — a necessary precursor to restoring their status as fighting organisations that defend the interests of workers — is the road to ensuring integrity. But this is what the Morrison government fears. Their plan is for unions to be led by timid officials who will suppress struggles, control members and ruthlessly enforce the Fair Work Act. Unionists: we must fight for democracy and take back our unions. To time to do this is NOW! 

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