CPSU to restructure into oblivion?

December 5, 2001



The future direction of the Community and Public Sector Union is to be decided December 3-7 as branches vote on whether to accept restructuring plans proposed by the CPSU leadership.

The proposed changes — the concentration of power in the hands of the national secretary, the strengthening of the agency bargaining structure and the abolition of state and territory branches, to be replaced by regional councils — allow the ALP-aligned Progressive Caucus, which has controlled union for the last decade, to further consolidate its dominance.

The Progressive Caucus has presided over the loss of more than 100,000 jobs, widely varying salaries for public servants who carry out similar work and an erosion of many work conditions.

The federal government is preparing to complete its assault on unions and union members' incomes and working conditions. More than ever, public servants need to be organised in a democratic union that can respond to the threats ahead.

However, the proposed CPSU rule changes further concentrate power at the top of the union. They contradict attempts to rebuild workplace delegate structures and disenfranchise and disempower members and delegates through the straightjacket of agency bargaining.

With union officials desperately attempting to turn around the trend of members leaving the union, and in the absence of genuine industrial campaigns on major national issues, the straw being clutched at is the claim that agency bargaining leads to increased recruitment.

But bureaucratic top-down campaigns require lots of organiser resources and recruitment can only be temporary because of other industrial priorities. Only successful industrial campaigns that address the burning issues of the day, like defeating the recently announced cut of 2000 jobs from the tax office, can create lasting recruitment and grass roots renewal, the supposed aims of the restructuring.

A serious will to change political and industrial direction is needed to address the long decline in union membership and demobilisation of those that remain, not building that legacy into the rules.

A section structure based on agency bargaining is not the answer. The changes will sacrifice branches in a massive downgrading of local structures. The new regional bodies have little autonomy and have practically no authority to call local meetings of members that have decision-making powers.

CPSU members concerned at the growing irrelevance of, and lack of fight back, from their union need to urgently lobby their delegates to reject the proposed changes. Branch conference delegates should also vote no.

From Green Left Weekly, December 5, 2001.
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