Democracy and trade unions

Issue 

Democracy and trade unions

Around the country, trade union rights are under attack. The APPM dispute in Burnie and the Greiner government's union-bashing in NSW are only the more prominent examples of a widespread offensive against the democratic rights and living standards of all working people.

Trade unions are not always popular, even among people who hold generally progressive views. At times, unions don't help their own cause, particularly when they take a narrow view of their members' interests and neglect the need to explain their activities and policies patiently and clearly to the public, or when they are too timid to explain their views honestly and fully.

As well, the unions' close attachment to Labor governments over the past decade has had disastrous consequences. Too often they have bargained away their members' rights, working conditions and living standards for illusory gains. Now they emerge from a decade of retreat in a weakened condition for a round of vital struggles against corporate machines that are never satisfied, no matter what sacrifices workers might make. Moreover, their association with government has linked them, in the minds of many, to the economic collapse that followed the speculative boom of the '80s.

But the fact is, democracy in this country is also weakened every time the union movement is weakened. Every victory for governments and big companies against the union movement is also a victory against the environmental movement, the women's movement, the peace movement, the Aboriginal movement and all of the other struggles for a sustainable and just society, because the unions are the biggest, strongest organisations independent of government and corporate power. That's why it was such a disaster that most of the union movement became little more than an arm of government in the '80s. This must never happen again.

Now, it is vitally important that the union movement win the round of defensive struggles that is opening up, not only for the jobs, living standards and working conditions for the mill workers at Burnie or the building workers of NSW, but for the democratic rights of us all.

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