Internal democracy threatened in CPSU

Issue 

By Frank Gollan

SYDNEY — A restructure of one of Australia's largest unions threatens to gut democratic functioning and centralise control over the finances and staffing.

Voting on the proposed restructure of the PSU Group within the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) closes at the end of July. The union has thrown multi-million dollar resources into the restructure, which is occurring without open debate.

A leaflet from the activist group CPSU National Challenge has highlighted the undemocratic character of some of the proposed changes. These include:

  • The loss of members' right to vote for the whole of the national management body, with state branch representatives no longer able to attend its meetings.

  • The centralisation of budgeting and the distribution of resources to branches based on a yet to be determined formula.

  • The elimination of existing membership forums such as the annual state branch membership meetings and membership plebiscites and the introduction of a two-yearly national conference without any powers.

  • Removal of the requirement for state branches to have executives. This could leave full-time branch officials virtually free from review.

  • The astonishing proposal that the national executive can decide whether some elected officials are to be full time or not after the election results are in!

The new structure changes the union from top to bottom. Workplace delegates will no longer be officers of the union. Delegate committees will include proxies which will allow a delegate to represent a workplace he or she may not be from.

A major change involves the creation of union sections, vertical structures modelled on government departments. National industrial organisers keen to build their empires within the union are putting their bids in for the secretary's position in these sections. The proposed restructure encourages this, stating that aspiring section secretaries need not be a member of that section.

Where a department has fewer than 3000 union members, it will be put into a miscellaneous group and called a section. Many union members do not expect this new system to function, following the failure of the union's last major restructure, the 1994 amalgamation between the former Public Service Union (PSU) and the State Public Service Federation.

The reason given for the restructure is that two years ago members indicated a preference for affairs to be dealt with within their own department. However, the full results of that survey have never been released.

The National Challenge leaflet comments: "Are members primarily interested in agency-specific issues, or are they equally interested in across-the-board issues such as job security, wages and conditions of employment, federal budget cuts, the Public Service Act review, and the protection of the merit principle? ... In current wage negotiations the CPSU has drawn back from an agency approach to pay. Now this is proposed for the union's own structure."

When CPSU members voted for the 1994 amalgamation, they were promised a complete restructure of the whole union by mid-1996. The current partial restructure of one half of the union appears to be a response to the 1993 branch election results.

In the 1993 elections, teams endorsed by the national officials' Progressive Caucus were challenged by alternative teams in Queensland, Western Australia, the ACT and Tasmania. The Progressive Caucus lost all these elections except Tasmania, where they scraped in.

The restructure would destroy the long-term viability of state branches, which will lose their main powers, including the power to admit members, to define workplaces and to control the collection and distribution of funds.

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