When the boss is a union

Issue 

When the boss is a union

What about the workers' workers?
VHS cassette
Reviewed by Rose McCann

This excellent video captures the story of this year's industrial dispute between 34 clerical workers and the management of the NSW branches of the Building Workers Industrial Union and the Federated Engine Drivers and Firemen's Association. Filmed over four months, this updated version incorporates coverage of the support given to the clerks at the Sydney and Wollongong May Day marches, plus interviews with the two Clerks Union delegates who led the dispute.

The video coherently outlines the history of the dispute with "on-the-spot" coverage of key events. It is of general interest because it highlights a number of truths about the strengths and weaknesses of trade unionism and the left in Australia.

Made by two rank-and-file FEDFA members, the video shows the autocratic and hypocritical attitudes of highly paid trade union representatives, who in their role as employers deny less well-off workers union democracy and the right to organise. That many on the left chose to remain silent during the course of this dispute — or worse, to misrepresent what it was really about — did not go unnoted by the striking workers and their supporters.

Balancing these negative aspects, the video clearly shows the determination and solidarity that existed among the workers (33 of them women) in the face of the enormous provocation and strikebreaking efforts of the BWIU/FEDFA leadership. In this sense the video is quite inspiring, despite the partial defeat of the six-week strike. (Clerks Union delegate Judy Whitehead was reinstated after the return to work only to be sacked again almost immediately.)

The video is available for $25 (including post and packaging) from Spontaneous Productions, PO Box 498, Leichhardt NSW 2040; phone (02) 569 6283.