Green Left Weekly asked unionists why they are in a union and what unions mean to them.
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John Gauci, NSW Teachers’ Federation
Unions are the most effective way to protect and extend our wages and working conditions. It is through our collective action that we have achieved the conditions we enjoy today.
While the Change the Rules campaign is an important development, it is essential that all industrial legislation that prohibits industrial action be repealed. This must be the central focus of the campaign. As we have seen in this recent period, workers cannot effectively defend or extend their wages and working conditions with the threat of punitive fines and criminalisation hanging over their heads. All anti-strike laws must go.
Robin Mayo, Finance Sector Union
Unions are our only defence, as workers, against the powerful companies that employ us. I saw the power of unions a few years ago when we stopped around 100 jobs from being outsourced overseas. As ordinary workers, we don't have a seat in the boardroom, but through the union, we have a voice. Unions stand up for workers' rights, a safe working environment, and the right to secure employment. Unions also fight for equality and social justice.
Going forward, we need to see more resistance and action by unions, not just to win better enterprise agreements, but also to fight back against all the unjust laws and fines imposed on unions. Unions also need to set the agenda around the future of work, which puts the interest of workers ahead of company profits. We can't do much on our own, but united with other workers we can make a difference.
Mary Merkenich, Australian Education Union
Unions for me represent the best in working people — joining together to fight for what is just and right, defending co-workers, campaigning for a better community and a better future, standing up against injustice despite intimidation or loss of pay.
However, mostly we don't recognise our own strength. When we come together, in rallies, meetings or pickets, our potential for achieving positive change is inspiring and stunning. Unions are only as good as we, the rank and file members, make them. We need to take control of our unions so we can use our combined power to win a better world.
Tim Gooden, Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union
The other morning a couple of workers showed up to a job I was on in Geelong. They had been sent there from their normal place of employment 150 kilometres away. They had to start at 4am to pick up the truck and start in Geelong before 7am. Then, after working all day till 5pm, drive home again. All up it was a 14-hour day, but they are only paid the award rate for eight hours. They are expected to work the extra hours for free like volunteers — slaves would be a better description.
It should be against the law, I hear you say. It is, but with no one to enforce the law, bosses are getting away with wage theft every day. This is why we need strong unions.
Workers cannot rely on bosses and their governments for a just outcome — we must fight for it and maintain it through the collective power of unions. I'm prepared to lose wages and campaign to break the rules so workers are not treated as slaves.
Chris Jenkins, Australian Nursing Federation
Unions are how we don't feel powerless in our work spaces. They are how we start to realise our collective potential when we think and act like a cohesive majority. As a recently elected workplace representative for the ANF, I look forward to the task of promoting a culture of solidarity and action to ensure workers’ rights and patient safety in our public hospitals.