Category Archives: election

A mutual agenda

Well, this post is probably a bit late given the stunning victory by Labor in the Federal election. But maybe it’s good to have time to mull over things. I feel nervous dipping my toe into the political quagmire surrounding unions: but here goes nothing!

On the way home from work, I drove past a billboard which for the last month or so has a poster which said “70% of Labor’s front bench are anti-business unionists.” Or some such slogan. That got me thinking. Are unions necessarily anti-business? And are businesses necessarily anti-union? Certainly, in practice, sometimes the two seem to go head-to-head in a stubborn fashion which leaves both sides looking pig-headed and short-sighted, but I think there are ways in which they can work together.

I have never been able to understand why workplaces would want to treat their employees badly. Many of my posts regarding law firms marvel at the way in which firms treat their staff. It seems quite amazingly short-sighted for firms to put money into training staff and then treat them so badly that they have left 18 months later. On the other hand, I have never been able to understand why unions would demand so many concessions from a workplace that it becomes unprofitable or inefficient. That seems like biting the hand that feeds you, from my point of view.

So it seems to me that many of the interests of unions and businesses should overlap. Both should want the particular business to be profitable and competitive. If the business fails because the company can’t afford to pay the high wages demanded of it, or can’t dismiss incompetent staff, the union members no longer have any jobs, so it is in their interests to ensure that the business stays alive and well.

On the other hand, both sides should want the workers to be happy and secure, and feel like they have a say in how the business is run. If workers are unhappy and feel like they do not have a voice, they will be unproductive, resentful, and may leave the workplace. In the short term there may be other poor sods who will replace them, but in the long term, this is a massive drain on the intellectual and monetary resources of the business. And if employees feel like they are not remunerated appropriately (while directors and shareholders line their pockets) – well, it’s times like these that I feel Marxism has a point…never forget that there would be no profit and no business without the labour of the worker. It just doesn’t make sense to treat your staff badly or underpay them.

Therefore, a scare campaign about unions did not resonate with me at all, because if they both work properly, unions and businesses are not incompatible…as long as they remember the big picture and do not enter into oppositional game playing. And I hate the politics of fear, as I’ve said before: decisions made out of fear are not good ones.

I think the Howard government failed to understand the job insecurity which faces many ordinary Australians, myself among them. I still don’t know whether I’ll have a job next year. As a consequence, funnily enough, I joined the NTEU about two months ago. It feels better to have collective might behind you. And as a member of the union, I can agitate for collective bargaining for sessional lecturers. I know unions aren’t perfect, but otherwise I’m one little lone lecturer with very little pull or bargaining power. It feels like me versus the Giant Machine. I have a vision of a little manga me facing a giant mechanical robot, like those ones Astro Boy was always battling. Wish me luck! Like Astro, I think I’ll be okay in the end…

Astro boy

(Taken from anime.com)

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