trade unions

Have unions had their day?

Could it be that unions are going the way of the dinosaurs:

Since the emergence of capitalism, workers seeking higher pay and safer workplaces have banded together in guilds and unions to pressure their employers for a better deal. That has been the approach of the American labor movement for the past 200 years.

That approach, however, has begun to change. It’s not because unions think collective bargaining is a bad idea but because workers can’t form unions any more — not in the private sector, not at this time. There are some exceptions: Organizing continues at airlines, for instance, which are governed by different organizing rules than most industries. But employer opposition to organizing has become pervasive in the larger economy, and the penalties for employers that violate workers’ rights as they attempt to unionize are so meager that such violations have become routine. For this and a multitude of other reasons, the share of unionized workers in the private sector dropped from roughly one-third in the mid-20th century to a scant 6.6 percent last year. In consequence, the share of the nation’s economy constituted by wages has sunk to its lowest level since World War II, and U.S. median household income continues to decline.  Read more »

Getting Unions to think outside their box

There was an interesting article on Aussie unions and the need for a new model to make unions relevant at work in the Australian Financial Review.

I believe there are almost identical circumstances in NZ.

So how can unions reform in a world made up of Generation X and Y workers and independent contractors?

This debate is not new for the Australian union movement, it’s been deliberating how it should address the continuing decline in membership for quite a while now. Essentially, this debate has centred on a service model and an organising model.

The service one focuses on serving members’ interests as a means to encourage potential members. It is a form of protection against unruly bosses while also providing support and information on workplace issues.

The second and widely adopted approach is the organising model. This one was promoted in the 1990s by the ACTU as a means to rebuild union membership as collective bargaining was decentralised to enterprise level. It is underpinned by class-struggle beliefs: members are recruited on the basis that their combined strength will counter the power of the capitalist employer.

This approach not only focuses on recruitment but on organising and training members as activists and on building unionism at the workplace. Critics point out this focus on activism has the potential to raise adversarial behaviour and industrial disputes

But this organising model has failed to increase union membership and the service model doesn’t go far enough to address changes in the workplace. In addition, recent union scandals and industrial disputes in the past 12 months that have resulted in the highest number of working days lost since 2004 suggest a new model is needed.

Dinosaurs are extinct and unions are the modern industrial equivalent of dinosaurs. Businesses have adapted to changing economic climate, but unions ahve failed to do so.

What’s at stake for the union movement? While it may claim that in membership terms, it is one of the biggest social movements in the country, with only 14 per cent membership in the private sector, it would seem a new model is required to make unions relevant at work.

The “Your rights at work” campaign may have helped topple the Howard government but it must be remembered that campaign was about individual rights, not collective rights or the union movement. In fact it could be argued it entrenched a mindset of individualism instead of winning the hearts and minds of the true believers

There is no doubt that unions have played and can play an important role. But that can only happen when they forge a value proposition that satisfies members and provides value rather than adopting the single-minded and narrow approach dictated by the organising model.

As the holiday season approaches, perhaps it’s time for the union movement to reflect on what will work in the modern Australian workplace.

How about the unions come clean on their finances


The unions are carping about the Rich List. This sort of nonsense is predictable, in fact I think they just recycle last years press releases.

However as readers have seen I have constantly outlined the deplorable way that Unions conduct their own finances.

The EPMU has serious accounting flaws and it appears systemic losses of members cash. The Meatworkers Union simply ignores common accounting practice and fails to declare all their subsidiaries, apparently with out sanction, hiding millions in revenue from subs.

If the unions want to moan about corporate “tax cheats” then they need to get their own house in order.

Why don’t Unions file their accounts on time?

An Observation from the Owl

Why don’t Unions file their accounts on time and on their websites?

As readers of my observations know that I got interested in Unions over the Ports of Auckland debacle.

I have always taken the view “if I was a member
” what questions would I be asking of my Union.

It did not take me long using the internet to find that Unions who were claiming poor management etc where not following their own rules nor the law of the land when filing returns. No tips, no rummaging around rubbish bins for dirt or anything – all black and white in the public domain.

So my question I keep coming back too is this: Why don’t Unions file their accounts on time and on their websites?

See here is the kicker – most Union websites state that members can get a copy of their Union financial accounts on request. Helen Kelly proudly said that the Unions are using social media to get their message across now. I agree with her – social media is powerful so
instead of making it so hard for members to get their statement of financial returns from HQ
why not just post them on their websites.

I mean – they are publicly available on the MED website (if you know how to search for them) – so let’s improve the experience for your members, post them on your website (and oh – on time too!)

The Owl draws no other conclusion other than to apply “common sense”

Americans don’t like unions

ᔄ Slate

Has anyone done a similar poll here? It might cause Helen Kelly and Matt McCarten a few sleepless nights.

And as much as it hurts to admit this, labor unions just aren’t very popular. In Gallup’s annual poll on confidence in institutions, unions score close to the bottom of the list, barely above big business and HMOs but behind banks. More Americans—42%—would like to see unions have less influence, and just 25% would like to see them have more. Despite a massive financial crisis and a dismal job market, approval of unions is close to an all-time low in the 75 years Gallup has been asking the question. A major reason for this is that twice as many people (68%) think that unions help mostly their members as think they help the broader population (34%). Amazingly, in Wisconsin, while only about 30% of union members voted for Walker, nearly half of those living in union households but not themselves union members voted for him (Union voters ≠ union households). In other words, apparently union members aren’t even able to convince their spouses that the things are worth all that much.

Who is Helen Kelly?

Helen Kelly has been involved in the last three major strikes in New Zealand, in her capacity as head union goon. Being as subtle as a sledge hammer she has got all three wrong, which has made me wonder why on earth Labour think she is going to be MP for Rongotai and any good as a politician.

Some background details about Kelly from the CTU web site:

Helen Kelly has been President of the CTU since 2007. She is the CTU’s chief spokesperson on a wide range of issues including economic development, employment law, climate change, social partnership and ACC.  A vigorous advocate for women’s pay and employment equity she also co-chairs the Workplace Health and Safety Council. Helen is responsible for CTU international work through the International Trade Union Congress and the International Labour Organisation.

Helen holds an LLB from Victoria University and is also a qualified teacher. It was in the teaching unions that her long professional involvement with the union movement began, holding senior office with both the New Zealand Institute of Education and the Association of University Staff. She served the AUS as General Secretary for five years until her election as CTU President.

Helen leads the CTU’s campaigning on pay and employment equity and she co-chairs the Workplace Health and Safety Council. She is also responsible for CTU international work through the International Trade Union Congress and the International Labour Organisation.

So a lawyer and a teacher. Ph Dear lord. Maybe she should sell real estate for a bit to gain a bit of credibility in the community.

Wikipedia is surprisingly ignorant of Helen Kelly as someone keeps deleting her page.

A strange move considering union propaganda merchant and Kings Old Boy Simon Oosterman has a heap of information on his wiki page.

Many interesting stories have come in through the tipline about Helen Kelly. Apparently she is well known for believing good faith only counts for employers and she can do anything she likes as unions aren’t bound by the same rules as the rest of us.

Public Sector Unions vs Private Sector Unions

ᔄ Big Think

Will Wilkinson discusses the differences between private sector unions (good) and public sector unions (bad) in the wake of the Wisconsin recall elections:

I’ve argued elsewhere that public- and private-sector unions are quite different beasts and that public-sector unions cannot be justified on liberal-democratic grounds while private-sector unions are not only unobjectionable, but desirable. I’ve argued that it’s not only possible but reasonable to support private-sector unions as a safeguard against economic exploitation and oppose public-sector unions as an instrument of political exploitation, but I don’t think I’ve said enough about why private-sector unions are a good idea.

Competition essentially keeps private sector unions relevant and reduces the worst excesses of unions:

Competitive globalized markets for labor and capital make the worst excesses of unions infeasible. That outsourcing and capital flight would prevent a reinvigorated American private-sector labor movement from becoming as a powerful force for a more social-democratic politics is a fact progressives have a hard time accepting, but for me that fact is more feature than bug.

…It’s pretty clear that global market forces function worldwide to keep unions’ worst anti-competitive instincts in check.

A good start

Jami-lee Ross is happy that Tau Henare’s bill forcing unions to have secret ballots will pass today.

I consider this a good start. There is much to be done to reign in the unions.

Ideas that deserve implementation should be:

  • The removal of affiliate membership from political parties…the only people able to join a political party should be natural persons.
  • The removal of payroll protection for union dues. If unions want to collect cash off workers then they should do so themselves not force the employer to make the contribution ont he employees behalf.
  • Permit donations to political parties to be only from natural persons.

Those three simple measures would tidy up a great deal of our political rorts.

Productivity Commission: Reform Union Governance

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have been highlighting severe deficiencies and discrepancies with union accounts. They are required by law to be incorporated societies and under the Incorporated Societies Act are also required ti file regular financial accounts.

The Meatworkers Union certainly is clearly breaking the law, the EPMU has likewise failed to supply accounts in line with their constitutional and legal requirements and a fair few other unions are extremely tardy in complying with the law.

The Productivity Commission has noticed this in their review of New Zealand ports. On  the “Cut to The Chase” summary (pdf 700kb)  at page 2, on Workplace Productivity they note:

The Commission does not think a specific legislative response is required but that progress can be expected from improving the governance of the unions and port companies. For unions, this could be achieved by reforms to the Incorporated Societies Act (which applies to all unions) to ensure modern governance structures and practices.

Well governed unions with high-quality leaders can play an important role in overcoming the barriers to achieving high-productivity workplaces, while also advancing the wages and conditions of their members. Implementing this hybrid model of unionism is a major challenge for union leaders and port managers. It can be met with resistance from more ‘traditional’ union members who may see this as a weakening of the union’s ability to represent its members.

The Incorporated Societies Act appears toothless especially when you look at the gross breaches of the Act by the Meatworkers Union. Let’s hope that the government takes this recommendation seriously in reforming the Industrial Relations laws of New Zealand.

Helen Kelly Is Dreamin’, Ctd

Helen Kelly’s cloth cap socialist rant against Talleys was about as silly as cloth cap socialist rants can get. The aspiring Labour MP for Rongotai needs to stop standing up for a corrupt union who has hidden $4m a year of union dues and start holding scumbags to account.

Instead she goes on some Dickensian rant complaining about the heartless wealthy people not even giving any gruel, let alone “more” to the hard done by workers.

Read this bullshit and weep for our country.

Talking to one of these workers at the weekend during a protest in Whanganui, I learned how he had worked for Affco for 30 years, next to his buddy who had been there for 40.

They have shared all life’s ups and downs and believe they may never work together again if the company has its way. They see the union as the only thing that keeps their working life decent and ensures their kids can also work in decent conditions.

Many of these families have exhausted all financial means. They have cashed in their KiwiSavers, frozen their mortgages and got credit card holidays. All these arrangements are coming to an end and they are starting to lose their cars, worry about their houses and realise their retirement will be a poor one.

They can’t understand why the company has to have this “all-or-nothing” approach when it is owned by a family they believe has everything, and doesn’t need any more money. The union movement is fundraising furiously but providing decent support to this number of families is difficult. It is wrong that cleaners and manufacturing workers are donating from their low wages to support these families while the Talley family wants for nothing.

It is all or nothing because the corrupt meatworkers union, having been caught out hiding $4m a year of members dues, are refusing to sensibly talk about productivity gains and sharing the wealth created from these gains.

We know there must be gains because several hundred former union workers have signed up with AFFCO, leaving the union for more money and performance bonuses. Why the mainstream media havent started asking the union why they have lost so many workers is beyond me, unless the media are the left wing apologists and repeaters we all think they are.

These workers could simply leave the union, sign on for a fair wage for fair work, and solve their financial issues. Or they could go down to the meatworkers union office and kick a few heads to find out where the hidden $4 million per annum has gone, and whether that could be used to pay the bills.