The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Friday, September 09, 2005

union myths - #1 compulsory membership

Around the traps I've seen a few comments over recent months which show the ignorance of many on the Right in regard to unions. I guess I shouldn't really expect them to know, given that they've probably never been in one, but in the interests of enlightenment, here is the first is a series of explanations for those bloggers who currently wallow in their ignorance and then spread it around.*

Union Myth #1 - Union membership is compulsory

I've seen this bandied around a bit - that people are somehow forced to join unions.

Union membership hasn't been compulsory in NZ since the decade of the bubble-skirt, the 1980s. This comes from a speech by Ross Wilson given in 2002:

"From 1936 union membership became compulsory. This system of arbitration and compulsory union membership, which provided a system of centralised wage bargaining, continued until the 1980s."
In fact even when membership was nominally compulsory, union membership still wasn't 100%, nowhere near. In 1985 union members were only 53.1% of wage and salary earners.

Union density now is much lower, around the 20% mark averaged across all sectors. Hardly evidence of a insidious regime of "compulsory unionism." And something you would have thought right-wingers could realise on their own, given none of them seem to be in unions.

*and because I am too lazy/busy to continue to run around trying to deal to these misconceptions when they are popping up elsewhere.


Nigel Kearney said...

Except student unions.

And using taxpayers' money to bribe people to join unions is morally equivalent to forcing them to join.

Idiot/Savant said...

Nigel: they're not bribing people to join unions; the union is exercising its market power to gain an advantage for its members. Most employers don't want different contractual conditions for union vs non-union staff, and so under the circumstances a one-off bonus is an easy solution for all parties.

span said...

i don't actually see students' associations as the same as unions. i used to, when i was involved in one, but now that i've worked for, and been an active member of, workers' unions i can see the differences. i plan to address this point in a future post, but in brief - students' associations are more like (or should be more like) local government.

people join unions for all sorts of reasons - for protection, for access to other benefits such as cheap insurance or banking services, because they believe in a collective approach, because they want their workplace to change, because they have been ripped off in the past, because they know that they are likely to get a better deal in bigger numbers (which is really what the financial advantages come down to).

there are clear financial advantages to joining the AA too, but I don't see anyone suggesting that's compulsory.

gpjwatson said...

I am glad you see the advantages of voluntary unionism but differ from you in your suggestion student unions are like local government.

They are advocacy and service organisations.

Rachel said...

Hey Span

Good to see you posting on this - have a look at my comments on National's employment policy at