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

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

union myths - #3 unions are just like businesses

When the Exclusive Brethren came up in the election campaign, as shadowy distributors of Right-favouring leaflets, there were a lot of accusations that unions were just the same. There seems to be a perception that unions act like businesses, but in actual fact the nature of them is completely different.

Unions are democratic organisations, and union members have ultimate control over their funds, policy and leadership. Quite different from a business where most of the people involved in it (customers, clients and workers) have no say at all.

For a union to commit money to a political campaign the expenditure will need to be endorsed by the elected leadership, be that a National Executive, a National Secretary or President, or a broader group. Each union has their own rules, which are again decided democratically and have evolved over the years. Unions aren't perfect and most could stand to have a bit more grassroots membership control, but there are control mechanisms - leadership face tests of their mandates on a regular basis and if they were to spend members' money on a campaign that was against their interests or inclinations they would pay the price.

In the cases of four unions (and yes, only four, I checked) they have decided that they will be affiliated to the Labour party. The Dairy Workers (DWU), Service and Food Workers (SFWU), Meat Workers (MWU) and Engineers (EPMU) are all affiliates, which gives their members the automatic right to take part in the structures of the Labour party.

But all other unions are not affiliated. They may choose, by whatever is the appropriate process, to endorse particular parties in a specific General Election (for example the AWUNZ Northern endorsed a vote for the Progressives in 2002). This means that they put information out to their members recommending a vote for the party they have endorsed, and may well give a donation to that party or act as a conduit for members who want to to be involved in that party's campaign.

But most push for their particular policies (which are again decided through democratic processes, which are often quite similar to the way political parties determine process) and critique policies they don't like. This is especially important for state sector unions who need to be able to work with The Government of the Day. Earlier this year a group of state sector unions launched the Positively Public campaign to respond to attacks from National on the public service, but they stopped well short of endorsing Labour (or any other party).

Previous Union Myth posts:
#1 - compulsory membership
# 2 - all unionists want to be Rick Barker (ie Labour MPs)


Michael said...

I have no problem with Union's right to existance, Union's right to raise money and spend it however it sees fit to further it's interests.

The parallel is the EBs have the right to practice their religion, organise as they wish, and spend their money however they see fit to further their interests.

What is interesting is that the four named Unions directly involve themselves in Labour - Winnie Laban became Mana MP only because the SFWU stacked the selection meeting (they actually bussed members in) to prevent the more talented Kevin Watson from winning selection.

Given the choice of the National Candidate in Mana 2002 and Kevin Watson, I would have voted Watson.

Despite the common myth, the EBs had no say in Nat Policy or candidate selection - they just liked it enough to stick their money behind it.

Mr Stupid said...

I think the nub of the EB problem was that they weren't honest, rather than that it was a church putting out the leaflets. If a raving pack of fundamentalist victorian throwbacks are going to tell us how to vote they might do us the courtesy of telling us they represent (cf Maxim Institute). If a union was anonymously putting out potentially slanderous leaflets (please god, tell me none of them did) I'd expect the same amount of furore.

span said...

i'd also be keen to know how much say the members of the EB had in their sect spending their dosh promoting National... the point is that union members do have a say in the political activities of their organisation. i suspect (although i'd quite like to be wrong) that EB members do not have such democratic structures in place.

especially given that the EB raised the money through businesses that are partly so profitable because they employ EB members and can opt out of parts of the employment law due to their EB nature.

did they ask the workers who amassed that money for them? said...

Unions are working hard to stay relevant in todays current society.
House Bill 2830 is causing a lot of commotion on Capitol Hill as well as a lot of stir from various unions. Many have not paid much attention to 2830, some think its another strain of the H5N1 bird flu, others think its just another tax bill they will be getting hit with. If you work in a unionized shop, or factory, you may want to dig a little deeper into the details of this bill that is going to the House of Representatives for approval, it could have a drastic affect on your livelihood.

The Pension Protection Act of 2005 (H.R.2830) is legislation that has resulted from Congress’s belief that the retirement security of American workers who are covered by defined benefit pension plans is seriously at risk. Congress feels that many of the pensions are under-funded because the pensions do not have enough money to pay all of the benefits they have promised. Congressmen have deferred to the recent United Airlines pension disaster as an example of the importance of this bill. Congress has also mentioned the Government Accountability Offices’ report that detailed the under-funding of the 100 largest defined benefit pension plans between 1995 and 2002.
Raymond B