The Australian union movement has long served as a money making machine for the Labor Party. The two have been trapped in a coercive marriage with a third party, the Greens, joining in like a nasty Staph infection.
Having been born together, these groups remain inseparable in modern politics with the union heavily involved in the preselection of state and federal seats.
At least – they were.
In 2020 the voting rights of Victorian Labor members were suspended following a scandal involving institutionalised branch stacking allegedly spearheaded by former Victorian state minister Adem Somyurek. Despite significant financial contributions to the Labor Party, union affiliates will have no influence over candidate selection in the next state and federal elections as a result of the incident.
“Part of [Labor’s] organisational structure is the affiliation of the unions,” said Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese, when asked if Labor would continue to accept financial support from the CFMMEU’s Victorian and Tasmanian branches.
A furious John Setka, the Victorian Secretary of the CFMMEU, replied:
“This explains the real reason the intervention happened, so a few people who didn’t have any real power or support could run things their own way from behind closed doors. Unions affiliate to the Labor Party to win better outcomes for working people, this is an attack on the entire working class. Albo and his mates are doing this so they can secure their positions because they don’t have any real support of trade union members – who are the working people of this country.”
This awkwardly public domestic forms part of a larger struggle between Labor Party factions and fractions, with frequent scuffles breaking out. Setka himself was later expelled from the Labor Party by Albanese after a controversy surrounding offensive comments made about anti-violence campaigner Rosie Batty. For Setka, it was another in a long line of accusations regarding harassment, sexism, and bullying by the union boss that has added to the public image of union thuggery.
The Labor Party finds itself a mess of factional wars where each faction has its favourite union heavyweight in the corner. Labor is in immediate danger of being torn apart by contradictory messaging, with the rise of the Greens in the energy conversation leading to policy set to destroy the working class base of the mining and energy unions. It makes campaigning for coal seats like the Upper Hunter extremely difficult with promises made to local union workers on the ground damaging the national anti-coal campaign.
It is impossible to separate entrenched unions from politics, which means that union members are forced to contribute to the political campaigns of a political party they might disagree with.
This system is hardly in keeping with the declarations of worker freedom. Quite the opposite. The unions have ensured that the only way for a worker to hold onto their job is to unwillingly give part of their salary to the Labor Party.
The union narrative is one of decline – from the lofty moral heights of improving the working conditions of rapidly expanding factories in 19th century Europe, to the depressing Australian saga of destroying the manufacturing industry with uncompetitive wages and over-regulation. If allowed to continue unchecked, their alliance with the Greens will hand Australia’s energy industry over to a cabal of private industry billionaires and Chinese companies beholden to the Communist Party.
Globalisation has made it impossible for the union model to function inside most industries, particularly manufacturing. Australian unions can influence government policy, but they cannot control wages and regulations in China, India, South America, and Africa – nor can they stop other nations from buying cheaply made produce. It was this concern that caused the early Australian Labor Party to back the Australian Workers Union’s racist attitude toward foreign workers and the restriction of non-white immigration with the White Australia policy – a political reality which the modern Labor Party rarely acknowledges.
Strict employment regulation stitched onto a nimble global market will invariably result in unionised Western workforces being thrown on the scrap heap. A failure to recognise this structural weakness will continue the decline of union participation in the workforce until only nationalised industries such as healthcare remain viable.
Every time a congregation of people form within civilisation, someone finds a way to politicise them. They are hunted, herded, and homogenised into a useful political force – preferably a profitable one.
It is a hellish system where the Labor Party requires all workers in certain industries to join a union. These members then pay fees of which a significant portion is directed straight into the hands of the Labor Party, regardless of whether or not the member supports them. This money is then used to encourage the Labor Party to reinforce the union monopoly so that it can charge even more fees.
One union group stands against this tide of political interference.
The Red Union Support Hub (RUSH) has decided to resurrect the idea of unionism as a service, to allow its members to act as non-political entities dedicated to the protection of their members without the sideshow of political conscription.
Their motto, ‘Protection without politics!’ is taken seriously, with all political donations banned. No exceptions. By cutting out the politics, the unions affiliated to RUSH have been able to halve its member fees without cutting services. The Red Union’s Nurses Professional Association of Queensland (NPAQ) for example, charges a $442 annual fee while the Queensland Nurses and Midwives’ Union (QNMU) charges $717.50.
As the NPAQ states on its website:
“NPAQ is run by nurses, not union officials. Zero party politics means lower fees and complete focus on achieving meaningful outcomes for our members.”
This union, and its associated unions under the Red Union banner, were formed to compete against the monopoly of historical unions, but it hasn’t been an easy battle. They have come up against archaic legislation and hostile organisations loyal to the old unions.
A memorandum was issued by the Department of Health in March 2019 stating that the NPAQ was excluded from displaying promotional material in the workplace that ‘implied it was entitled to represent the industrial interests of workers’, nor was it able to be a party to an award or agreement, and had no standing in disputes.
Except that wasn’t true. That memo was corrected by Queensland Health two years later in March 2021, a fact trumpeted by NPAQ in full page ad’s in newspapers across the state.
Graeme Haycroft, the founder who authored NPAQ’s constitution, agrees with the philosophical idea of unions but despises monopolies – which is what the union movement has become. Essentially what he has done is introduce a bit of free market competition into what has historically been a collectivist movement.
By allowing members of his unions to keep their benefits without having to prop up political parties, Haycroft has highlighted the entrenched politicisation of Australian unions.
Is it morally right to force workers to donate to a political party they ideologically oppose?
The Red Unions intend to let the market decide.
RedUnion.com.au is a sponsor of The Good Sauce, but this article was written from the author’s own genuinely held opinions. Free market competition is great for the consumer!
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Alexandra Marshall (@ellymelly on social media) is the host of "Curtain Call", a Good Sauce show exploring the leading personalities in the culture war. She writes on liberty, philosophy and geopolitics. You can find her on Twitter or read her articles over at her blog.
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