Crikey has long been looking for a Labor insider to deliver the inside goodies and Rev Cleophus James has put his hand up with these offerings on federal staff movements and the great debate about the union-ALP nexus.

Whilst talking to my flock (I consider the telephone sufficient closeness to these sinners in most cases), I have heard much wailing and gnashing of teeth from the office of the leader of the opposition.

My early information was that none of the staff from Beazley’s office would be offered anything at all. In the end it seemed that Crean’s Chief of Staff, Phil Tardiff, saw the trouble this would cause and instead offered everyone a job they didn’t want.

Tardiff was Crean’s CoS during his time as Shadow Treasurer and now carries over.

The dudgeon was high. ” I am insulted, 05, after all those years of hard work I get treated like this, 05, I left 20 million dollars a year to come and work here and this is what they throw at me, 05, They don’t know what they’re doing. blah, blah, blah”. I was not impressed.

I thought long and hard and came to the conclusion that when you lose an election, you should expect to get a kick in the teeth to go on with. Opposition is not the prize so there is not much point fighting over the spoils. Crean has already taken the opportunity to get rid of some shadow ministerial dead wood, why should the staff be any different?

That said, confessors tell me that Tardiff has a poor management style that will likely get him in trouble in the next few years. Time will tell.

A good friend of mine has also lost out and I am most upset and is praying for his future. I might even pray for the Lord to smite a few people.

Offers went out last Friday (7/12) and there was much muttering in Crean’s office about “not taking this sort of thing” and walking away. Shadow’s got news of their allocation of staff as well and have started hunting for staff.

Things will become clearer later this week. Meanwhile wailings and gnashings continue.

I think there’s something in that for all of us.

Union linkage debate a red herring

“Thus there exists a vast heritage of glorious achievements for us to share in. Let us then make haste and get back to the state of tranquillity which was set before us in the beginning as the mark for us to aim at.” from the letter of Pope St Clements to the Corinthians.

Everyone seems to have liked writing to the Corinthians. They must have been very nice. Had he been writing to the Australian Labor Party though, he might have had some similar advice.

What a waste of time this argument about the ALP and Unions is.

In the lead up to the last election not once did anyone indicate to me that they couldn’t vote for the ALP because of the influence of Unions in the ALP.

If they did indicate that they couldn’t vote for the ALP it was generally because of the refugee issue, an apology to Aborigines or because of interest rates in the late 1980s.

Unions have almost never been mentioned in my meetings with people or the letters and phone calls that my boss receives.

A lot of the union secretaries I know were straining at the bit to reject Howard’s policy on refugees but of course didn’t hardly a good display of union control of the ALP.

If there is a problem with the ALP’s association with unions, it is probably as a result of the decline of unions themselves (mainly evinced by a decline in membership).

For the last 30 years, there has been a concerted attack on the reputation of unions. Liberal identity after Liberal identity, including the Prime Minister, business hack after business hack, and journalist after journalist (and even crikey begorrah) have all sneered at, jeered and generally attacked unions and unionists.

Through all of it the Unions have largely chosen to ignore the attacks and their effects. This failure to recognise or engage in the public relations war that has been taking place has contributed greatly to the problems they are experiencing now.

They have also suffered from the amalgamation process that took place during the 1980’s courtesy of Mr Kelty and the ACTU. Generally, these have been a disaster for the Union movement.

The unions amalgamating were often incompatible or aligned with different sections of the ALP. This had two effects. The first was to distance union leadership from its membership. The second was an increase in internal brawling and the typically vicious elections that further alienated the membership.

The effects didn’t become apparent at first as Unions remained protected by laws that allowed them to enforce compulsory membership. When they were changed, members started to drift away. They didn’t really resign, they just didn’t join their relevant union when they changed jobs. Young people (often those most susceptible to employer bastardry), brought up while the public relations war raged, declined to join unions. Johnny and his mates gloated.

The Union movement started the ALP after the bitter strikes of the 1890’s because it realised that it could not meet its aims by strike action alone. They needed political muscle so they went and got it.

Since then, the ALP and the unions have slowly been able to improve pay, conditions and safety. They have largely succeeded in their original goals.

The idea that unions no longer need to exist though is ridiculous. Just look at one simple statistic Union agreements deliver on average 12% higher pay rates than non-union agreements. I don’t understand why a rational person wouldn’t want to be paid 12% more.

Maybe that’s a point Hillary and her Liberal staffer mates might like to ponder over the next year as they consider their next pay rise negotiations.

For every story of “Union Thuggery and/or Stupidity” Crikey posts, I can post one of “Employer Intimidation and/or Bastardry”

It’s time Unions started fighting back and it is time people stopped taking the union/ALP red herring seriously.

I think there’s something in that for all of us.

Peter Fray

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