A union historian has taken issue with a sealed section suggestion that Bill Shorten has turned around the AWU.

The high water mark of the Australian Workers’ Union in Australian life can be measured as 1967. The then secretary of the union had some 280,000 members and “chose” not to affiliate with the ACTU, today it has (despite substantial amalgamations) less than 100,000 members and is financially incapable of mounting any form of sustained legal action. The right-wing AWU’s decision to remain within the ALP was probably the key factor in the failure of the Industrial Groups to capture control of the ALP in the 1950s.

The remainders of the AWU today are a sad pathetic shell.

Whilst a cursory examination of the AWU’s website, www.awu.net.au, demonstrates that Bill Shorten has a messiah complex every bit as large as other notorious egotists within the union movement such as Joe De Bruyn, Bill Kelty et al, it is incredibly ignorant to suggest that one person can single-handedly turn around a ship as moribund and decrepit as the AWU.

The key advantage that Bill Shorten has had is that, given the decrepit backward cesspit that the AWU had become, it was impossible not to look good.

Any fair-minded observer would agree Bill can actually construct a number of logical sentences running together- a talent unfortunately not found in many former leaders of the AWU.

A closer examination of Bill’s time at the helm at the AWU suggests in fact that what he has been good at – not unlike Natasha Stott Despoja in talking the talk without being able to point to any tangible or real achievements. The real question is whether Bill will be able to ride the tiger long enough to satisfy his primal lusts- without it (the AWU) collapsing around him.

A number of real measures by which you can make a measurement of Bill’s turning around the AWU:

1. The abolition of Victorian awards – The abolition of the Victorian industrial system saw all right wing unions except the AWU create parallel federal awards to compensate for the loss of rights in the Victorian system. NO AWU awards YEARS LATER have been created in the federal system to compensate for the loss of these awards. To their credit the NUW did this years ago! Answer Bill?

2. Bill’s policy initiatives – When Bill became Victorian State Secretary of the AWU his first press release talked about creating an insurance scheme for union delegates who are often the first to be victimised or intimidated on the job. Heard anything since 3 years later? Similarly examine any of Bill’s policy initiatives – they have the shelf life of milk generally. How’s Union CHEF manufacturing going?

3. Financial Stability in the AWU – The AWU is a financial time bomb a cursory examination of the AWU accounts indicates creative accounting. (Crikey: Now this is way over the top. Bill has an MBA and we’ve heard he’s actually done a terrific jobs with the AWU’s finances. An earlier comparison with Enron was plain wrong and we withdraw it unreservedly). How is that the AWU still has staff waiting for payment of basic entitlements such as redundancy, long service leave, annual leave etc some 18 months after the union sold its Sydney Office? Compare and contrast with Bill’s comments at the time of the Manusafe dispute (18 months ago) about the sanctity of employee entitlements?

4. The construction industry – Peace in our time with the CFMEU brought to you by Neville Shorten. How is that a union (the AWU) which has always had sole and exclusive coverage of the civil construction industry managed to spend over a million dollars defending a claim by the CFMEU for coverage of this industry and half of the AWU rules to boot and cannot produce a civil construction delegate in its defence. Now one million + dollars later Neville is preparing to surrender the civil construction industry to Kingham et al. The much-mooted commitment to on the ground organising is pathetic. Neville like his predecessors dare not remove any of the oxygen thieves (AWU officials) who whilst negligent (numerous examples too legion to mention of agreements deleting penalty and overtime rates for example) will obediently vote and sustain Neville provided their pay packet and generously funded superannuation is covered (AWU officials receive 3 for 1 defined benefit superannuation).

Just the facts.

Peter Fray

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