When Hawkie was replaced with a bloke called Cliff, you just knew the trade union movement in Australia had become old hat. Cliff. Such a retro name!

The bruvvers are out today for the national day of action against the government’s IR laws. Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews has said the trade union movement no longer connects with ordinary Australians. He’s dismissed the rallies as “simply about the unions wanting to retain their powerful position within the country”.

He’s got a point. Union “days of action” are old hat. Unions are old hat. Just look at how few people actually belong to one. Centralised wage fixing is outmoded, too. Most Australians’ pay and conditions aren’t governed by old style industrial rewards. There is an overwhelming case for statutory individual employment contracts.

True, the threat of losing pay and conditions hangs over workers’ heads. As ACTU secretary Greg Combet told ABC Radio this morning, AWAs are almost always offered on a take it or leave it basis.

While Labor and the union movement are pinning their hope on this simple message, do people in 2005 still identify with the messengers?

Peter Fray

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