Today, as he celebrates the first birthday of the Government’s WorkChoices legislation, the Prime Minister is manning the airwaves to kick the union can. But is it a can still worth kicking?

“The unions are not interested in the working conditions of families,” according to the PM. “They are interested in union power … on this issue, Labor power means union power.”

“Union power”? Twenty years ago, 50% of all Australian workers were members of a union: today the unionisation rate is just 23%. Twenty years ago, strikes were rife: now the number of days lost to industrial disputes is around a quarter of its level in the early 1980s. During the year ended December 2006, there were 202 disputes, 270 fewer than in the year ended December 2005.

Attacking Labor’s association with the unions used to be one of the most effective tactics for conservative politicians. But in 2007, when a grandfatherly 67-year-old appears in public wearing his old union-bashing boots, it reveals more about his old-fashioned ideas about “union power” than it reflects on the real state of the modern world of work.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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