Motoring buffs will know all about the Hindustan Ambassador – India’s first car. It’s a saloon based on a 1948 Morris Oxford that is still being churned out in its hundreds every year.

The ALP has its equivalent, in Australian Manufacturing Workers Union boss Doogie Cameron. He’s also based on a 1940’s British model. He’s a throwback to the days of “I’m All Right Jack” – which, as if to emphasise the drabness of the period, is even in black and white. And he’s also going into the Senate.

It’s pretty clear that fairness in industrial relations matters to voters. And it’s also equally clear that voters don’t think much of the trade union movement.

One Labour source described Doogie to Crikey as “An arcane and archaic remnant of a lost history of the Party that has yet to understand it should roll over and die.”

“Labor even in the Hawke-Keating period could comfortably make the link between its many tens of thousands of Party members and the addition of union executives and delegates as representatives in Labor’s forums because the unions had good majority of wage and salary earners as members – a majority of whom voted Labor,” they said.

“Now the unions have less than a fifth of the salary and wage earning workforce which is now much reduced anyway, and its membership is in a narrow range of old-style industries such as manufacturing, mining and oil – and the Shoppies in retail, who were/are the DLP rump. Even a majority of those members voted for the coalition up until 2004. Any claim to legitimacy as representatives of workers within the Labor party is unsupported by the facts.”

This party member claims Labor, as a state based organisation, is still tied to a system that has given a small group of union delegates unrepresentative and unequal power on its administrative bodies and the preselection bodies.

For federal lower house and Senate seats this means that they can dictate who gets nominated, except in the territories where the seat numbers are so small as to be irrelevant. They say the collapse in rank and file party membership has exacerbated the imbalance of power.

“The change to 50% union delegates at conferences and other changes that Crean pushed through — at least in part, at the price of his loss of the Leadership — were a minor improvement, but major change will only be possible when Labor is in government,” our source says.

“The prime minister needs to drive that change. Who knows if Rudd will be that PM given what he owes to the NSW Right and the current system.”

The government seems to have toned down some of its anti union rhetoric in the past few days. Crikey Labor source thinks the issue may have actually helped Kevin Rudd.

“It builds the perception of an ‘extreme’ position from the union and a balanced, moderate but tough response from Rudd,” they say.

“It’s not dissimilar to the role-playing Howard used to do with Hanson and does now with Heffernan. He lets the shot get fired then sees what damage the projectile has done.”

Now that’s a different take on the polls. And it explains why the ALP is still churning out Hindustan Ambassadors of its very own.