"The workforce has changed so much and our legislation just hasn't kept up."Kearney reserves special opprobrium for Julie Bishop's response to the flexibility announcement: "I was astounded that Julie Bishop was just saying 'no'. I mean, really. And there she was saying, you know, 'workforces need to be flexible to support women but we're not going to make them any more flexible ... the only way you get flexibility is if you give up your job and go and get a casual job'. "The Coalition is stuck in the dark ages on this stuff. The workforce has changed so much and our legislation just hasn't kept up. It's good that the Labor government has recognised that." At Old Parliament House next month, the ACTU will sit down with community groups at its National Community Summit. Kearney hopes it will forge a new "social compact" to kick organised labour forward. The ACTU has also streamlined its own internal structures. Upon his election last May, secretary Dave Oliver admitted the organisation had dropped the ball in the aftermath of Your Rights At Work. He responded with a substantial restructuring of his own workplace -- 17 redundancies amid the 100-strong workforce and a streamlining of operations into six units. Campaigning is one thing but it will be the ability of the ACTU to translate campaigns into broader growth that will mark the success of the pitch, especially if Australia ends up with a conservative government. Labour movement density has dropped by 30 percentage points since the heyday of the 1980s as traditional industries shut down, governments launched legislative offensives and unions de-emphasised radical tactics in favour of a passive "servicing" model. The emergence of an organising model in the US in the late 1990s -- that placed the focus firmly on generating activists and progressive sentiment on the ground -- was eagerly adopted by some unions, including services industry union United Voice. While elements of the "Missos" managed to generate activist workplaces, the country's biggest union remains the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees' Association that boasts of its genial relationships with major employers like department stores and supermarkets. Kearney says the ACTU has situated itself somewhere between the two poles of organising and servicing. She agrees organising the untethered modern workforce is a "a real challenge". In the recent edited collection Left Turn, University of Queensland academic Tom Bramble was brutal in his assessment of the softer approach of previous eras, accusing the movement of giving in to the bosses and claiming it had topped itself by a thousand self-inflicted cuts. He told Crikey that a "total sense of defeatism" had infected the movement since the 1980s Accord and that organised labour had been reduced to lobbying for Labor governments which, once elected, betrayed their roots. "Your Rights at Work got Labor elected but what we got really wasn't much better," he said. Bramble says that despite recent wins by a revitalised National Union of Workers at Baiada Poultry and Toll Holdings, the Australian Building and Construction Commission, its Fair Work successor and the courts have been permitted to "salami slice the unions". He calls for a new round of militancy through a right to strike to buttress the usual digital campaign strategies. "The classic example is in Queensland where the state government has launched an austerity program and sacked 14,000 public servants. But the union, Together, is yet to take a single day of real strike action," he said. Whatever the approach, Kearney agrees it's unions, in league with civil society, that will have to carry the burden of taking the fight to governments. "We will identify activists who are interested in keeping the union movement healthy and alive because there's no one else out there fighting for this sort of stuff. There's no one out there that can take this on, only the union movement, and we need to grow to do that, we need to stop apologising for the need to grow the movement."
Unions to strike: ACTU plots ‘aerial war’ over insecure work
The labour movement is preparing to unleash a serious campaign against the vagaries of insecure work. ACTU president Ged Kearney talks to Crikey about tactics in an election year.