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Trade Union Revitalisation

Trends and Prospects in 34 Countries

Edited By Craig Phelan

Although trade unionism has been declining in virtually every part of the world, its continued demise is not a foregone conclusion. As it has throughout its history, trade unionism has demonstrated a capacity to adapt, to make its voice heard, to reassert its power. The scale and scope of experimentation taking place in the labour movement today is testimony not just to the depth of the crisis but also to the possibility of resurgence in the years ahead. This book is an essential resource for anyone wishing to know about contemporary labour issues. It offers a comprehensive introduction to the state of trade unionism in the world today, and the often innovative strategies and tactics trade unionists are using to revive their organisations in each of the major nations of the world. Leading labour scholars discuss, in clear prose, the health of the trade union movement, the present political and economic climate for trade union advancement, the dominant revitalisation strategies, and future prospects in each nation. Each chapter includes an up-to-date guide to further reading.


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Australian Unions: Still in Crisis 547


GERARD GRIFFIN Australian Unions: Still in Crisis 1. Introduction Traditionally, trade unions in Australia played a key, central role in determining all aspects of the employment relationship. Buttressed by the Conciliation and Arbitration system legislated in 1904, union density was high and its influence pervaded most sectors of the economy. Indeed, this key role of arbitration, and thus of unions, was regarded as one of the foundation stones of Australian society, part of what one author has described as the Australian settlement (Kelly 1994), which could be more usefully understood in the international context as a form of labour-capital accommodation within a broader societal framework. Unions dominated the wage-fixing system, par- ticularly thriving in industries such as manufacturing, construction, mining, wool and the maritime industry. Although somewhat weaker in white-collar areas of employment, unions succeeded in using the powers of the arbitral system both to ensure reasonable density rates and to play a core role in industries such as retail, banking and the public service. Overwhelmingly, the decades of the first three-quarters of the 20th century were golden years for the Australian union movement, a status accepted by employers and conservative political parties as well as by society as a whole. During the early 1980s, however, a major change occurred in this traditional, centralised, arbitral system of industrial relations, and thus in the role of unionism. Influenced by factors such as major structural change in the economy, changes in the composition of the workforce and new forms of work organisation,...

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