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Inside the Unions

A Comparative Analysis of Policy-Making in Australian and British Printing and Telecommunication Trade Unions


Ed Blisset

This book consists of a comparative analysis of policy-making in Australian and British telecommunications and printing trade unions. It tests the validity of different theoretical models of union policy-making and behaviour, whilst also assessing the strength of the book’s hypothesis, that informal micro-political influences inside unions – such as personal friendships, enmities and loyalties – affect union policy-making to a greater extent than has been previously acknowledged in the literature.
Two central questions lie at the heart of this book: How, and why, do unions adopt specific policies? What factors explain the different behaviour of similar unions, when faced with comparable policy choices?
As a former senior union officer the author realised that trade unions are often wary of publically disclosing those factors which informed their policy choices. For this reason an interview-rich methodology was adopted, which involved a seventeen-year longitudinal study, in which over 220 officers and staff of all the relevant unions, were interviewed in depth. The result is a book which throws new light on the rich and complex process of union policy-making.


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Chapter 7 The Australian Telecommunication Unions: Pre-1980


Introduction This chapter focuses upon the policy-making of the Australian telecom- munications unions’ from their formation up until 1980. Initially it outlines the evolution of their structures and internal political processes. It then concentrates on the unions’ approaches to inf luencing the labour process, recruitment and amalgamation. In performing this task the chapter considers the inf luence on the unions of operating within an industry, which had been controlled by the Federal Government since nationalisation in 1905. How the industrial, economic, political and demographic variances between the Australian States af fected the unions’ policies, will be explored. The reasons for any similarities and dif ferences in the policies of the Australian and British telecommunications unions will also be addressed. Woven throughout the chapter, there is an examination of the reasons for the acute histori- cal antipathy that existed between Australia’s two major telecommunica- tion unions, and an assessment of how this antagonism af fected policy formulation. Structures and political processes The Australian telecommunication unions, unlike their printing counter- parts, were not formed by British trade unionists who had emigrated spe- cifically to work in the industry. Instead the Australian telegraphy industry 120 Chapter 7 trained its own employees, many of whom were first or second generation British migrants. The structural and organisational similarities between the British and Australian telecommunication unions are not therefore explained by a common lineage. However, as Turner (1983: 31) notes, it would have been surprising if British migrants had not drawn upon the trade union structures...

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