1. We remember the Your Rights At Work campaign
Last time the Coalition launched a massive attack on working people’s rights, the union movement ran a three-year Your Rights at Work campaign to defeat these laws. This campaign was less than a decade ago, so it is still fresh in the collective memory of our movement. Hundreds of thousands union members participated in this campaign. We remember what it took to win. The current generation of union leaders know what it took to win. The memory of this campaign also helps overcome cynicism and defeatism which can hold back campaigns, especially at the beginning. Union activists believe it is possible to change a government because we have done it before.
2. They have the resources and own the media; but we have two million members
The union movement will never have the financial, political, legal and media resources of Australia’s rich and powerful. We will never be able to win in a ‘top down’ media war—let’s face it, even if we had the same advertising resources and media voice, it would never be a fair fight while the media is owned by pro-Coalition forces. What we do have that they do not is two million members. This is our greatest strength which is realised when we focus on educating, organising and mobilising our members.
3. Union members have a wide and powerful circle of influence
It’s not surprising that union delegates and activists are not just leaders in their workplace, but they are also leaders in their local communities, such as sports clubs, volunteer fire brigades, faith-based communities, P&Cs and community organisations. Union activists have a circle of influence much wider than their workplace; they are often respected leaders in their community. So once union delegates and activists become active in a campaign, their influence starts to resonate. The activists in the Your Rights at Work campaign were overwhelmingly, in fact almost exclusively, made up of four groups of people—union members, partners of union members, children of union members and retired union members. We don’t need to reach out to ‘the community’—we are the community! Our immediate past successes show that the key to a successful campaign is the education and mobilisation of union members, most importantly delegates and activists.
4. Living with a union member is good for you and bad for Abbott
Being a member of a union shapes your views on the world. You are more likely to vote progressively and to hold progressive views. This influence can rub off on those living with union members—partners of union members are more likely to vote Labor or Green and this influence might even extend to other family members and flatmates. Right-wing commentators like to go on about unions only representing 18% of the workforce. But it is a serious mistake to equate this with our influence and capacity. Even still, our 18% is powerful. A 10 point decline in the Coalition’s two party vote among union members translates into a 2% swing nationally—more than half of what’s needed to defeat the Coalition in 2016.
5. We know how to unite when faced with a common enemy
John Howard taught the union movement something very valuable—how to be unified in the face of a common enemy. Your Rights at Work was only possible because the 1998 Maritime dispute taught our movement to overcome political and occupational divisions to work together. The unity of the Australian union movement, though not perfect, is one of our greatest strengths. Many other national union movements are divided, and these movements are held back and their energy wasted because of internal division. This unity still respects the independence and democratic processes of each union and is something very valuable.
When the Australian union movement decides to act and campaign together, with the reach we have into our communities and our households, we are an unstoppable force.