The ACTU today starts a major membership drive. I’m relatively optimistic that this is a good use of their money. Although the factors that have driven unionisation down over the past 25 years aren’t going to be reversed (see here for a summary), the fact remains that most workers have never been asked to join a union, so a decent fraction may well just be waiting to be asked.
Another possible strategy for the unions would be to charge lower fees. I’m currently a member of the NTEU, which costs around $500 per year. By contrast, my NRMA roadside service membership costs $80. Perhaps unions in the future may find that offering fewer services for a lower cost is a more viable model than the way they currently do things.
If they cut the joining fee, which services should they drop? Surveys that ask members to rate their satisfaction with various union activities tend to find that the greatest dissatisfaction has to do with political campaigns. This is hardly surprising, since members’ political preferences are invariably more heterogenous than union leaders’ political preferences (eg. plenty of union members voted for Howard and Bush last year – but no Australian or US union spent a single dollar running ads for them). How’s this for a slogan? "Cheap, apolitical unions – coming soon to a workplace near you." It might sound wussy, but if they want to get more than 23% of the workforce signed up, I suspect the current model isn’t going to cut it.