Big news in the US union movement today. The SEIU, the largest union in the AFL-CIO (the US equivalent of the ACTU), has announced that it’s withdrawing from the federation, along with the teamsters. Mostly, this seems to be about personalities, but I actually don’t think it’s a bad thing for the organisation. Union membership has been heading south for quite a while, and if you believe that’s a bad thing, then they probably ought to try something different.
In Australia, the union movement seems to have taken the view in the late-80s and early-90s that mergers would boost their membership. The evidence now seems pretty clear that this view was mistaken, and that mergers either had a zero or negative impact on membership. It might be time for Australian unions to consider whether the downsides of competition (time spent on demarcation disputes), are outweighed by the usual benefits that competition brings (more consumers). The best analogy is churches. One oft-expressed view in the economics of religion is that the reason Scandinavians have such low church attendance and Americans have such high attendance is that the former has a state monopoly, while the latter has a highly competitive industry.