The United Brotherhood of Howard Supporters

So the thing that I still can’t work out with the ACTU’s current campaign against the Howard Government is: what do the 33% of unionists who voted for John Howard in 2004 think about it? It’s true that organisations sometimes make decisions that aren’t supported by all of their members, but one-third really is quite a lot.

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8 Responses to The United Brotherhood of Howard Supporters

  1. Crunchy Peanut Butter says:

    I may be wrong, but I thought many union decisions are still based on a show of hands.

    And if a show of hands directs union decisions, then it is hardly surprising that the militant leadership takes a direction that many of the rank and file would not support, but do not have the courage to opppose because of threats of intimidation and the like.

    Again, I may be wrong, but I am certain that many work sites (espeically in the building trade) still rely on “no ticket no start” so the membership’s connection to union action may be weak at best.

  2. harry clarke says:

    You are absolutely right. Or consider the staff associations in universities which strigently support the ALP at every election even though 50% of their members vote Liberal.

    The unions are seen as irrelevant dinosaur institutions by most workers. The ACTU and many of the unions exist in a time warp. Moreover, their inability to see this condemns them to ultimate irrelevance.

    You don’t need right-wing politicians to destroy the union movement. As Paul Keating made clear the other evening they are quite good themselves in inflicting self-damage.

  3. Andrew, there’s never been a time when unionists haven’t given the Coalition some electoral support.

    As to the organisation, research into union membership in Australia shows that fewer than 10% join for ideological reasons. The rest are basically interested in the instrumental benefits – so they regard unions primarily as industrial organisations.

    The Fin Review, in any case, reported yesterday that many unions (particularly but not just white-collar) don’t support the Rights@Work campaign promoting a first preference vote for Labor. It’s been suggested that either a split how to vote card with the Greens or just a recommendation to put the Coalition last have a lot of support.

  4. Sean says:

    For all the doom and gloom promoted by people like Harry Clarke, name another community group that has 1.8 million members willing to pay between $500 and $1,000 a year to belong? In a decade of legislative attacks on workers rights, culminating in WorkChoices, you have to fight bloody hard to join a union.

    As for the 33% of unionists who vote Liberal. It varies across unions and reflects Mark’s comments that many workers see unions as insurance and/or service providers. Also, when people come to the ballot box they don’t just have their worker hat on, they vote on other issues.

    In addition, many unionists saw little difference between the ALP and Liberals on many key issues. However, the implementation of WorkChoices has demonstrated a stark difference and they are responding.

    A related matter is the ACTU advertising campaign. This was funded by a special $5.50 levy on all union members. Each union conducted a SECRET ballot of their membership before committing to this. I’d like to see big business allowing their members to vote before committing to pro-government advertising or even Howard making it part of his campaign manifesto that he wanted to spend $55 million on WorkChoices propaganda.

  5. Andrew Leigh says:

    Mark, you’re right – my paper looks at elections back to 1966, and the share of Coalition-voting unionists stays constant from 1966-2004.

    It’s been suggested that either a split how to vote card with the Greens or just a recommendation to put the Coalition last have a lot of support.

    1/3rd of unionists presumably disagree with the strategy. By the way, it’s only a small sample, but in 2004, unionists were less likely to vote Green than non-unionists (see footnote 5).

  6. derrida derider says:

    I’d guess the 33% are real conservatives – both politically and in every other way. They’re tory workingmen – in the union because they’ve always been in the union, because that’s what workers do. Their minds are attuned to the old Australian Settlement.

    So I reckon Workchoices, with its rhetoric of radical workplace change, would be seen by them as a real threat. The ACTU should find fertile ground with its campaign.

  7. Andrew Leigh says:

    DD, the 33% of Coalition-voting unionists has been constant for nearly 40 years. Given that that was the figure who voted for Hewson in 1993, I find it hard to believe that they’re really going to peel off the Coalition in 2007.

  8. Don Wigan says:

    I think you’re right about it being a constant, and that it’s unlikely to change at this election, despite Workchoices. It doesn’t mean that trade unionists lobbying for Labor are anti-democratic.

    There are some idiosyncratic things in politics and unions in Australia. In Tasmania in the Fraser years and for a few just after, all 5 federal seats were Liberal, while at the same time the Trades and Labor Council had a big influence on things and union membership was high. Brian Harridene’s initial recognition as an independent came from his TLC secretaryship.

    When I lived in Portland (Vic) in the late 80s, I can remember an election where every single polling booth returned a Liberal majority. Yet at that stage Portland was a trade union town, having the South West office of the TLC there (despite Warrnambool being a much larger centre) and strong unions at the meatworks and smelter construction. Many of the meatworkers were, in fact, hobby farmers and quite happily agreed to a strike to go back to their farm for a few days. Working conditions, needless to say, were excellent but might have eventually contributed to the closure of the meatworks.

    On those examples the concept of supporting trade union rights and voting Liberal are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

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