|Watch out, union members about!|
I don’t get it. I must be dumb*. More on that in a minute.
I spent 25 years as the union delegate (union rep, shop steward, whatever) at my work, a TV station. My experience was that everyone wanted the benefits the union gained, but no-one wanted to pay. Everyone wanted me to explain the award (workplace contract) but no-one wanted to get involved in the union. Not “no-one” – we did have members, about 20% of employees joined and I have eternal respect for them. For the freeloaders, you get my eternal contempt.
Everyone wanted help from the union when difficulties arose or they got laid off. They ALL wanted me to explain their work conditions or interpret the award for them, even if they weren’t union members.
Many of the younger employees who asked me for advice didn’t even know what award they were employed under, what an award was, what rights they had or even their own pay grading! Yet according to the employer, they were supposed to be able to negotiate one to one for their own work contract with no outside help (ie union interference).
All the anti-union people wanted their own contracts, but the contracts they wanted included all the conditions our union had won. They couldn’t see the contradiction. I used to say, OK fine, negotiate your own deal, but start from scratch! Start from NO conditions and work it out for yourself. They looked at me in bemusement. What do you mean? OK, I mean start from working any number of hours the employer wants, 176 hours a week maybe. Then negotiate your hours. Er, um, gee, haven’t we always had 37.5 hrs? NO, the union got that. What about 40 hours a week? No, in the 1950s, 48hrs a week was normal, until unions won the 40hr week. Gee, I didn’t know that. Haven’t we always had 4 weeks annual leave? No, the union got that. Even in my own working life, it was only 3 weeks in the 1970s and 80s. Leave loading. No! The unions won that in the 1980s. Gee.
All the conditions you take for granted, 38hr week, 4 weeks annual leave, leave loading, long service leave, sick leave, maternity leave, bereavement leave, overtime rates, shift rates, transport allowances, meal breaks, public holidays — ALL were won by union actions paid for by members with courage, going back decades. Freeloaders, bystanders, cowards, contributed nothing but still want the benefits.
Before One-Tel collapsed in about 2002, all the staff were proudly proclaimed to be on individual contracts. But when the firm closed its doors and the staff found themselves literally on the street in Sydney, who did they turn to? Greg Combet was there to help the very few members, but all the other staff gathered around and said, “Help!” And he did.
In the James Hardy asbestos scandal, who did all the work in getting justice for all the victims of mesothelioma? Unions.
The other thing all the TVW non-members said was, “But Harry Bluck called that strike in 1969 and they all had to go on strike!”
a) it was 1969
b) it was a different union (though affiliated)
c) so? Sometimes it takes a bit of courage.
But above all, the question was, What does it cost to join? It always boiled down to that: I want it but I don’t want to pay for it. Why pay when I get it for free (via the fees and effort of the union members)? Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It’s the mantra of this age: Why pay for it when you can steal (download) it?
Why is it that in every form of human endeavour (except literature and art, surprisingly), teamwork is prized above individualism? But when it comes to dealing with bosses, teamwork bad, isolated negotiations good. Funny that.
The answer? Employers hate dealing with union officials or employees who know their onions and can’t be bamboozled. The employer wants to have the upper hand and doesn’t want to have to deal with anyone who knows the law and knows how to negotiate.
Now, why did I say it paid off? When I and other employees in my nationwide network were offered redundancy payouts in 1999, the union got us double what the employer was offering and I walked away with enough money to not have to work again. My union fees were repaid a hundred times over.
But most of the the anti-union employes, surprisingly, got the same payout and took it!!! Hypocrisy ruled. I was and remain disgusted.
*I said I must be dumb because I can’t understand why employees want to stand alone in their workplace dealings. You employ a solicitor to do complex law things, an accountant to do your tax, a doctor to do your health, a plumber to do your pipes. Why do you reject employing a professional (at very cheap rates) to do your workplace negotiations?
Answer: because people know the union will do it for free when they negotiate for members. Same old story – people don’t want to pay if they see they can steal from others.
The other thing I really noticed in my working life was the lack of courage of my work colleagues. Any hint of possible union action and they faded away into the background. Didn’t want to get involved. One guy asked the union rep, “Why is it that so many union reps are Poms?” In my opinion, it’s because Poms, British people, have more courage than Aussies. YES, I truly believe that. UK people have a long history of standing up for themselves and others. I never saw that from Aussies in my workplace life here.