The Federation Press

Power at Work

Rebuilding the Australian Union Movement

Overview

For the past 100 years, Australian unions have played a key role in protecting and improving the wages and working conditions of Australian employees. Now, membership is collapsing and the union movement is under unprecedented political attack. How can it rebuild itself so as to play its role in the modern deregulated, globalised world?

In Power at Work, Michael Crosby documents the crisis facing the union movement and focusses on the central role of organising workplaces and industries in an evidence-based plan for renewal. He proposes an agenda which is hardheaded, practical and achievable, one based on the recent experiences of successful unions – unions where the membership numbers are going up.

Crosby uses examples, analysis and interviews to map out a path for action which will restore a fairer balance of power in Australian workplaces. He is the former Federal Secretary of Actors Equity and Director of the ACTU Organising Centre, and now works for the Service Employees International Union.

Reviews

An ambitious and comprehensive programme of change for unions which is at the same time an impassioned call for unions to make some necessary reforms. Crosby’s programme is based on the organising model of unionism to increase the organisational capacity of unions and their social and political leverage. ...
Power at Work has some undeniable strengths. Firstly, Crosby’s account of union capacity building is fascinating reading, based on evidence collected by the author from his own work with a range of different unions. Michael Crosby’s history as union secretary, union activist and strategist, director of Trade Union Training Australia and the ACT Organising Centre (1995-2005) gives him authority and credibility. Secondly, the tone of the text is captivat ing: Crosby’s voice is impassioned and optimistic, carrying a strong narrative, and conveys his absolute and unstinting admiration for unions and their members, as well as his personal skills as a leader, trainer and activist. Finally, while some of Crosby’s ideas are not beyond criticism, his is an inspired vision with the power to challenge our views and raise debate. - Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol 48(4), September 2006

This is a timely book. It will be of interest to trade unions for reflection, debate and inspiration to initiate change, to academics for ideas on directions for new research areas, and to anyone interested in trade unions and social change more broadly. - Management Research News, Vol 29(8), 2006

Crosby has provided an intimate and critical analysis of the way unions work, their shortcomings and their unused capacities. For those interested in the working of unions and the strategies being used to revitalise union membership, this is a useful and timely reminder both of the need for unions to survive, because they do make people’s economic lives better, and for unions to reform so that communities themselves can actually feel that unions are part of them. - Labour History, No 93, November 2007

Whether you agree wtith him or not, what Crosby has to say about the trade union movement in Australia is valid. Unionism in the country has a long and mostly proud history and, as a system, it has played a key role in protecting and improving the wages and working conditions of Australian workers. ... This is a timely book that will help explain unionism and its future. It aims to help unions organise and almost reinvent themselves into effective expressions of the collective power of workers. Everyone else would be well advised to take note.
Content 8/10
Presentation 8/10
Value 8/10 - Human Resources, Issue 93, 15 November 2005

Over the last ten years Michael Crosby has gained a unique insight into Australian unions as a result of his reforming work with the ACTU’s Organising Centre. ...His experience, and his passion for change, has informed this book. His account of the strategic imperatives confronting Australian unions in the 21st century is the most comprehensive statement of the issues yet written.
Two key dynamics are clouding this future – economic change and a hostile political environment. Michael Crosby makes the case for top to bottom change in unions to address these challenges. His argument is that unions can no longer rely on institutional support from governments, industrial tribunals, awards or ‘passive’ employers. He argues that unions must direct their resources towards building organisational power in the workplace and the industry. This in itself is not a new insight. However, experience has demonstrated that organisational renewal is far easier said than done. The value of Michael’s work lies in his effort to detail what has worked and what hasn’t.
- Greg Combet, Secretary, Australian Council of Trade Unions

This book should be required reading for every trade union official. Michael Crosby’s priority is the empowerment of working men and women. He presents thoughtful and provocative new approaches. - Senator John Faulkner

Michael Crosby’s analysis is hardhitting, clearsighted and forensic. It amounts to a powerful and constructive tonic for the labour movement at a moment when Australians need effective unions like never before. - Dr Barbara Pocock

Table of Contents

Introduction

Part 1 – Making sense of our situation

Australian unions – what is the problem?
What the hell happened to us?
Why are unions in Australia the way they are?
What kind of unions are we?

Part 2 - Rethinking Unionism

LHMU South Australia
Defining unionism that works
Organising and leadership
Strategic choice

Part 3 - Rebuilding organisational capacity

Doing the union’s work differently
Member service centres
Splitting the organiser workforce
Organising existing members
Organising new members – the role of external or growth organisersThe role of the industrial officer
Union education
National offices
Financing change
Finding additional resources to win

Part 4 - Building strategic leverage

Our strategy towards employers
Managing the employer relationship
The need for scale in organising
Doing politics differently
The closed shop and the future

Part 5 – Driving comprehensive change

Leadership
Women in leadership
Conclusion
Bibliography
Index

Of interest...