Rank and file commitment is union democracy

Recently, the incoming National Secretary of United Voice, David O’Byrne, made an address to the unions National Council. In it he referred to the multi-million dollar campaign to organise cleaners, Clean Start.

He said ‘we need to reboot the Property Services campaign and broaden our efforts’. Critical analysis of the unions performance demands that justification be made for the millions of dollars, large number of paid organisers, and the thousands of volunteer hours cleaners trusted would support their aspirations. Questions need to be raised about whose hands can be entrusted to achieve meaningful and dignified change to cleaners lives.

David identifies why this problem has occurred in the opening paragraphs of his speech when he tries to identify with iconic images of the union like Ray Gietzelt by saying it is about ‘the usual struggles for the souls of our individual members, for the levers of our not-always-democratic organisation, for the justice and dignity of the places we work in, and the economy we suffer under’. A cynical reading of his maiden parliamentary speech though is that Dave himself is aligned with these fascist elements in our union.

He further spoke about a cleaner in the ACT Chris and thanked her for her efforts. Chris had previously publicly stated that under a Liberal government she might have to get three jobs to survive. To say that under a Labor government a cleaner needs two jobs to survive is a repeal of Labor values and a symptom of the ignorance that the Union leadership has about social justice and quality of life for its members.

In identifying where Clean Start lacked success and what contributed to the programs inability to provide justice for cleaners we need to address the hidden structural issues that are raised. Clean Start didnt happen overnight, it was a product of years of research and development by officals of United Voice. In 2002, Jeff Lawrence announced this campaign to the ACTU National Council. Clean Start offically started in 2006. Although the Union was prepared to publicly annouce this campaign and its partnership with international cleaning unions, the union was unprepared to provide the same cortesy to its members who themselves where facing unacceptable work load pressures and constant attacks on wages and conditions. In fact, the union delibratly denied the program when confronted by members, activley and passively attacked rank and file members, denied basic organising and servicing obligations (including OH&S obligations) and developed the progam without consultation with relevent industry members. This is part of the ‘not-always-democratic’ United Voice.

To address these problems and develop a successful Property Services campaign requires more than lip service to ‘rank-and-file leadership, and a ‘member-run organistion’ it requires a practice of these principles. It has been said that we are union ‘organising for the future’ but as the failures of Clean Start shows this is an excuse for unethical behaviour on the leaderships behalf. Our goal should be to organise for the future, right the wrongs of the past and provide a quality of life in the present anything else is a less than coraugous ideal.Clean Start and a Property Services campaign can only be successful when it is the skills and experience of rank-and-file members are harnessed. Or in other words, practice what you preach.

David O’Byrnes speech can be read at http://www.unitedvoice.org.au/news/national-secretarys-address-national-council

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