The problem of Industrial Organising

When David O’Byrne recently spoke of rebooting the Property Services campaign practically  this should mean adding security personnel to the existing Clean Start program. We say practically, since it is a clear synergy apparent to anyone that works in these sectors or taken any type of basic research into these industries. Lets take some time to analyse what can only been seen as a basic flaw in the Unions previous strategy, the concept of industrial organising, and how this flaw has significant consequences for the Labour Movement as a whole in the quest for human rights for the working class.

Rank-and-file members have been engaging in these types of organising for many years, after all cleaners and security personnel work together on the same sites, at the same time. It is hidden , except as ad-hoc anecdotes, by the top-down officer-controlled nationally-directed campaign. This at the very least shows the importance of grass-root involvement and flexible worker controlled campaigns. We have spoken previously about the Unions failure to engage in democratic or even fundamental community organising strategies when it comes to Clean Start and we hope this revisitation will right this wrong.

From a purely tactical perspective, incorporating the repressive apparatus of capitalism to humanise and create real community voices is a win for workers, community and society. Any campaign for justice for cleaners is dealt with by staff who in the end are trained and have some expectation that they are required to use physical force. This is both real and symbolic oppression that can rightly be seen as misogynistic, racist and anti-worker that is aided by the union pitting the organised working class against the unorganised workers. While some on the left may see this as character building for workers, by deliberately setting one section of the union (organised or not), that is security, against another section, cleaners, the union leadership is complicit with the crimes of the capitalist class.

This is problematic not only in these types of workplaces. Out-sourcing of jobs in all industries has posed problems for those who work in both cleaning and security. When security and cleaning is done in-house it has been the case that other unions in the workplace have represented these workers. Contracting out these jobs brings them to the attention of the cleaning and security union (in this case United Voice). United Voice used to be known as the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union (the Missos). The Missos have a disparate and wide-ranging membership across most sectors of the economy. The word miscellaneous is indicative of that, suggesting that it is what is left over from the other major unions, who by and large organise in specific sectors. Out-sourcing brings a highly fragmented workforce across many workplaces to an already mass membership base. It could be argued this is one reason why United Voice moved from a servicing model to an organising model. However the organising model primary objective is industrial organising not workplace organising making it difficult to respond to the concerns and interests of these workers.

This utilitarian approach, as opposed to a rights based system, sacrifices these workers to the harshest treatment by their employers resulting in poorer wages and conditions, placing pressure on others in the industry, as this is what the market will bear. It also means that in those workplaces, conditions and wages of workers are eroded by stealth, as the workplace management and unions have no interest in the industrial conditions of these workers. It is beyond the pale, that militant unions such as the AMWU and MUA engage in workers rights campaigns while on their own highly organised workplaces they have workers engaged with that real struggle. It is easy to say ‘not my problem’ but if we truly recognise the principles of campaigns such as ‘Your Rights at Work’ there must be another way.

Contrast that with the CFMEU who have a whole-of-workplace approach on some construction sites (excepting technical guild unions like the ETU) means that not only are industry leading wages and conditions are maintained for cleaners, kitchen and security staff but maintains union membership integrity and solidarity. This approach will inevitably mean the cost of doing business, for cleaning and security contractors, is dealing with multiple and competing claims from various worker representatives but more importantly maintain a decent minimum conditions and wages for workers.

In other workplaces that United Voice has a large and organised membership base. In hospitals and education facilities they co-exist with CFMEU maintenance staff. In manufacturing, among other industries, they co-exist with the AMWU. It would be easy to take the principle of this idea and apply it to the Clean Start program. As well as security, there also exists on high-rise buildings and shopping complexes, maintenance staff. It is our contention it doesn’t matter if United Voice, or the CFMEU, or AMWU, or even the AWU (or other unions) takes responsibility for skilled maintenance staff, the failure of Clean Start clearly indicates the need for a whole of workplace approach and for their inclusion.

This whole-of-workplace approach is useful as another strategy for membership. The CFMEU are proud of their union constructed buildings. We can only imagine their pride at them being trashed by poorly organised maintenance staff. If we want members from day one of these buildings being opened then we need to develop a seamless approach. It is in the interests of the owners of capital to have well built, well maintained buildings that are the most effective in the long run. Union labour not only must have the best conditions and the best wages, but the best practice making it the most efficient, cost effective approach. That is the only way unions can survive in a capitalist, competitive world. Unions must compete on the bottom line, if successful then productivity and wages costs are meaningless. Otherwise there is only revolution since the cause of community and capitalism is incompatible.


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