A Capital Idea?
The trade union’s hierarchy will travel to Melbourne to celebrate the
ACTU’s 75th Anniversary next week; a journey that says much about where
our peak body has come from and even more about where it should go now.
Those 75 years have spanned a World War, a Depression, a long, lean
period in Opposition, two decades in ascendency where it seemed for a time
the ACTU was part of the Executive and now another term in the political
It survived the Depression, the Split and the Cold War, creating an
egalitarian Australian society and produced our longest-serving Labor
Along the way its achievements have been significant: a 40-hour week,
basic wages, leave entitlements, equal pay, superannuation, redundancy
rights and the recognition of indigenous Australians.
But there have also been defeats, none more so than the way the
movement managed to lose half its base at the very point where its
political influence was at its greatest.
There’s been another dynamic underpinning the ACTU’s lifespan that
reflects the broader tensions in the Australian polity between the States
Like the Federal Parliament, it was actually state bodies that
established the ACTU, principally the Labor Council of NSW recognising the
need for a unified voice for the new nation.
It’s folklore that the Labor Council established the ACTU in
Melbourne because if it succeeded it would be far enough away and if it
failed it would be far enough away.
As Australia’s Federation has strengthened, so has the ACTU’s
profile as the focal point of the entire union movement; until the Accord
era where the man at the peak of the apex sat down with the Prime Minister
to determine the wages and conditions of a nation.
But herein lies the ACTU’s challenge, in an era when industrial
relations has been devolved to the workplace, how can a peak national body
ever be responsive to the needs of individual workers?
At it’s best the ACTU is at the cutting edge of the national
political debate, leading the charge on contemporary issues like paid
maternity leave and reasonable working hours.
Discuss in our Forums
See what other readers are saying about this article!
Click here to read & post comments.