Australian Left Review


Roger Coates


By some standards the Australian trade union movement has been an outstanding success. Although it has sometimes been sharply divided ideologically, it has achieved a wide coverage of the workforce and an almost complete structural unity. In the last decade major new affiliations of white-collar and government employees have highlighted this growing organisational strength. In the same period financing has dramatically im p ro v e d , a n d p ro f e s s io n a lism an d sophistication have grown. The ACTU now is not so disadvantaged in the fairly unequal battle with government and employers as it once was. And partly as a cause, partly as a consequence, many of the ACTU's affiliates have grown stronger and more effective. Bald figures underline this story of recent rapid development and greater cohesion. From 1972 to 1975 the proportion of trade unionists in the employed workforce rose from 53 percent to a relatively high 58 percent — a faster rate of growth than during World War II. Between 1971 and 1979 (before the CAGEO affiliation) the membership of ACTU-affiliated unions grew by over half a million, and in 1979 (perhaps the most significant figure) over 72 percent of all trade unionists were in ACTU-affiliated unions (62 percent in 1971).



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