‘The state of the union(s): how a perfect storm weakened the workers’ voices‘, The Conversation, 21 April 2016
The author says that, given the current political focus on unions, an observer would think Australian unions were at the height of the power and constituted a central political and economic issue. In fact, union membership is at its lowest since before Federation at 11 to 15 per cent, depending on the measure used. This compares with a peak of 65 per cent in 1948 and a steady minimum of 40 per cent from around World War I to 1992.
This change has come about from a combination of the decline in manufacturing jobs, incorporation into state machinery (through the Accord) at the expense of union activism, union amalgamations, the decline of the arbitration system, political opposition from non-Labor governments, and multilateral trade agreements.
Rawson and Wrightson (1971) plotted the beginnings of the decline of union membership. More in The Conversation from Amanda Pyman and Ray Markey.
The article begins a series on the history of trade unions. The series will link from this article.