With the ALP and trade unions suffering a bit of an image problem, someone asked on a thread somewhere, what should responsible trade unions be doing?
Associations of workers had (and have) many useful functions in addition to acting as friendly societies for health and welfare provision. They could help their members to improve their qualifications and locate the best paid work, and they could provide legal advice and other assistance to members subjected to unfair treatment by management.
Even supporters of the centralized Australian system such as Keith Hancock know that the only way to improve the position of the workers at large is by way of increased productivity. This means that responsible unions will work with management to lift productivity by implementing improved work practices and new technologies. That is likely to reduce the need for personnel on site for the time being and that has prompted the unions to protect jobs in the short term rather than implement improved practices. Where unions succeed in that aim there is a cost in job creation both upstream and downstream from overmanned and inefficient sites. Progress occurs through the creation AND destruction of jobs and the main game is to make both of those processes as painless as possible without cramping productivity and efficiency.
That is lifted from a paper on the mythology of the trade union movement that is used to justify what William H Hutt called “the strike threat system” that evolved in Britain to protect the privileges of unions, by force and intimidation if it helped.
The alternative is the “friendly society” system whereby the unions provided health and welfare services for their members, in advance of the welfare state which probably drove them out of existence in that form, the way the “free” public schools drove out the private “penny schools”.