Failings of the current Union/ALP affiliation arrangements. By guest author
Well truth seekers, I have decided to make an exception to my usual policy of TSM being purely restricted to my musings/ramblings, for the sake of reproducing a comment/article posted by one of our valued commenters John B, who has, by his in-depth comments, and thoughtful, intelligent and insightful approach, added greatly to our understanding of the workings, and need for reform, of the ALP.
I decided to post this, as I thought it was worthy of serious consideration and discussion, and to coincide with the ALP National Conference, held this coming weekend.
I would encourage all to read and share this article, and add your thoughts/comments 🙂
Failings of the current Union/ALP affiliation arrangements. By John B.
Current ‘whole of Union’/ALP affiliation arrangements have proved problematic and unproductive for the ALP.
While union affiliation fees provide a steady income for the ALP, it has failed to extend ALP reach into the unaffiliated ‘other half’ (900,000 members) of the broader union movement.
It has also inadequately encouraged or achieved inclusive democratic participation of union R&F membership in ALP affairs, or increased R&F ALP membership.
The current arrangement has fundamental design flaws, which in conjunction with greatly diminished union membership over recent decades has undesirably further distanced R&F from involvement in ALP governance – it has provided few progressive benefits to the ALP.
Regulatory inadequacies in Union and ALP rules are exploited by self serving manipulative factions to effectively acquire and retain control of ALP governance –factions who through collusion actively resist disempowerment by opposing and voting down any meaningful democratising reform.
Long term adverse outcomes for the ALP are a consequence of inherent flaws in current affiliation arrangements. Contributing deficiencies are:-
a) – it rewards Union management for misrepresentation/manipulation of union membership numbers (provides increased conference representation, assists appointment of their preferred party officers); Refer recent revelations from TURC re TWU membership audit. (Table on Page 1152)
b) – ALP financially benefits from inflated union membership claims – more union members= more affiliation fees received. This presents a conflict of interest to the ALP – both the governor and administrator of the scheme;
c) – it provides no incentive for Union execs to promote or recruit ALP membership from union rank and file;
d) – it enables, and has resulted in, union management effectively isolating/excluding union R&F from ALP governance conferences;
e) – it provides no incentive to eradicate unfair/undemocratic rules/practices from impacting ALP peak governance conferences – in fact, ineffective and ‘loose’ rules are guarded from reform by groups and factions that advantage from such rule deficiencies;
National Platform /Constitution Ch 12, Pt C Sect 10:
“Subject to rule 10(b), it shall be the right of each union to determine the criteria and procedures for selection of its delegates, subject to those delegates being financial members of that union and of the Party”
The above regulation is completely inadequate to ensure proper democratic process is practised in the governance of either Union or ALP – Union rules vary, but generally there is no proper nomination, election process, specified term of office, right of tenure, or expulsion procedure specified;
f) – it constitutes a financial disincentive for unions to affiliate with the ALP;
g) – it provides no effective proper democratic barrier to restrict strategic collaboration/collusion of factionally aligned union execs in the appointment of state conference delegates. Factions thus effectively control the conference floor so as to thwart policy/rule reforms that may diminish their control;
h) –it has effectively created a division in the union movement;
there are two classes of union members in respect to ALP governance – affiliated unionists are allocated delegates to conference – non affiliated unionists have no access to ALP conference, and no way under the rules to achieve any representation at conference should their Union executive unilaterally choose not to affiliate with the ALP.
This group constitutes approx 900,000 unionists (statistically [2013 Fed. Election] 300,000 primary ALP voting unionists) effectively shut out of participation in ALP affairs through unilateral action of union executives– actions usually beyond those individuals control.
Affiliation has been abused by factional power-brokers and exploited by ambitious careerist union officials. It has demonstrably failed to recruit union members to the ALP, and is grossly undemocratic for the R&F of both unions and the ALP;
– it has been cleverly and shrewdly used to empower self-interested factions to effectively exclude ‘unfavoured’ R&F from participation in ALP governance;
– it has stymied party modernisation and delayed progressive reforms so urgently needed to embrace available new technologies for delivery of meaningful R&F inclusivity.
I am aware that many unions volunteer/donate support in many other forms during elections and at other times, but I’m not convinced the degree of that cooperation would change if present affiliation arrangements were replaced with the proposed arrangement (see proposal below).
The industrial and political arms of the Labor movement have much in common – they are interdependent in advancing the common cause of fairer more equitable wealth distribution.
The closer and more successfully they work together, the more powerful is the whole Labor movement.
The ALP needs deeper more inclusive and positive connections with the broad R&F membership base of all 1.8 million unionists in Australia and to utilise that connection to attract a larger political membership base.
This above critique has not been composed lightly – there is little point criticising without proposing a practical more productive alternative arrangement.
The proposed framework redefining ALP/union interaction and cooperation will not be favoured by those currently enjoying the control delivered by the current compromised (easily manipulated) affiliation arrangements. In association with other democratising reforms, it will deliver a healthier Union/ALP relationship and set the scene for substantial growth in ALP membership.
Framework and Benefits of Proposed Model:
( to replace the current affiliation arrangement)
Following is the framework of the proposed arrangement devised to replace the existing decaying and dysfunctional ALP/Union affiliation agreement with a broader, fairer, more robust and open ‘special’ membership system.
- The ALP should progressively replace current ‘affiliation’ arrangements with a system based on individual ALP membership.
- Abandon/phase out ‘whole of union’ ALP affiliation currently managed/implemented at union executive level.
- Calculate quota of delegate positions to State Conference using similar method as to that applied to currently affiliated unions, except that only ALP members who are also financial members of that particular Union are counted towards that quota.
- ALP and Union financial membership data records should be linked insomuch as required for each party to validate/cross-check an individual’s ALP/Union membership status.
- Union executives would now have real incentive to encourage union R&F members of their union to join the ALP – so to provide their union with maximum delegate representation at conference.
Traditionally ‘non affiliated’ unions, who currently insist on distancing themselves from the ALP can continue as they are; except that if the union’s executive decline their right to claim delegate representation to conference, that unaffiliated unions R&F members who have joined the ALP can claim pro rata representation at State Annual Conference under a ‘generic’ trade union grouping created especially for that purpose.
- ALP membership should be offered to unionists at a special discount rate.
Suggest $1.00 per week ($52p.a.)
- Current affiliated Unions can choose to retain current ALP affiliation fees formally remitted to the ALP under the ‘old system’ ($500*1%=$5 p.a. per union member) as incentive/compensation to assuage administrative costs of implementing the proposed system.
ALP membership fee collection should continue to be controlled and managed by State ALP via auto payroll deductions etc.
- Provides an est. 900,000 current unaffiliated union members potential representation at ALP conference – a reason to join the ALP; an opportunity to have a say in determining policy and priorities of the Labor movement.
- Remediates a long standing neglected discrimination issue whereby ALP rules effectively prevent 900,000 non-affiliated R&F unionists from gaining equivalent ‘union’ representation on Annual State Conference – even though they may be ALP members. They are currently in effect a lower class of unionist in the eyes of the ALP due to the fact their union executive has unilaterally decided not to affiliate with the ALP.
- ALP membership now drawn from all 1.8 million union R&F members – assists generational change through accessing a fresh group of 900,000 working age union members.
- ALP/Unions should implement revised arrangements over a 12 month transition period to ensure smooth uninterrupted flow of finance and industrial/political governance operation.
- ALP rules should be further reformed to democratise and enhance participation/inclusion of R&F membership in relevant current/real-time union/ALP governance matters and surveys.
- To ‘road-test’ the concept (to re-assure the doubting Thomases):
Following development of a suitable tailored membership benefits package, specially designed to be attractive and inclusive to all union members, perhaps members of unaffiliated unions should be the first offered the revised more attractive ALP membership.
Keep in mind a basic marketing strategy – give them a reason to join the ALP !!!
- The future – open to expansion into other diverse areas from which further ALP membership may be drawn – the sky’s the limit;
g. The proposed arrangement for ‘special’ ALP membership could be extended to individual members of other ’registered/regulated’ non profit organisations and cooperatives who seek input to ALP political policy formulation. Including groups of the population who presently have no political voice provides a broadening of the base of the ALP, and creates a new source of membership and supporters.
- Financial projections:
Refer excel spreadsheet.
A ‘what if’ guide only, based on best estimations from publicly available relevant information.
The spreadsheet was arranged as below to calculate a ‘dollar benefit’ comparison/analysis of the current system of union affiliation vs the proposed personal ‘special’ ALP membership system.
Notes on the Spreadsheet calculations:
While conducting research to design this proposal, it became evident that Union/ALP affiliation financial arrangements are played ‘close to the chest’ by both unions and the ALP.
As no ‘actual’ account figures were available, to determine the total income the present union affiliation arrangements return to the ALP, it was necessary to apply ‘educated estimates’ as input data
Some approximate figures were extracted from published audited Union financial accounts via the web. I consider Union financial account entries provide a reasonably reliable basis for the estimation of the rate at which the ALP levies unions as affiliation fees.
When the amount of affiliation fees paid out are co-related to each Union’s declared financial membership base, it indicates that an amount of approximately 1% of collected union membership fees is remitted as an ‘affiliation fee’ to the ALP.
An average union membership fee of $520 per annum was utilised (as published in an ACTU Union information pamphlet , “How much does union membership cost?” ).
The average affiliation fee forwarded to the ALP was simply calculated as 1% x $520pa x number of affiliated members.
ABS figures indicate there are 1.8 million unionists in Australia.
It is generally accepted (though I have been unable to locate supporting data) that about 50% of Australian unions are affiliated with the ALP.
The above numbers were entered on the spreadsheet to perform basic calculations to establish the financial feasibility of replacing the current ‘whole of union’ affiliation system with this proposed individual unionist ‘special’ ALP membership arrangement.
The results to be very promising, as can be seen from the spreadsheet projections – of course these figures are based on estimates and approximations.
However it clearly illustrates the financial viability of the concept.
Those ’in the know’ with access to real data can insert properly verified numbers to perform a ‘real life’ practical comparison/evaluation.
Almost everybody recognises that the present affiliation arrangement, despite its many shortcomings, provides reliable, essential and much needed income for the ALP.
Any move to change/reform the current system will not only face predictable stiff opposition from those factions empowered through it, but from many whose opposition is financially motivated – those concerned to ensure this reliable source of income for the party is not jeopardised.
I want not only for the ALP to retain this important income source, but to grow it – and also to strengthen the relationship with unions and unionists. Furthermore I consider this proposal represents a better way to achieve that income, with the added advantage of potentially significantly increasing ALP R&F membership while retaining and extending cooperative arrangements with the entire trade union movement.
It creates a broader, healthier relationship with unions in that all R&F union members are treated as equals in the eyes of the ALP, irrespective of the factional/political stance of union executives.
All Union execs under this proposed system would have a vested interest in becoming active recruiters for ALP membership – the more members they enrol, the more say they get in ALP governance.
Conference representation strength to be allotted using ALP (financial) membership data, that is cross checked with union (financial) membership data.
It would serve the interests of both the unions and the ALP to enrol as many ALP members as possible from within all Australian unions.
The integrity of membership records is enhanced by the maintenance of a cross referenced Union/ALP database – enabling the establishment of a secure web-based personal access ALP login facility.
It removes the ALP’s obvious conflict of interest, the ‘reward for deception’ that is inherent in the current system – where the ALP receive additional income resulting from union membership numbers that have been fraudulently inflated for the purpose of unfairly gaining additional delegates at conference.
Changes must be made to the existing system, as it is clearly not working in the interests of the greater Labor movement.
It has resulted in the ALP falling under the control of self serving factional groups who have contrived ways to ‘game the system’, using regulatory inadequacies to their advantage.
Union R&F numbers have been falling steeply for the last 40 years (union membership rate down from 48% to 17% of eligible employees), growth in ALP R&F membership has stagnated.
ALP Membership is not increasing – even with the worst government ever in Canberra tearing away at every aspect of our living and working conditions there has been no significant increase in membership.
How far does union membership have to drop before the ALP look seriously at their 50-50 relationship with affiliated unions ? Is it 10%, or perhaps 5%?
It soon becomes an almost ludicrous discussion.
ALP membership rate amongst unionists is appallingly low, especially considering unions are an integral part of Australia’s Labor movement. Even if every ALP member was also a union member, it would represent 2.2% ALP membership rate amongst unionists.
This proposal goes some way to addressing the long ignored R&F disconnection with the ALP.
I commend this proposal to all ALP members for consideration and comment.