30 December 2007

The SDA: social agenda of the Catholic Right

The SDA will be a running theme throughout my blogs. This blogger's dislike for this union stems from not only the fact that it does not fight for its members but also its incredibly socially conservative agenda. Having been a member of the SDA I am well aware of how utterly backward they are.

More will be discussed about the SDA's inability to fight for its members at a later time. With regards to the conservative social agenda National Secretary of the SDA, Joe de Bruyn, stated at an ALP conference in April 2007 the following:

"It (the Tasmanian scheme giving gay couples equality before the law) robs marriage of its unique and privileged status and it puts it on the same level as a radically different type of union."

He also said:
"At a time when we are fighting to protect working families from Howard's Work Choices we are at the same time attacking the status of those same families."

Fortunately de Bruyn's comments were given the abuse they deserved.

The unionist (this blogger) recently heard, admittedly through hearsay, about what was being taught to young people being trained as delegates for the SDA. One of the first items on the agenda was to talk about the evils of homosexuality and the break down of the family. If this is true it is a sad indictment on the SDA. It is disgusting.

One has to ask how representative Joe de Bruyn is of the the members he supposedly represents. There are over 200,000 members of the SDA. And how many of them voted for Joe? Not one, due to the fact that the state branches vote in the Federal officials. Joe has led the SDA since at least the late 1970s. I am not sure when he was "voted" in so if anyone does know, I am all ears.

It is high time the SDA members around Australia took a more active interest in how their union was run. Every fourth year elections are held around Australia to fill (at least) the positions of Secretary-Treasurer. There are also other unpaid positions which help control the power (elections for these positions are staggered), but in all unions the control of day to day running lies with the Secretary.

In Queensland nominations will be called on the first Monday in May (5 May 2008) for the positions of Secretary-Treasurer and First Assistant Secretary. As long as you have been a member of the Queensland branch of the SDA for at least a month beforehand you are eligible to run for either position. You do not have to be 18 to run or vote! Check out the Electoral Commission of Queensland website on or slightly after the above date for details.

So if you're an SDA member and want people leading your union who actually understand the issues of retail workers, as opposed to using union funds to run their anti-gay, anti-abortion, conservative agenda, then put your name up to run in an election being held. It is high time REAL retail workers ran the SDA. Not right-wing ALP hacks

27 December 2007

Australian unions and democracy

If Australian unions want to be taken seriously then internal reform is a necessary evil. Unions cannot take the high ground on being the representatives of Australian workers if they do not allow workers to participate fully in the way they operate. To put it bluntly, some unions are incredibly anti-democratic and this has been done on purpose to stimy opposition and ensure the incumbent regime can never be ousted.

The best example of this would have to be the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA). This union is not notorious for its socially conservative agenda and cosy relationship with employers. It is referred to as a "bosses union" by most other unions.

The SDA entrenches the power of its executive at the national level by cleverly having a collegiate system for the voting. So for a rival group to take over the union they would have to win most of the elections run at a state level. Without a concerted national campaign and probably hundreds of thousands of dollars a rival group could never take over the union.

But it must be said that most unions are not crash hot at running democratic elections at all. Whilst all meet the letter of the law, virtually none take the question of being democratic seriously. This author has worked at two unions that went through elections recently. On both occasions the union advertised the election in the capital city newspaper in the Public Notices section, as required by law. The Public Notices section is a part of the paper that virtually no one reads!

Neither union decided to inform its members in its regular journal that an election was upcoming. Neither sent out letters to members or made any other attempt at communicating that its members could participate in democracy; a right of being a member. After the "election" was over the incumbents were quite proud that they "won" without having to do anything at all. A brief mention was made in a journal after the election was over that the incumbents' team had "won".

This author has spoken to at least one person in an elected union council position who was rather bemused at the "democracy" of the union. When a position came up mid-term he was not informed it was up for election, even though fairly high up in the union. Someone else was appointed by the Branch Secretary and approved by the executive. So much for openness. This is only small example, but it goes to highlight the hypocrisy of some unions when they talk about democracy and being the workers representatives.

At the very minimum unions should have to properly inform their own members that an election is coming up! This should be done by a prominent information notice in a union publication sent to all members or a letter sent to all members. This would be a start.