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Are women and care professions leading a new type of union politics?

Recent effective election campaigns by nurses and teachers may point the way to new industrial campaigning on issues that is led by women and will shift beyond the traditional union-Labor party dynamic. Ben Spies-Butcher on

Political Unionism in the 21st Century: Women, care and social democracy

The rise of neoliberalism has seen unions struggle internationally, especially in the English speaking world. Yet, the experience in Australia was unique. During the 1980s and early 1990s a Labor Government oversaw market reform in close coalition with the union movement via a formal Accord. Industrially amalgamations coincided with substantial declines in union membership density. But the political centralisation necessitated by the Accord opened new strategies.

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Buchanan and colleagues credit greater centralisation in the organisation of the labour movement with its enhanced ability to organise politically — a capacity exemplified by the Your Rights at Work campaign developed to oppose the radical labour market regulation policy, WorkChoices. In 2005, the union campaign mobilised thousands of workers up until the 2007 federal election. Subsequent analysis suggests it had a tangible impact on the election result, helping to elect a Labor Government that then moderated industrial relations laws.

There are clearly dangers for unions in shifting too far from industrial to political strategies. Yet, closer examination suggests opportunities to combine political and industrial strategies as the composition of union membership and structure of the economy change

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