Union membership falling

Time to build UNITE

Union membership among young workers is continuing to fall. Currently only one in every ten workers aged between 15 and 24 years belongs to a union. The recently released Social Trends 2008 study actually confirmed union membership rates fell across all age groups between 1986 and 2007.

The ACTU has blamed the membership decline among young workers on the hostile environment created by Work Choices. This has obviously contributed but it is not the only reason.

The membership rate among employees aged 15 to 24 fell from 36 per cent in 1986 to 10 per cent last year. The rate among workers aged 25 to 34 also fell from 48 per cent to 15 per cent.

Private sector membership has fallen to 13.7 per cent. But the overall proportion of the workforce belonging to a union stands at 19 per cent. This is because of high membership levels in the public sector at 41 per cent.

UNITE believes that young people, and workers in general, will join unions if they are seen to be doing something. By doing something we mean fighting for better pay and conditions.

It seems most unions are more interested in organising free movie tickets or computer deals for their members rather than improving wages and conditions.

The ACTU say that increasing union membership was a “top priority”. But this ‘strategy’ is not linked to any sort of fighting campaign. On this basis it will fail to recruit in big numbers. It also hasn’t helped that they told us to blindly vote for Labor and this would solve our problems.

Now Labor is in and the problems remain. A certain amount of distrust has developed particularly amongst young workers who are doubly exploited through youth wages and high levels of casualisation. Labor have no policies to end youth rates or casualisation.

UNITE calls on the ACTU and other unions to follow our lead and campaign around the issues that are important to young people. For a long time we have been calling for an end to youth wages, for an increase in the minimum wage, for secure hours and for all individual contracts to be abolished. Unfortunately we have been waging this fight almost alone and with next to no resources.

We want to encourage people to join unions but showing that unions will campaign to improve your lot. People are not interested in movie tickets or back room deals with Labor Party politicians. They want an organisation that will stand up for them in the workplace.

It’s time for a new approach. Its time to support UNITE’s campaigns around young worker’s issues. This is the only way we will reverse the trend of declining union membership.