One of the criticisms levelled at the former Workplace Relations Minister Craig Laundy (who has now left politics) is that he did not do enough to prevent the merger of the CFMEU and the MUA (now known as the CFMMEU). This was a bit tough on Craig because the law did not permit any real grounds to stop the merger which is why the courts waved it through. Suggesting that as the Minister Craig could somehow throw magic dust and stop the merger was, frankly, ridiculous.
That however is now ancient history. The story of the present is something that does not grab a single headline in any of the mainstream media outlets but I think has considerable importance and that is the merger of United Voice and the NUW.
Not everyone is familiar with these two unions so here’s a quick history:
- United Voice used to be known as the Miscellaneous Workers Union. They represent cleaners, hospitality workers, paramedics, childcare workers etc.
- The NUW (National Union of Workers) used to be known as the Storemen & Packers Union. They represent warehouse workers, distribution chain workers, workers in supermarket loading docks etc.
United Voice has around 100,000 members nationally and the NUW has about 68,000. When they merge the new union will be called the United Workers Union with an all up membership of about 170,000. That is substantial in anyone’s language.
Why is this important? It’s important because I believe this will herald further union mergers. The path of Australian unionism will change and lead towards a much smaller number of “super unions”. The unions that choose not to merge run a real risk of disappearing altogether.
The other interesting point is that new United Workers Union will abandon the notion of state branches and replace them with a series of internal union “electorates”. The union will have an openly political agenda and has already stated that it will affiliate with the Labor Party. Any organisation that has 170,000 members has clout both financially and politically. It would be short sighted indeed to overlook how important and potentially powerful this new super union will be. And there’s more on the way.