Letter to the editor, The Bulletin, 18 December 1979, pp. 12-13.
Bob Carr’s article (Bulletin, November 13) concerning the decision by the management consultants J.P. Young to coach businesses on how to lock their doors to trade unions was excellent reading.
The remarks of Mr Cliff Reece, the executive director of J.P. Young who is co-ordinating this anti-union campaign, shows that he understands little about the Australian industrial relations system. His quoted opinions are a string of fantasies and fallacies.
Firstly, Mr Reece claims: “Unions are now using the well-known communist technique of recruiting pockets of the workforce and using them as cells.” This statement employs the discreditable guilt-by-association technique: as if typical union recruitment is communist inspired or modelled on communist teaching.
The prime targets of Mr Reece’s campaign do not fit his analysis. The Federated Clerks’ Union and the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association, the unions referred to in Bob Carr’s article, could hardly be branded as communist inspired; in fact, they are the two largest Right-wing unions in the country.
Mr Reece’s second analogy is even more juvenile: “I do not believe in capitulation … Look at Hitler and Chamberlain…” This latter-day Churchill, pictured in a plush executive suite with panoramic views of Sydney, is also quoted as stating: “Unions are getting too much power. It’s the employers who are the down-trodden ones.”
Yet there is confusion in Mr Reece’s argument. He enthuses about one company which has “kept unions out through good management.” This therefore suggests that unions emerge and exist due to poor management, presumably from innocent, “down-trodden” executives.
The union movement in Australia represents, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 57 percent of the workforce. A majority of the Australian population recognise the need for unions. And as Mr Reece’s remarks imply, unions are strongest where the need is greatest; where poor management results in poor industrial relations.
Mr Reece may therefore find it more profitable to coach management in the practices of good industrial relations rather than imagining himself as another Winston Churchill proclaiming the dangers of “capitulation”.
Carr urged me to write something in response to his profile of Reece. He foresaw that soft and hard union busting techniques and associated ideology would become more influential in Australia.
Reece, as a blustering, unsubtle American blow-in, uncouth and ignorant of the Australian environment, might have been fun to poke fun at. But he was also a harbinger of change.
In a subsequent issue of The Bulletin, Reece wrote a follow-up letter thanking me for comparing him to Churchill. I wondered if someone was impersonating him – a Barrie Humphries employer equivalent of Lance Boyle?