Statement circulated in 1993 to moderate unions prior to caucuses before ACTU Executive meetings.
In defining the industrial and political ethos that Labor Unity represents, there is the danger of being too prescriptive, too ideological and too certain about details.
Labor Unity can be described at various levels: who its friends are; its basic principles; its development over time; its characteristic style; its opponents.
Its friends are those who are sometimes described as Labor moderates. However, that may imply a conservatism and quietism that is not characteristic of most of us.
Labor Unity stands for a loose consensus about these principles:
- That organised labour is a vital means of ensuring that society is better organised to combat poverty and injustice.
- Improving the bargaining power of workers and their families in relation with employers, fellow employees, the bureaucracy and governments.
- Opposition to totalitarian and extreme authoritarian positions, whether espoused within the labour movement, in politics or by employers.
- Support for independent labour organisation, rather than subordination to the state or a political faction or party.
- Support for the family as the basis of society and the defence of measures – industrial, social and political, which assist family life.
- Support for a non-discriminatory, fair approach – industrially and politically – in labour relations and in the wider society.
- The trade union movement should be committed to the principle of democracy – internally as well as in the wider society.
- Industrial and political strategies should combine in order to civilise capitalism, thereby gradually transforming society, without losing the benefits of the marketplace or disregarding social principles.
- Support for working together with like-minded individuals to achieve the realisation of these principles.
I found this paper in one of my files in the Noel Butlin Archives at the Australian National University. It was clearly marked as a draft. I am not sure if a surviving, complete copy exists in the papers of the Labor Council of NSW (since 2004 renamed Unions NSW) held at the Mitchell Library (within the State Library of NSW). There are many uncatalogued boxes there.
On the creation of the document, a cover note sent to the leaders of moderate, national unions proposed a first discussion on this (and other more immediate issues, including union restructure, award changes and the future of the Trade Union Training Authority) on 28 April 1993. This note said: “Statement of Principles. I have drafted a statement which is attached. I suggest a brief preliminary discussion – to sound out ideas – with further discussion at the May ACTU Executive caucus meeting on Monday May 10th.”
It represented what I then believed.
Twenty-six years later, I am not sure if the one page of this statement (all that I have) was everything put forward. Nor do I remember if the ultimate document was modified.
Point 4 served to highlight that however close we might be to the Labor Party, what came first was loyalty the trade union movement, to members’ best interests. I recall Greg Sword (the then National Secretary of the National Union of Workers’) suggesting that the line be modified to suggest independence, but not wary suspicion.
Looking back, it appeals that what was said was brief and skipped the usual 10-point manifesto stereotype.
With some minor modifications, I fancy the statement stands the test of time.