An analysis of workplace representatives, union power and democracy in Australia
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The purpose of this article is to illuminate the views and experiences of workplace representatives in Australia in the context of falling union density, and to analyse factors that are most strongly associated with subjective union power at the workplace level, as perceived by delegates. The analysis relies on a large random survey of workplace delegates in eight significant Australian unions. The article describes the situation broadly facing delegates as shown by the survey and analyses a set of factors associated with the power of workers as perceived by delegates. We find that higher levels of reported activism among delegates are strongly associated with greater subjective union power. We also find that self-reported delegate confidence is also strongly associated with perceptions of higher union power, as is delegate's clarity about their roles. The data also show a strong association between perceptions of democracy within the union and union power. Support for delegates from the union office and organizers is also associated with higher levels of union power at the local level. The analysis provides some support for union renewal strategies associated with the 'organizing model' as applied in Australia and some other Anglo-Saxon countries that aim to increase the activism of workplace delegates through education, the provision of support for workplace delegates and more democratic union structures.
British Journal of Industrial Relations
© 2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd and London School of Economics. This is an electronic version of an Article published in BJIR 47:4 December 2009 0007–1080 pp. 623–652 The definitive version is available at www.interscience.wiley.com