New South Wales


Lunchtime Seminar: The Decline and Sociological Transformation of Australian Unionism


From: Thursday March 22, 2018, 12:30 pm

To: Thursday March 22, 2018, 2:00 pm


In May 2017 the Australian Bureau of Statistics published the first statistics on trade union membership since the discontinuation of the long-running Employee Earnings, Benefits and Trade Union Membership series in the wake of its August 2013 survey. The new series, Characteristics of Employment, Australia, confirms two long-established trends.

First, it reveals the continuing decline of trade union membership, whether measured in terms of absolute membership or as a share of the workforce. Second, it reveals the increasing domination of union membership by those who list their occupation as either professional or manager. Together, these two groupings are now responsible for more than 40% of national membership. The new series also reveals as failures the “revitalisation” policies pursued by unions in recent decades, which have revolved around two main strategies: the “Organising Model” – a plan to increase workforce activism – and activist campaigns designed to achieve the election of Labor governments and more favourable industrial laws. As the shrinking ranks of unions become ever more dominated by professionals and managers, moreover, the Australian union movement risks becoming increasingly remote from the concerns of the wider society. It is also becoming increasingly evident that the sociological transformation of the Australian union movement is causing an ever deepening rift within the labour movement; a rift that sees unionists and Labor leaders associated with inner city professionals oppose major projects – such as the Adani coal mine in Central Queensland - that benefit blue-collar unionists in the regions.

About the Speaker:

Bradley Bowden is Professor of Employment Relations at Griffith University, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Management History Division and Executive Member and Past Chair of the Management History Division of the (American) Academy of Management. His forthcoming book, Work, Wealth and Postmodernism: The Intellectual Conflict at the Heart of Business Endeavour is being published by Palgrave Macmillan in New York and will be available for sale from June.



Bookings are now closed


Reserve Bank of Australia

65 Martin Place, Sydney NSW 2000

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