By Chief Journalist Paul Karp.
Victoria Trades Hall Council (VTHC) secretary Luke Hilakari has revealed a plan to target school children for union membership and organise young workers in hospitality and retail industries.
Hilakari made the comments at a ‘fringe’ session on organising at the Australian Council of Trade Unions Congress on Tuesday (May 26).
The VTHC planned “to give every kid in high school a union work card”, Hilakari said, likening it to Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s successful ‘Dollarmite’ accounts targeting young school children.
He said students could organise campaigns in their schools like getting ethically-sourced chocolate in their canteens or Textile Clothing and Footwear Union-approved school uniforms, which would teach practical campaigning skills.
Hilakari also revealed a plan to target youth-heavy industry sectors for organising and recruitment, such as hospitality and retail sectors.
Workers in these sectors had industrial concerns like being “paid in pizza” or below minimum wage, he said. “That’s a prime opportunity for us as organisers.”
Hilakari said that VTHC had run sessions with young workers to gauge their concerns and they had raised sexual harassment in the workplace, being paid cash in hand and safety.
Hilakari championed the importance of data and sharing of contact lists and petitions between unions. Having detailed information about members’ and workers’ concerns allowed campaigners to have an “authentic conversation” with voters about issues that matter to them, he said.
Looking at petitions and sign-in sheets at union events could help identify people who were passionate about union causes, he said.
“If a member has filled in five or six petitions – make them a delegate. If a non-member signs three or four times, ask them to join the union.”
Unions need numbers not just strategy: delegate
Professionals’ Australia chief executive Chris Walton said the union movement must maintain focus on increasing numbers, because “if you don’t have adequate power, adequate numbers of members, you can’t win campaigns even if you get [everything else] right”.
“Do we just keep defensively running the next state election campaign? Will the door to door [campaigning] model support significant growth? I don’t think the debate’s been had adequately,” Walton said.
He asked why the union movement was campaigning on penalty rates “without [the campaign] being completely connected with workers”.
Even if organising and recruiting around this campaign were unsuccessful, the movement would still appear “connected to workers” and the debate would be framed “as a workers’ issue, not one about institutions and laws”.
Walton said the union movement should focus on workers it currently classes as too hard to organise, such as hospitality workers.
“[Nobody is willing] to do a traditional organising model in hospitality. But look at the overseas model, they’ve organised workers in Walmart. Let’s have a go,” he said.
(This story first ran in Workforce Daily 19632, May 26, 2015)
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