Organising Union

Transport Workers Face the Challenge of Change, 1989-2013

Mark Hearn
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Organising Union

Transport Workers Face the Challenge of Change, 1989-2013

Mark Hearn

Between 1989 and 2013 every industry sector covered by the Transport Workers Union in New South Wales was utterly transformed by processes of globalisation and technological and market change. Large players consumed small firms; in turn, the bigger companies were often acquired by global players.

The lesson that emerges from Organising Union is simple: the value of solidarity. In 2001 redundant Ansett workers were told they would never see their entitlements. In 2006 Tooheys owner-drivers were suddenly terminated by the company; the goodwill invested in their trucks and business was declared worthless. Ansett workers received almost all their entitlements—an unprecedented 95 cents in the dollar. The Tooheys drivers' jobs were saved, the value of their goodwill upheld. Those outcomes were possible only because of the solidarity of transport workers and the support of their union. No one else stood alongside the workers at Ansett and Tooheys as consistently and tenaciously…

Between 1989 and 2013 every industry sector covered by the Transport Workers Union in New South Wales was utterly transformed by processes of globalisation and technological and market change. Large players consumed small firms; in turn, the bigger companies were often acquired by global players.

The lesson that emerges from Organising Union is simple: the value of solidarity. In 2001 redundant Ansett workers were told they would never see their entitlements. In 2006 Tooheys owner-drivers were suddenly terminated by the company; the goodwill invested in their trucks and business was declared worthless. Ansett workers received almost all their entitlements—an unprecedented 95 cents in the dollar. The Tooheys drivers' jobs were saved, the value of their goodwill upheld. Those outcomes were possible only because of the solidarity of transport workers and the support of their union. No one else stood alongside the workers at Ansett and Tooheys as consistently and tenaciously as their own union.

Organising Union explores the relationship between the union and key industry players, and between the union and governments. The TWU has often been at the centre of controversy: the turbulent 1989 union election punctuated by accusations of rorts and fist fights; the clashes with the Hawke and Keating governments over the Accord and enterprise bargaining, resulting in the TWU disaffiliating from the ACTU and a truck blockade of the Reserve Bank's Sydney headquarters; the devastating 2001 Ansett closure and the long industrial war with Qantas culminating in the dramatic 2011 airline shutdown; the struggle to achieve 'safe rates' for truckies against the resistance of employers and governments. In the face of these challenges solidarity—the strength of an organising union—has held the TWU together.

Mark Hearn

Mark Hearn is a lecturer in the Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations, Macquarie University. He has published widely in the field of Australian history and contributed opinion pieces on Australian politics and history to the press. He was a co-editor of Rethinking Work: Time Space Discourse, published by Cambridge University Press (2006). From 2002 to 2005 he was a sesquicentenary post-doctoral fellow in Work and Organisational Studies at the University of…

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