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The state of the union(s): how a perfect storm weakened the workers’ voices

Sarah Kaine writes in The Conversation (21.4.16) about the ‘perfect storm’ of declining membership levels and hostile federal legislation currently facing the nation’s union movement.

‘The governance, conduct and purpose of trade unions in Australia have been the focus of much recent political debate, not to mention public expenditure. Given the level of interest, you could be forgiven for assuming Australia’s union movement is at the height of its power and, as such, a key political and economic issue.

‘But Australia’s union movement is facing a perfect storm. Union membership is at its lowest point since before federation. Only 15% of employees are union members in their main job. That number drops to 11% in the private sector.

‘This is a far cry from the peak of 64.6% in 1948 and the consistent minimum of close to 40% the union movement enjoyed continuously from 1913 to 1992.

‘Union membership has fluctuated over the last century. But, it has plummeted since the early 1990s. What caused this? And what are some of the solutions being raised to stem the decline?’

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