John Roper is a writer and editor with Pacific Magazines, who says he would welcome a plebiscite over changing to a corporate model.
I’ve been a member of the MEAA for nearly 15 years. Over the years, I’ve watched as the internet and social media have utterly transformed my industry. Over the years, I’ve watched as companies and my co-workers have struggled to come to terms with this once in a generation transformation. And sadly, over the years, I’ve watched as my beloved union has adopted a position similar to King Canute and tried to stop the tidal wave of change.
As a workplace organiser, I’ve fought hard over the years to ensure the rights of my fellow workers were defended and improved, but sometimes it felt as if this fight was just being fought by my workplace alone. Yes, when an EBA was being brokered, union officers were on hand, offering advise, navigating negotiations, revving up the membership – doing the bread and butter stuff unions are supposed to do.
However, outside of these “all hands to the pump” times, members in my workplace have complained that they have felt that the union has forgotten them. They have trouble finding out what’s happening within their union; what’s the union’s long-term plan for them during these troubling times; and, ultimately, they feel alienated from their union’s decision-making processes.
At the moment, as grassroots member, I, personally, don’t really feel I have a say in the running of our union anymore. Why is that? Well, I believe there is a distinct lack of public information about how our union works. Where are the reliable, detailed minutes of the various union committees and leadership groups published on our union’s website? Where are the insights from our union leaders on how we can tackle the fundamental forces transforming our industry? These are just two of many points, yet, as far as I can see, the only regular communication we get from head office is a weekly news e-bulletin of limited import. I’d also love to know what other members in other sections of our union are doing, and what innovative ideas and policies they might be developing. It is a damning indictment of our union that we represent all forms of the communicative arts, but prove to be one of the worst communicators when it comes to our own membership.
But lately I’ve heard of the plan to do away with the process of electing the federal secretary. I fear that this move will take our union down a path of being less open, transparent and accountable. For the first time in many, many years, our union has the opportunity to engage and empower its membership by giving them the chance to elect a new federal secretary. And, if the federal council chooses to opt for a CEO model, what risks do our union face down the years? I urge you to contact the union to find out who are the people that will represent you. Otherwise, the federal management committee can turn its back on an already disillusioned membership and take its members’ voice – and votes – away.
But what is incomprehensible to me is the way these changes have been announced. Allegedly, these mooted rule changes have been doing the rounds for two years, yet the majority of the union’s membership are ignorant of what is being debated at federal council this weekend. Where was the consultation with members? Where was mail out/e-bulletin explaining the proposed changes? Why did discussions with local house committees not take place?
No matter how you slice or dice this, if this vote gets up, it will fundamentally change in the way our union is run, and not in a good way. What is clearly needed, no matter what the outcome, is a plebiscite of grassroots members to endorse the proposed changes. It’s the bare minimum that a democratically elected board should put to its membership when it comes to deciding the future of our union. Otherwise, what does membership really mean if the people – who fund and support MEAA – have no real say on who runs the union.
John Roper – Workplace organiser