Workplaces leaders to usher in future

On the back of successful state and federal election campaigns that removed conservative governments, Federation Annual Conference voted to redouble efforts to shore up workplace membership bases and leadership structures.

Deputy President Henry Rajendra told conference it was a time to build on the success of those outcomes, with the recommendation stating: “Any suggestion that we can rest on our laurels because of the new political paradigm in which we find ourselves would be short-sighted and naive. We have work to do to ensure our union is best placed to meet the challenges before us.”

Mr Rajendra told delegates: “I will be very clear, this is about focusing on building power in your workplace.

“I want you in the first instance to think about your own workplace, where you’re at, where you could go, what you want to be and what collective spirit and strength you have at your school. Is it where it should be and how strong it should be?”

Continuing to address the election issues of teacher salaries, workload and insecure work is essential work for the union but it is not a “cure-all” for the system in NSW.

“Our response must also be a renewed effort to grow union, grow strength,” the Conference decision stated. “The union now has the opportunity and responsibility to reflect, review, plan and resource membership growth and activism. We must invest in the membership if we are to grow union, grow strength.”

The recommendation stated the key to actively growing the union was not only membership numbers and density but also workplace leadership and activism.

“Activism of individuals is of limited influence if not supported by collectivism. Public education teachers have the scope in their workplaces to build power together through unionism. Doing so increases the collective agency of our teacher-members to act in and beyond the workplace. Large and successful campaigns, such as the recent More Than Thanks, assist to build the union,” the decision stated.

“They cannot be relied on in and of themselves to build and sustain union strength. Whilst membership grew through the campaign, particularly around sector-wide industrial actions, there is evidence that it may decrease again over time without a renewed focus on the role of the union in the members’ daily work lives.”

Delegates agreed that teacher-led union power is realised through deliberately and systematically developing local union leadership (mainly, but not exclusively, the Federation Workplace Committee), membership density, and the established capacity to take action when required.

The ongoing success of the union is dependent on the degree to which we can continually renew teacher union leadership at the workplace level, build organising capacity within and across schools and TAFE colleges, and work towards entrenching a sustainable public education movement.

Mr Rajendra encouraged members to become workplace leaders or inspire others to take up the roles, but said it should not entail an increase in workload for those who become Federation’s representatives.

Federation already has in place a range of programs and courses to train members and officers. There is a solid and well-resourced Trade Union Training program for core workplace committee members, association executive and councillors. There are also conferences and other union and professional events available to the broader membership.

To further build upon the union’s resources, a number of actions were approved by Conference, with Federation to provide:

  • a program of political education designed to articulate a coherent understanding of the current ideological challenges facing public education that assists in discovering and developing the next generation of teacher union leadership, centred on local workplace committees;
  • union officer education and training that could pursue a common approach to workplace capacity development and strategies
  • ongoing collaboration with other AEU branches and other unions as appropriate, in identified campaigns and organising projects.
  • a communication strategy targeted at pre-service teachers to develop understanding of how union activism has shaped teachers working conditions and our contribution to social justice campaigns.

Conference decided the success of teacher union capacity building will in large part be measured by “the degree to which the union can identify and develop local leadership, increase and maintain membership density, and build the capacity of members to take meaningful action in a single workplace. Coordination of this renewal across the organisation will require some structural change and investment.”