Unions and the ALP

The relationship between the ALP and trade unions is problematic.

The current circumstance in which a collection of trade unions affiliated to the ALP – representing a small fraction of working Australians – exercise a great deal of influence in selecting political candidates and party officers for the major centre-left Australian political party, is unhealthy.

I would to see either a much wider range of organisations being able to affiliate to the ALP, or a severance of the link.

Supporters of the current link have argued for its retention for the following reasons:

  • community link – it provides a link with millions of Australians;
  • for historical reasons – it wouldn’t be a labour party otherwise; and
  • constitutional reasons (and less commonly argued) – it is the political arm of the trade union movement.

The most substantial reason is the first, while the second and third are weak (the second is about definitions while the third suggests that the party is a pressure group rather than a party of government).

Retaining a community link has merit – noting that the current link is specific to workers’ employment relationship. The community link could be enhanced by allowing a wider range of organisations to affiliate to the ALP. It is a historical accident that only one type of organisation – those relating to workers’ employment relationships – can affiliate to one of the major political parties. If it is going to have affiliated organisations, why not have a much wider range?

We’d need to define the types of organisations that could be affiliated. This should be done broadly and could include: associations focussed on economic, social, environmental and political matters that support the Labor political movement.

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