IN THE wake of the federal election victory for Labor, the CPSU is holding a series of Agenda For Change discussions around the country.
The first discussion was attended by 40 CPSU delegates and organisers in Melbourne, and was introduced by CPSU Secretary Stephen Jones. “We can continue to define our agenda negatively by taking whatever management says and adding 1 per cent to it. Or we can start to think about what we stand for in a positive way to capitalise on the Labor victory at the federal election,” he said.
The discussions were dominated by how to increase CPSU influence by talking not just about wages and conditions but about defending and extending the public service. In the same way as teachers have recently talked about a better education system and nurses have talked about a better health system, so too are unionists in the Australian Public Service now talking about better public services. Activists and delegates were keen to ensure the CPSU is relevant to newer, younger workers who suffer high rates of casualisation and turnover in the public service as well as older members facing retirement.
But to turn the Agenda For Change into real change, the CPSU leadership must orient to building and supporting delegates in the workplace. The organisers need to constantly meet and talk to them—that’s the key at the moment. Important CPSU meetings cannot be run by organisers from the outside of workplaces, they must involve local workplace leadership. At some workplaces this will mean developing local leadership where there is none. We need to get the organisers active around and through the delegates.
Delegates themselves must talk and meet together—having a union which encourages this, which centres its strategy upon this, would help delegates in this endeavour.
Organising and fighting around local issues is often the most political activity that can be conducted. Throwing the weight of the CPSU behind building micro campaigns such as personal leave can be intensely generalisable, can build organisation, and most importantly forges an organic link between the members and the leadership. Such links are extremely thin at the moment across the public service, and while the CPSU Agenda for Change is a positive set of ideas, it cannot substitute for building links between delegates and drawing conclusions from fighting for conditions.
As Centrelink CPSU members approach a new Enterprise Agreement, organisers must heighten their sensitivities to these local opportunities, using issues to build delegates and activists in workplaces. Every CPSU delegate and activist must support this effort by making sure their organisers are aware of the issues in their workplace and talking to other delegates as well as their members about how to organise around it.
The CPSU Agenda for Change is a positive start for setting the ideas that we need to build our union after 11 and a half years of Howard attacking unions in the public service. As discussions continue around the country the challenge will be to turn these ideas into action and a stronger union in our workplaces.
The CPSU has published a discussion paper on its website at www.cpsu.org.au/campaigns/7919.html.
By CPSU section councillor, Victoria