Collective action has the power to change the world
If you’re like us, creating space in your life to improve our world is often front of mind. Still, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when we look at the big problems we face as humans – excessive corporate power, climate change, wealth inequality, wars and conflict, global pandemics.
Together, through collective action, we can have a positive impact. Even if it’s just in your workplace, your community or, with the election coming up, in parliament itself. At the very least, a positive change from your friends and family is undoubtedly worth the effort.
Collective action is at the core of what Australian Unions are built on. It’s both a principle we believe in and a strategy we employ. So to counteract the bad news stories and give you a break from the doomscrolling, here are some of the recent wins we’ve achieved through collective change.
Bringing the power of unions to disaster zones
Operation Energise is an Electrical Trades Union initiative where electricians have come together through their union to help and protect those who need it most. It began during the devastation of cyclone Larry in Innisfail in 2007.
Since then, ETU members and other union members have joined with industry and suppliers to respond to natural disaster situations – most recently providing electrical services to vulnerable people in flood zones around Gympie.
Backing workers to the top
Way back in 2020 (before the pandemic reached Australian shores), Theo and his fellow Qantas coworkers refused to clean and service planes from China because Qantas wouldn’t provide his team with protective equipment and masks. The law requires employers to provide proper safety equipment to workers so this was a major no-no.
Theo was having none of it, but taking on a giant corporation like Qantas isn’t easy. Despite the massive challenge, the entire union movement had Theo’s back every step of the way, and their collective action helped save countless lives by delaying the entry of Covid into Australia.
What’s more, in the end the Federal Court ruled against Qantas axing 2,000 jobs and acknowledged how the Qantas board exploited the pandemic at a steep cost to Theo and his colleagues.
Delivering for the local community
When the pandemic hit Shepparton in late August, simple things like getting groceries delivered from your local supermarket became almost impossible as essential workers had to quarantine for their own safety and the safety of others.
The Goulburn Valley Trades and Labour Council stepped up to do what unions and workers do best – support their community. They raised more than $50,000 for local food delivery initiatives to ensure no one was left behind in their time of need.
Solidarity never goes out of season
After organising a 12-day strike and a cracking public awareness campaign called Country Rogue, members of the United Workers Union at Country Road Group won the right to a pay rise, secure jobs and recognition for their chosen union.
The strike included a campaign website and protests in stores and at Melbourne Fashion Week. It showed up the hypocrisy of the Country Road corporation, who use marketing about empowering women, but profited from exploiting and underpaying their women workers.
The group of mostly women workers showed it’s possible to stand proud and create change in your workplace when you work together, even in an industry as precarious as fashion.
Working together to turn up the heat on the government
Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are manufactured chemicals (also made infamous by Erin Brockovich as “forever chemicals”) used in several household products. They’re also in the foams used for firefighting, and they can be lethal.
With help from the United Firefighters Union, a retired ACT firefighter and former UFU member is ramping up a campaign for the federal government to introduce legislation that formally bans the use of toxic PFAS foam as hundreds of firefighters battle cancer after exposure.
In different states in Australia, including Victoria and Tasmania, the United Firefighters Union has also won the right for firefighters who contract cancer from their dangerous work – exposed to chemicals and smoke from fires – to access compensation without having to prove their cancer was caused by work hazards. Previously, sick and dying firefighters were forced to go through costly and time-consuming processes to prove they got their cancer due to work.
Together, we’ve made positive change, but we can still do so much more.