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A call out to all the great Union Leaders! Who are you? Where are you?

In the June 20 edition of the UK Financial Times I read the third article that week covering the plight of Uber drivers. No one knows how their new ‘co-dependent employee’ label came about, but travelling across the US, UK and Europe, I could see a clearly accelerating¬†legal discourse on the impact of the shared economy on the labour market. A week earlier, the plight of Silicon Valley wunderkinds and their concerns about being pawns in a race to the top between their masterful employers was all over the US media.

In contrast, the week I got back to Australia, Kathy Jackson and her blatant rorting of the Health Services Union was front and centre of the news.

What an extraordinary contrast in focus. The realities facing the new labour market vs the archaic model of traditional union operations.

We’re undoubtedly grateful for the past hardships endured by workers in their battles for better conditions and for the legacy value that Unions negotiated on our behalf such as the 8 hour work day. But where is the leadership thinking in Unions today?

The market is seemingly light years ahead and has left them behind. And what informs the union leadership of today? In fact, what is the profile of professionals employed by the unions? Where are the Bob Hawkes, the Rhodes scholars, the best and the brightest? Or is the fast pace of industry in this new century just so much more tantalising than old school union organisations? And given that the union movement has traditionally offered a vital pool of talent for future ALP candidates, what does that say about the forthcoming political talent on the left?

Step up union leaders! Re-create your relevance in a shared economy. The world has changed and so has the agile, flexible and fluid expectations of a large share of the labour market. Smart organisations and their employees, the strategists, academics, scientists, technology experts and educationalists are recreating the future world of work.

Are unions futilely fighting a rising tide, or can they spot a good swell and redirect their efforts in order to be relevant in the rapidly changing world of work?

What’s your view of unions in our present world@work?

Featured image: Vintage Tobacciana Advertising – Union Leader Smoking Tobacco by Joe Haupt, Creative Commons licence and copyright

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