Off to Melbourne tomorrow for the annual Australian Political Science Association conference, and on Wednesday I deliver my first ever peer-reviewed! You can Download the full paper and here's the introduction:
In Western democracies during the twentieth century the nature of the links between unions and political parties of the left have helped to shape national politics. Valenzuela (1991) argued that social democratic relationships encouraged corporatist political cultures and modest, incremental approaches to economic and social reform. Valenzuela’s description of the social democratic relationship centres on the creation of a single, national political party by a united, national union movement, which allowed for the early emergence of a stable wage-bargaining process. With some qualification, this description clearly covers Australia, as well as the UK and New Zealand. The USA is the major example of Valenzuela’s pressure group model where there is no formal affiliation and both the national union movement and the Democrat party value their independence and is wary of the risks of a closer relationship.
In social democratic relationships, unions seek to influence outcomes predominantly through internal party structures by playing a significant role in the selection of parliamentary candidates and through party policy deliberations that are to some extent binding on MPs. Under the pressure group model, there is a much greater emphasis on the use of public campaigning and lobbying techniques to influence the party and encourage it to support agreed positions in parliament. In addition, unions and parties put a much greater emphasis on their independence, and are much more sensitive to the perceptions of that independence held by their core constituencies, members and voters respectively.
Throughout its long history, the unions-ALP relationship has been marked by tensions and episodic crises. Nevertheless, the formal, organisational relationship between unions and the ALP remains. While there is no real prospect of these organisational links being severed in the immediate future, there is evidence that the relationship is undergoing profound change. The successful Your Rights at Work (YR@W) campaign, run by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) against the Howard Government’s WorkChoices legislation, was a new political strategy for the Australian trade union movement in terms of its scope, scale and impact. Never before had Australia’s unions spent so much money over a protracted period (2005 to 2007) to directly influence political debate and electoral outcomes, alongside the ALP but not through it. It is generally believed that unions spent between $20 million and $30 million to ensure the election of an ALP Government in 2007 (Muir 2008), compared with just $17 million the ALP received in public funding for the 2004 election (Mayer 2006). YR@W can be seen as an expression of a newly emerging relationship that has some similarities with the pressure group model.
The research discussed in this paper seeks to understand the dynamics of the changing relationship from the perspectives of participants. Do they perceive a permanent change in the relationship? What are the broader implications of that change, if any, for the political behaviour of unions and the ALP?