The interviews for my doctoral thesis on the changing relationship between unions and the ALP were conducted during the days when Rudd was riding high as PM, even then there was evidence of a schism that goes to the heart of the ALP - as well as to Rudd's sense of himself as a political leader.
Whatever his strengths and weaknesses, Rudd has always been a big problem for the ALP because he has very little feel and sympathy for the old blue-collar union machine.
Here are some key quotes:
I don’t think Rudd likes us (unions). With the exception of a couple of state unions in NSW, just about every single union was opposed to him becoming leader. When he was shadow foreign affairs minister he was all over us. It was a bit sickly to be honest. He turned up everywhere. Everywhere you went oh there’s Kevin Rudd. Every function, Kevin Rudd would be there. But he’s not from us, clearly not of our culture. - Senior current affiliated union official.
In a perfect world Kevin would like to be leader of a party that doesn’t have unions. Kevin’s primary motivation is Kevin and we work for Kevin. It’s in Kevin’s interest to have us and it’s in Kevin’s interest to have a close relationship with us. But I think philosophically, if he does have some ideology, and I’m not sure that he does, but if he actually does believe in things I don’t think his belief would be with us. - Senior current affiliated union official.
The other thing that was notable was that there were two parallel campaigns run in the last federal election (2007), the unions ran the negative campaign on IR but Rudd did not buy into that campaign at all. Rudd tried to set himself above and beyond that and spent a lot of time hitting union leaders over the head to show that he wasn’t a captive of the union movement. - Current peak union official.
Rudd’s been nervous about being seen to be too close to unions. I know that there are some people (from the union movement) who have said to Kevin at various times it’s OK to use the U-word sometimes, it’s not a bad thing. And I think he has been advised that way, I don’t think it is something that he arrived at naturally or deliberately. More recently, people have said to him it’s OK to publicly say that it is good to be in a union. That’s not going to lead to the re-establishment of the Berlin wall. – Current affiliated union official.
Some of the key players don’t have a lot of union history … the prime minister (Rudd) doesn’t understand the union culture and doesn’t understand the labor culture and the union culture within the labor movement. That’s part of the issue. You could argue that that has been the case from time to time over the last 100 years. – Current peak union official.
I get a sense that the prime minister (Rudd) would see the ACTU no differently to say the AIG or the BCA as another group that he has to interface with and listen to and respond to but they’re not central to the project as they were a decade or two ago. – Current federal MP.