The following is the text of my contribution to the NSW Fabians event next Tuesday.
Paradox: dependence and independence
As we know, there are two million union members in Australia.
Whether unions really are a social movement anymore is an open question.
Many people, including Kevin Rudd, see unions as little more than interest groups.
Whatever the case, unions are still comparatively well-resourced, politically potent and they are natural allies of the ALP.
It is fairly clear that the relationship between unions and the ALP was critical to the success of both sides of the relationship in the past.
It is much less clear that the relationship, in its current form, will continue to be of clear benefit to both sides in the future.
Both sides want the relationship to continue.
They can be said to be still dependent on it to some significant extent.
One hundred and twenty years later, unions still need a political party that is firmly supportive of collective organisation and action for workers.
The ALP is far less dependent on unions than in the past, but financial and other resources from unions still give it an important electoral advantages.
But there is a paradox.