By Bill Ford and David Plowman
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Extra resources for Australian Unions: An Industrial Relations Perspective
One hundred and thirty years after its establishment the Australian union movement was not only very much larger but much more diverse. It had begun as a movement made up of men who had either served apprenticeships to the traditional skilled manual crafts, or who had otherwise managed to demonstrate their 'right to the trade'. By 1987, unions had long been offering coverage to all employees, no matter what their occupation or how they had qualified for it; about 35 per cent of unionists in Australia were 'white collar', and about 30 per cent were women.
As it was, the question of the ACTU's incorporation into the wartime state scarcely arose. The government's problems with lack of production and industrial disturbance in the coal industry made that clear. The ACTU scrupulously maintained its position as an 'intermediary'. As the war drew to a close, it was not only in the coal industry that industrial disturbance increased. In 1942, days not worked through strikes amounted to 378,000; in 1945, the corresponding figure was 2,120,000, a total greater than any year since 1929.
The government was not disappointed. The Court established a list of seven economic indicators, which were to guide it in determining whether the economy had the 'capacity to pay' wage increases. In 1953, after the recession and rapid inflation of 1951-52 was over, it decided to abolish the quarterly cost-ofliving adjustments that had allowed the basic wage to keep its real value between hearings. The effect of these two decisions was to ensure that, for almost the whole of the 'fifties, the basic wage did not increase in real value despite the rapid annual gains in the national wealth.