Unions in Struggle: Capacities in Relation to Port Terminal Mncs

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
OLD.2.22 (Old Building)
Peter Fairbrother, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia
Unions face difficult and challenging circumstances when addressing the conditions of work and employment in nodal points of global supply chains. One such node is the port terminal where goods are transported from land to sea and vice versa. Theses nodes are increasingly privately owned, with a range of terminal operators in situ. The question for unions is to what extent they have either leverage or the potential to exercise power in relation to managerial decisions by these multi-national terminal operators. The argument is:
  1. The restructuring of the port industry is driven by processes of globalization and neo-liberal (market creating) state policy.


  2. Multinational companies are the key agents of change focusing on work procedures and practices. Restructuring involves changes in work organization, increased surveillance, casualization, and the decentralization of formal industrial relations through enterprise bargaining.


  3. One employer objective is to limit union influence over the system of work and employment. The partial defeat of the maritime union in 1998 foregrounds these changes.


  4. The unions have faced up to these changed circumstances. The main union has created new structures of coordination, amongst its own ranks, with other Australian unions, and with the broader set of relevant unions on an international scale through the ITF.


  5. This response demonstrates union agency and underwrites a process whereby employers seek to limit the exercise of union capacities while unions learn and develop new ways of confronting multinational corporations.