Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Contemporary Australian views of trade unions often tends to centre upon the industrial context of wage bargaining, strikes and legislation. However, the long history of trade unions from their European origins to our Australian experience has always contained an element of engagement with social issues.
Although this engagement does not seem to be a salient feature of trade unionism in the contemporary public's eye it has of course never ceased as this book amply demonstrates.
Trade Unions in the Community is of course not written for the general public but rather, provides a review of community engagement by Australian trade unions that will be of particular interest to trade union activists and officials, students and academics in the field and perhaps government officials engaged in the burgeoning area of community development. Trade union members will find the book to be of particular interest providing them with a potential source book for strategising, campaign creation and a sense of the field of community engagement itself. For academics and students in the field of industrial relations and human resource management, the material provides an alternative view of trade unionism beyond the organisational context, a view that places the social purpose of trade unionism squarely within its historical origins of concern for health, sickness, education and well being within the community. One group that should take note of this book is the growing group of NGOs and government officials at council, state and federal level who are engaged in the growing area of community inclusion and development.
Of course there are many ways in which a trade union may involve itself in the life, politics and well being of its surrounding community and the book is comprehensive in mapping out these various strategies, issues and approaches. Chapters within the book range from discussion of involving the local community in the plight of informal or casual employees, trade union moral values, the quality of community services such as health care, the education of workers to the moral and economic aspects of live animal exports – a comprehensive treatment indeed. Of particular interest in the book is the discussion of the trade union movement's professed values as promulgated by the ACTU (Chapter 3). In some ways, it would be useful for the reader to begin with this article, providing as it does a template of moral values and philosophy that informs and energises trade union community involvement. And the article succeeds in reminding the reader of trade union's ideological base and social purpose. However, the book is properly begun with Chapter 1 in which the concept of “community unionism” is introduced and critically discussed. Also of particular value to the reader involved in the field is Chapter 2 in which the analysis of contemporary socio‐economic and political conditions provides a rationale for a return to community engagement in order to retain and grow community and cultural significance for the movement.
This is an unusual book because it provides material of interest to a range of potential readers but of particular note is the fact that it manages, at one and the same time to function as source book for strategy, an activist's handbook, an historical analysis and document and an academic analysis of an important aspect of contemporary (post?) industrial society in Australia.