How things have changed since April 1983 when Bob Hawke's union credentials were seen as a big plus in his quest to get into the Lodge. Hawke's ability to work in partnership with the union movement through the Prices and Incomes Accord was a direct result of his ACTU history.
While a drover's dog could have won the 1983 election for the Labor Party, it is unlikely that the Accord would have been introduced, let alone remain in operation for the entire period of the Labor Government, had Hawke not had a union history.
The union movement, the Accord and the federal Labor government worked well together during the Hawke years.
The fact that the Labor Party was the political child of the union movement was not only openly confessed to, but proactively touted; especially come election time. And it worked, time and time again.
The wider Australian community which benefited from tax cuts, funding for job creation and training, extra child care places and other benefits negotiated as features of the Accord, was also happy with the role of unions.
This period of widespread union popularity and acceptance under Hawke and the Accord was not unusual but, rather, a reflection of how things had always been in Australia. Unions were an acceptable, indeed a necessary, feature of Australian working life.
So, when did unions become the bad guys? As always, there is more than one explanation.
First there was the Accord itself.
Odd though it may seem, it could well be argued that the period in which unions had most input into the formulation of government policy was also the one which heralded their downhill slide; with one addition - Paul Keating.
Each of the “editions” of the Accord (and there were eight of them) specified how, when and where pay improvements could be secured.
Pay rises were no longer won - they were awarded and any union which tried to step outside the very strict stipulations of the Accord was quickly and severely punished.
The airline pilots' dispute in 1989 is the most obvious example of the Government response to rogue union action, though there were a number of others.
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