March 10, 2008
Via Larvatus Prodeo, "Election 2007: Did the union campaign succeed?" at the Australian Review of Public Affairs. Using a seat-by-seat analysis, the authors argue that reaction to WorkChoices and the union movement's Your Rights At Work campaign were the significant factors in the swing against the Howard government.
We are not claiming Labor would not have won the election had it not been for the ACTU campaign. Had the ACTU relied on a Labor-led campaign against WorkChoices, and not independently campaigned in marginal seats, it is more than likely Labor’s appeal to working families and the ACTU’s media campaign would have produced a broadly similar result. What we do claim, on the basis of this modelling, is that seats targeted by the ACTU produced significantly larger swings, and their campaign appears to have added to Labor’s margin of victory.I don't imagine this will stop the punditocracy from putting the whole thing down to Howard-fatigue or some other such substanceless notion that feeds into their unshakeable belief that voters are idiots swayed by trivialities, but there it is.
I found the authors' concluding paragraphs interesting:
In America, politics in recent years have been shaped by greater mobilisation of the union vote for the Democrats under a reformist AFL-CIO leadership that won office in 1996 (and their new rivals in the ‘Change to Win’ coalition). Union mobilisation of the vote is an offshoot of political unionism that has tried to respond to the declining capacity of industrial unionism (because of low union density and limited union impact on wages) and to the recognition that genuine political allies and legal change are increasingly necessary for organised labour’s revival. As Margaret Levi (2003) has made clear, the union movement depends not only on a strong shopfloor presence but on a favourable legal and political environment as well. Better laws are critical to the labour movement’s long-term hopes, both in the United States and in post-WorkChoices Australia...Given the historical role the rise of unions in the industrial sphere played in the development of modern democracy, with the extension of the franchise and the creation of parties representing the working majority, it's odd to think that the greater involvement in the political sphere currently necessitated by declined influence in the workplace itself might now serve to revitalise the unions in the industrial arena.
Australia’s compulsory voting system means there is relatively little research on mobilisation campaigns. Moreover, if voters are obliged to vote, there is little need to develop vast grass roots networks to mobilise them. Yet the YRAW campaign appears to be an example of the success of such a strategy. The decline in union density means, almost automatically, a weakening in political influence—both in a diminished voter bloc and perceptions of weakness that embolden opposition. Like the American labour movement, the ACTU has offset its declining natural constituency by more strongly mobilising its remaining membership, renewing it in the process. And so the tactics the ACTU employed during the 2007 election were much closer to those of a grass roots mobilisation than to the simple increase in resources, or targeted promises, that accompany other marginal seat campaigns. This is important both in highlighting the continuing power and importance of the union movement in Australia, and in opening up the possibility of the broader significance of electoral mobilisation by social movements. Perhaps the era of activist electoral politics is not yet dead, but waiting to be remobilised.