Government activity is now pervasive throughout society. Government policies affect the way we live, the education we receive, the environment within which we operate, even the amount of earnings we take home. Its administrative machinery can be found everywhere, whether in the guise of tax man, policeman, bureaucrat, or lawyer. Its impact may be direct, in determining the structures and laws within which we live, or indirect, by regulating the way corporations or other actors may behave.
Politics is always noticeable too — in the press, in the media, and in the daily arguments that occur with friends and neighbours about what should be done, how it should be done, and when it should be done. The politics, the policies, and the administration of government are important to us all.
But how much do we really know about them? How far can we understand, let alone anticipate, the effects of the policies that are adopted? How well do we understand the impact of administration on the way policy is shaped and delivered? Often not much. And the cost of ignorance is high. Hopes can be ill-informed or misplaced; reforms based on incorrect assumptions will fail; plans for change may be frustrated. Disillusionment can easily follow. Knowledge of the way policymakers work is therefore essential.
In this series authors from a variety of disciplines — all complementary — have set out to discover how the processes of politics and government interact and how they affect decisions. Some studies will look at individual case studies or particular areas of policy; others will look at the mechanics, institutions, or actors of politics and administration and their impact on policy. Some studies will be theoretical, others empirical; some will concentrate on one country, others will be comparative. But the objective will remain the same: to increase our awareness and understanding of the problems and performances of governments.
Trade unions are playing an increasing influential role in Australian life. Yet the discussion of the way in which unions are run is seldom based on firm empirical knowledge. Democracy in Trade Unions is the first analysis of union government in Australia. Although internal union democracy is widely accepted as desirable it is of particular significance in Australia where it has long been a goal of public policy. Successive governments have sought to impose this "democracy" through an increasingly elaborate framework of statutory regulation, much of which is concerned with union elections. The book explains the major legislative provisions affecting union government in Australia and, on the basis of case study material, analyses the electoral processes and other avenues through which members participate in union affairs. It shows that while the law may enable the conditions of democracy to be fulfilled, it cannot, of itself, bring them into existence. The emergence of a legitimate opposition and electoral contests in which the opposition has a realistic chance of winning office, and which provide members with a real and not just a formal choice of leaders cannot be achieved by legislative fiat. The book explores the conditions under which unions are likely to have elections with an organized opposition presenting the members with alternative candidates and policies. It shows that membership control through elections is not incompatible with other forms of participation in running the union.
While this is the first book to deal with the internal operations of Australian trade unions it is, from another viewpoint, an important contribution to the continuing debate in Britain and America on union government. It provides an essential basis for a real understanding of trade union affairs in Australia and ought to provoke basic reassessments on existing policy goals.