Sunday, August 24, 2014
Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) 9.5.1977
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) is the largest peak body representing workers in Australia. It is a national trade union centre of 46 affiliated unions.
The ACTU was formed in 1927 as the "Australian Council of Trade Unions". It was one of the earliest attempts by trade unions to apply the principles of One Big Union earlier explored by more radical syndicalist unions like the CNT or revolutionary industrial unions like the IWW.
In the Australian case, agitation for One Big Union occurred from 1911 from two different sectors: from the revolutionary Australian section of the IWW and from the pro-arbitration Australian Workers Union (AWU). At that time the AWU was the largest single Australian union. In 1918 after the collapse of the Australian IWW, a group of militant trade unions (which were opposed to the AWU) attempted to form One Big Union under the name Workers Industrial Union of Australia (WIUA). The hostility between the WIUA and the AWU prevented the formation of One Big Union in Australia. It was the attempts of Stanley Bruce's federal government in 1927 to dismantle the Australian Industrial Relations Commission which impelled the Australian trade unions to form a national council.
Melbourne Trades Hall in Victoria is the "birthplace" of the ACTU.
The ACTU's Australian trade union "peak body" precursors include state labour councils like the Victorian Trades Hall Council (originating in 1856 as the 'Melbourne Trades Hall Committee'), the Labour Council of New South Wales (originally formed in 1870 as the 'Sydney Trades and Labour Council') and the Inter-Colonial Trade Union Congress (formed in 1879).
The ACTU has not achieved the ideals expressed for One Big Union: it remains a council organisation, but it does however represent the majority of Australian trade unions. At its formation in 1927 the ACTU was only seen as representing blue collar trades unions, and only managed to achieve the support of trades unions. From 1948 peak bodies of white collar associations existed, and from 1969 peak bodies of government employees. The white collar bodies were: the Council of Professional and Commercial Employees Association (1948), which became the Council of White Collar Associations (1954), which amalgamated with the Salaried Employees Consultative Council of New South Wales (1954) to become the Australian Council of Salaried and Professional Associations(ACSPA) in 1956. The government employee bodies were: the Council of Commonwealth Public Service Organisations (1969) which became the Council of Australian Government Employee Organisations (CAGEO) in 1975. The ACTU successfully integrated these bodies in 1981. After 1981 the ACTU was generally viewed by the Australian media and public as the organisation representing all workers' organisations.