In October this year the last remaining pieces of the car industry manufacturing mosaic closes in Australia with Toyota and Holden production plants in Melbourne and Adelaide respectively shutting their doors.
The first cut of one thousand, so to speak, came in the 1970s with closure of Holden's Woodville plant in Adelaide, putting thousands out of work. On that site now is a Bunnings store where nearly all the goods for sale are made off-shore.
In 2017 one of the largest car component plants in Adelaide's inner southern suburbs, Toyoda Gosei (formerly Bridgestone, Uniroyal and SA Rubber Mills) is also closing and the property has been purchased by ? Yes, you guessed it! Bunnings!
That pretty well sums up what has happened to the Australian large city economies with destruction of manufacturing skilled and semi-skilled jobs which were full time with reasonable pay and conditions won by workers’ collective strength and their replacement with warehousing and retail jobs selling imported goods of all descriptions.
Hundreds of thousands of car manufacturing jobs have disappeared as imported four wheel drive Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) steal the market and successive governments of both Liberal and Labor Governments facilitating the multinational corporations’ global plans which do not include making cars in Australia.
The changes to the nature of jobs available for workers in Australia with the decimation of manufacturing have caught unions lagging behind reality. Many of them have maintained models of membership and structures which were developed with the growth of manufacturing from the late 1940s and 1950s.
In those times, unions were built on a structure of union delegates or shop stewards elected by members and in some of the larger more militant manufacturing plants, factory or "shop" committees represented union members where there were thousands of workplaces with one hundred or more workers linked together by the very process of production itself.
Union membership dues were based on full time employment incomes and workers had wages higher enough to afford the dues based on an ACTU formula of approximately 1% of the average income of the industries covered by a particular union.
That model and structure has not won the hearts and minds of millions of workers in the post manufacturing world of capitalism in the 21st Century.
The new mobile worker required by capitalism today is one who has in many cases no show of having a permanent full-time job and is more likely to be working in a workplace with much smaller numbers of workers than existed when manufacturing in Australia was at its peak. Consequently, the outdated union dues model of many unions and their organisational structures that are stuck in the past is not resonating with a lot of workers.
Where union membership is strongest is in the professional employment areas such as nursing and allied health services, education and in what remains of large manufacturing.
However it would be wrong to conclude that there is no organisation among workers in the 90% non - unionized private sector. Many of them have incredible knowledge of the industries they work in and have networks that link them to other workers in the same industries and other workers in their communities. Their local pubs and sporting clubs are just two of the places that serve a dual purpose for many of these workers.
Workers thrown out of closed down manufacturing plants also take with them a basic experience of collective action and what it can achieve. They have a valuable role to play in organizing workers in the private sector to see that it is only collective strength that can prevent a downward spiral in wages and conditions, a collective strength that is needed whether workers are in an established union or take effective collection action themselves.