The Community Organising session began with a video overview of the MUA’s Campaigns Intensive program, where women, youth, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Veteran members were brought together to train in the fundamentals of community campaigning; including phone banking and doorknocking.
Assistant National Secretary Ian Bray then opened the panel by describing community campaigning as a process of making sure our concerns and our messages were being heard. He explained that the Campaigns Intensive was inspired by a presentation given by Victorian Trades Hall Council Secretary Luke Hilakari at the 2015 ACTU Congress, who was, along with the Council’s Will Strake, also on the panel.
“If we are going to take on a conservative government at a national level this is the way we want to go forward. We need to move beyond the industrial, the political and take it out into the community,“ Bray said.
John Setka, the Victorian Branch Secretary of the CFMEU was then introduced and spoke about the kind of community organising and recruiting undertaken by his union. Setka said it was up to delegates to pass on unionism to the next generation, to break down old barrier.
“It has always been said that Australia is the place where you can get a fair go,” Setka said.
“We stand up for the underdogs but nowadays they are almost criminalising the right to do that.”
He talked about the CFMEU’s experience of running ads through focus groups and asking them questions about what news sources they trusted. Results showed that 87 per cent of the focus groups did not believe what they read in the Herald Sun and could identify that the Murdoch-owned paper was running a concerted campaign against the union.
Following Setka, another seasoned campaigner, local State Secretary for the ETU – Peter Simpson – joined the panel.
In 2009, shortly after Simpson was elected branch secretary, then premier Anna Bligh announced the Government would begin privatising public assets.
Through community campaigning, he, along with other like-minded unionists, were successful in largely reversing that policy. However it did eventuate with him being kicked out of the ALP and the Liberals forming Government in a whitewash result.
He said the movement had to change direction, with a utilisation of focus groups, community polling, and worked outside normal comfort zones.
A comprehensive three-year campaign was launched and helped result in the biggest electoral win for the ALP in Queensland’s history. Now installed is a left-Labor Governnment with close ties to the union movement.
In introducing Will Stracke and Luke Hilikari, Bray commended the two for their efforts and solidarity during the Portland dispute.
They shared their presentation and opened by saying that Community Organising was a ‘game changer’.
The unique advantage in the union movement , they said, was that there was 1.6 million members and that those members paid dues every week to improve their working lives. Hilikari said unionists and union leaders have a unique relationship with members. In every marginal seat there were more than 10,000 union members.
“Community Organising is as simple as talking to our members,” he said.
They then overviewed their methodology with the Victorian 2014 State election campaign, which bouled down to three things:
1/ Build the movement’s capacity to campaign. The union movement is very good at industrial action but not very good at taking the right message out to the community.
2/ Build up the capacity of regional Trades and Labour Councils.
3/ Change the government through targeted one-on-one conversations.
“The best way to persuade anyone to do something is to have a conversation with them. Social Media, billboards are important and useful but the knock-out blow is the one-to-one conversation,” Strake said.
They then explained that the cheapest and most effective way to do this was through phone banking. Phones are cheap to purchase with pre-paid unlimited calls. They used the example of the 600 people who were attending conference.
In half-an-hour 600 people could make enough calls to turn around a marginal seat, they said.
“We are authentic – we are believed, despite all of the bullshit that is out there about unions. We did some focus groups and asked them what they think about unions. The message that came back from all of the focus groups is that they believe unions have done good stuff for workers,” Hilikari said.
“You know it. You believe it. You feel it and you are the best people to talk about it. If you have those conversations, they will listen to you. We will back you in to do that as the peak body.
“We have to get out there at the end of this week and do what we have to do to kick out this Federal LNP Government.”