"Activity of Shop Stewards Councils", by Laurie Carmichael, AMWU Monthly Journal, 1976

Introduction - Don Sutherland

Note: Shop stewards are more commonly referred to as “delegates”, these days. Shop Stewards Committees were formal and informal leadership groups inside the workplace. Shop Steward Councils were regular joint meetings of Shop Committee reps from several workplaces at once.

This article by Laurie Carmichael, Activity of Shop Stewards Councils, was presented to AMWU members in AMWU Monthly Journal in July 1976 as an explanation of a National Conference decision just 7 months after the defeat of the Whitlam Labor government in November 1975.

The Union leadership, here through Carmichael’s voice, was explaining to the members not just that it would continue to fight militantly in the hostile climate of the Fraser LNP government, but also how it would do so.

A careful reading of the article reveals Carmichael’s understanding of strategy for unions and their allies. Not long after he became Secretary of the Melbourne District of the AMWU, Carmichael used his annual leave to concentrate on a comprehensive study of strategy. He used the Mitchell Library and other resources so that he could access the best available material on the subject, including new developments in business strategy.

He is not coy about putting forward his explanation as “theoretical assistance” for shop stewards and members. He had no doubt that they could cope with “theory”; that he could connect the day to day experience of shop stewards to a sensible theory of strategy that they could grab hold of and contribute to through their own efforts starting in their workshops.

It’s worth paying attention to and thinking through some key concepts in the article:

  • The “starting points” for strategy,
  • Using shop level experience,
  • “Perspective” on the campaign,
  • “Stages of development” of a strategy,
  • “Moving from one stage to another”,
  • Collectively developing the strategy,
  • Adjusting and aligning tactics and actions based on the growth of power,
  • The ebb and flow of the campaign.

Later, in his “retirement”, Carmichael gave some lectures to prospective union leaders on the importance of strategy. His notes started with: “Without Strategy You are Flying Blind”. There is more to follow on this.

Finally, using these ideas, developing strong workers’ consciousness, Carmichael led the 38 hour week and wages victory over the Fraser government that helped its defeat in 1983.