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Australian Trade Unions and the Politics of Scale: Reconstructing the Spatiality of Industrial Relations

David Sadler and Bob Fagan
Economic Geography
Vol. 80, No. 1 (Jan., 2004), pp. 23-43
Published by: Clark University
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/30032954
Page Count: 21
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Australian Trade Unions and the Politics of Scale: Reconstructing the Spatiality of Industrial Relations
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Abstract

In this article, we explore responses of trade unions to the reconfiguration of the Australian industrial relations system in the 1990s. We argue that a major characteristic of these changes is the way in which they were socially constructed as necessary imperatives of globalization and new modes of production. Our interpretation focuses on the importance of geographic scale. We contend that a relational sense of scale is consistent with an analysis of the situatedness of labor practices and that Australia has witnessed a particularly striking use of "globalization" as political narrative. We then detail key features of the new industrial relations environment in Australia that have transformed a system that was once exceptional in its degree of nationally centralized negotiation and collective bargaining. The implications of two important confrontations related to the 1996 Workplace Relations Act are explored in detail: the conflicts between transnational mining giant Rio Tinto and the mineworkers' union over reform in the Australian coal industry and the waterfront dispute overworking practices and relations in Australian ports. In conclusion, we draw out some of the broader lessons from these events in the context of rescaling processes.

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