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Rittau, Y., 'Regional Union Response to Restructuring : a case study of an Australian trades council', CISC Working Paper No. 4.

The paper assesses the response of a regional peak union council (or sometimes know as regional labour councils or trades councils) to regional restructuring, which was involved local employment generation. The South Coast Labour Council (SCLC) is a peak union council, based in the Illawarra region on the South Coast of NSW in Australia. This region had experienced unemployment greater than the State and national averages through the 1980s and 1990s. The case study material is based on interviews with trade union officials, management personnel and those concerned with regional development. It is also based on reports of regional organisations and industrial agreements.

The focus of the paper is essentially to assess the effectiveness of the SCLC�s role in local employment generation as an agent of exchange with government and employers. It draws from the theory of the role of peak union councils propagated by Bradon Ellem and John Shields (2001) and Chris Briggs (1999) of mobilisation, exchange and the social regulation of labour and commodity markets. It is also assisted by Jamie Peck�s analysis of the inter-connection between local agency and nation state policies of labour regulation (Peck, 1996:106). It finds that the SCLC influences labour regulation, as does the nation state. The effectiveness of the SCLC is dependent on its own actions as well as being dependent on the nation state. Each influences the other. Employer strategy is also important in the SCLC�s success, or otherwise.

The examination starts by outlining theories on the roles of peak union councils. It provides the context for the SCLC and the Illawarra region. Further, it examines important examples of the political form of the SCLC�s role in exchange in local employment generation, which included lobbying the NSW State government for a local employment initiative that involved the setting up of the South Coast Employment Development Program (SCEDP). This sought to develop regional strengths by mobilising resources to link the regional level with national industry planning through targeted industry plans that concentrated on the private sector and included skill formation within a tripartite and consultative framework. Also, the SCLC pressured the Federal Government to set up the Illawarra Regional Consultative Council (IRCC) to help the main regional actors develop a green paper on regional economic strategy. It disseminated its own regional development plan, called �Jobs Now�, to government and to regional organisations, which emphasised government-led regional policy, particularly in the opportunity presented by the Regional Development Task Force�s (RDTF) visit to the Illawarra. The paper examines a valuable example of the SCLC�s industrial form of exchange, which involved coordinating union effort and acting as the unions� representative voice in collective bargaining with employers in relation to the construction of the No6 Blast Furnace at the steelworks in Port Kembla. The conclusion deals with measuring the SCLC�s success in local employment generation in terms of lobbying government for the development of the Illawarra region and in terms of appealing to business and the consequent anticipated increase in the numbers of locals employed.

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