Archive for Kate Carruthers

Internet of things, data security and privacy

I’ve been attending the 36th International Conference of Privacy and Data Commissioners in Mauritius, presenting on the Internet of Things (IoT) privacy and security to the attendees.

Kate Carruthers

Pic of Kate Carruthers by John Edwards, NZ Privacy Commissioner

It has made me very conscious of the tension between privacy/security and the drive to bring products to market quickly.

Further, it seems that the challenges of data protection have not been fully considered for many Internet of Things products and services.

An important realisation has been that we are building the Internet of Things on the somewhat rickety security foundations provided by the existing internet. We face a situation where many devices cannot apply security patches because source code is not available.

Finding way to build a safer and more secure Internet of Things and to ensure that we do not increase risk for business and consumers is critical.

An interesting approach to privacy is that taken by the Apple privacy team, who had some people in attendance at the conference. Their inclusion of privacy engineers into development teams seems like a good approach. The idea of privacy by design seems like a useful and pragmatic way to ensure that privacy is not a mere afterthought in the design and product engineering process.

Will post my slides on SlideShare shortly.

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Politics of Social – Social Media Week Sydney 2014

As part of Social Media Week Sydney 2014 I was honoured to host a panel discussion about the Politics of Social.

The panel made for a lively and interesting chat – wish we could have had more time as there was much more to discuss!

Panel Members

  • Ariadne Vromen – Associate Professor, The University of Sydney
  • Alex Greenwich – Independent Member for Sydney, Parliament of NSW
  • Stilgherrian – Journalist, Commentator, Producer, Podcaster
  • Steph Harmon – Managing Editor , Junkee at The Sound Alliance

Ariadne Vromen  Alex Greenwich
Stilgherrian Steph Harmon.

Here’s the video of our discussion…

Australia, the gender pay gap, and everyday sexism

will work for...

Sexism made explicit

In the past it was easier to not notice the everyday sexism and misogyny that permeates life in Australia. But with the advent of Julia Gillard as Prime Minister it seemed that it was permitted to openly denigrate women.

It shocked me. It was breathtaking. I spent the entire Gillard regime gobsmacked at what people, mostly men, felt that it okay to say in public about women, or about a woman.

Those same things would have been unlikely to be uttered aloud if one replaced the notion of a woman with that of a race.

I, along with many other women, cheered when Gillard make her famed anti-misogyny speech in Parliament. She said what many of us felt. We didn’t care what precipitated her speech, it articulated our feelings.

Former Prime Minister, John Howard, said recently that Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech was ‘nonsense’. Yet another man rejecting the reporting lived experience of a woman. And research indicates that sexist attacks – sexist language, gender-based name calling – in the media damages women political candidates.

Calling out sexism makes women a target

Sexism and misogyny remain part of the everyday experience of women everywhere. To call this out often makes women the targets of vile attacks.

Anita Sarkeesian knows all about what happens when women call out sexism online – call out sexism and get attacked by cyber-mobs. Or as Caroline Criado-Perez discovered, just ask for some women to be put onto your national bank notes and you can expect to receive rape and death threats.

Social media is an amplification medium for both good and ill.

Unequal pay – gender wage gap

It was no great surprise to hear a well known business man spell out his policy on hiring women in a recent talk. Evan Thornley spoke at Blackbird’s Sunrise startup event in Sydney week. He spoke about how he is able to hire women at lower rates than men. He illustrated this point with a slide titled:

“WOMEN. Like men, only cheaper”

Thornley has since backpadalled, saying he “stuffed up” in trying to say that there is a problem with women in technology that needs to be fixed.

But the fact that he said this, and demonstrated that he has used the information asymmetry between women and men in the labour market to pay lower rates to women, is an interesting thing to note.

If one were to replace the word “women” with a racial group the truly offensive nature of the original comments becomes apparent.

Jenna Price makes the useful point that this kind of thing is helpful as it “shines a light” on the issue.

As a woman in business it has been clear to me for many years that unconscious sexism is the enemy. Hardly anyone gets up in the morning and says “I’m off to work today to oppress women”. Instead it is a myriad of unconscious moments, such as assuming that women do not want to work on certain projects because they have children therefore not offering them the opportunity.

However, the important thing the Thornley revealed is the information asymmetry between women and men about market salaries. Because of the secrecy that attaches to what people get paid, women often do not realise how much more men doing the same work get paid.

It’s time for women to start asking colleagues how much they get paid, and then to start asking for the same.

Women, sexism, and negotiation

But this raises another issue. Women are often ill-equipped to negotiate on their own behalf and women who do negotiate for better wages and conditions are subject to sexist thinking, as Margaret A. Neale notes:

“If I negotiate for an increase in my salary, and I have a male boss, the research suggests that I will be penalized in a way that my male counterparts will not be. If I have a female boss, she’s going to penalize both males and females, so it’s not like I get any benefit for working with a woman.”

I’m grateful to Mr Thornley for raising the important issue of the gender wage gap. It’s tied up with other key issues about sexism and it’s time we got all of this onto the business agenda.
 

Online resources

    Business plan – ultimate waste of time or absolute necessity? #startups

    Map Achaemenid Empire

    There is an enormous amount of information and advice about creating a business plan for one’s startup.

    The advice ranges from the necessity to prepare a traditional narrative form business plan document, to preparing a business model canvas, or using a business planning tool or app.

    There are even notions like the idea-less startup, where the team is formed before the startup idea comes together.

    No business plan at all is not a good idea

    While the consensus nowadays seems to be that shorter business plans are better, some folks even argue that preparing a business plan is a complete waste of time. Others who argue that business plans are a waste of time suggest:

    “Throw your business plan in the recycling bin. Instead, focus on your team and on getting to market as quickly as you can.”

    What a business needs to think about

    That notion of no business plan is all very well. But a new business does need to consider things that are traditionally covered in a business plan, such as:

    • Business purpose – the purpose for which the business exists (some like to include mission and/or vision); what makes the business and its products special or different
    • Markets in which the business will operate – including competitors, geography, since these inform operational matters such as logistics and distribution
    • Sales – how the business will make money, as Guy Kawasaki said recently during his visit to Canva in Sydney: “Sales fix everything“, also need to consider pricing and distribution
    • Business finances – funding sources, financial projections including operating costs and revenue; how the business will make money
    • Business structure – incorporation, board and directors
    • Management and ownership – who will manage the business operations, who owns what and what obligations are to be fulfilled
    • Key personnel – people required to run the business, either contract or staff positions
    • Products or services, innovation, and intellectual property – including how the product will be developed and brought to market
    • Insurance and risk management
    • Legal considerations
    • Business operations – how the business will manage production, logistics, distribution, customer service, sales, accounting, bookkeeping, statutory requirements, etc

    If these types of information are not written down it is hard to ensure that all participants share a common understanding.

    Quick approaches to business planning

    My approach to business planning is to do it in stages, with each stage focused on checking the team’s current understanding of key issues, risks, and obtaining agreement as to sensible next steps.

    Lean business model canvas

    A good way to start the planning process is to use a lean business model canvas to get the team thinking about the key issues for the business. If the team cannot answer the questions posed in this document then it is a clear risk signifier for the project.

    Once agreement is reached on the high level information in the lean business canvas it is a good checkpoint for the team. The canvas also provides a helpful artefact for sharing with potential collaborators and investors. It is a useful way to assess the viability of the business idea.

    More detailed planning

    For the preparation of the next level of detailed business plan I had traditionally used the narrative form document with charts and tables. However, recently Avis Mulhall put me onto a business planning tool called Live Plan. I’m now a total convert to this approach (please note that I have no affiliation with Live Plan, just find it a very handy tool).

    This kind of tool asks the right questions and enables the team to prepare a good looking presentation document that includes sensible categories of information.

    This more detailed plan provides another useful artefact for sharing with potential collaborators and investors.

    Quick business planning

    For a few startups I’m working with, the teams went through the entire planning process outlined above – including lean canvas and detailed business plan – in a single day.

    The business planning process does not have to be onerous.

    Business planning at its best

    At its best, business planning is about the team asking sensible questions about:

    • how the business will work,
    • how it will find and keep happy customers,
    • how it will make money,
    • how the risks will be mitigated,
    • and how the rewards for success will be shared among the founders and investors.

    Predicting success #startups

    Un bonobo mâle du parc Lola ya bonobo

    “The only major personality trait that consistently leads to success is conscientiousness.” via Business Insider

    In large companies personality tests and similar instruments are often deployed to provide people with better insight into their own and team performance.

    Over the years I have participated in many of these – for example, Myers Briggs, DISC, Belbin Team Roles, Hermann Brain Dominance, 16PF, Big Five Inventory, etc.

    Many people debate the efficacy of any or all of these instruments. However, the primary importance of these kind of instruments is the opportunity they provide for people to reflect upon their personal and work preferences. They also provide an opportunity for people to consider how best to participate in teams and to collaborate with others in a work context. These personal reflections and insights are the true value of these personality profile tools in the workplace.

    Startups rarely have the luxury of investing time or money into administering these kind of instruments for their teams. This means that personal traits and interpersonal skills are not explicitly considered as part of the setup of a startup.

    For co-founders and investors due diligence on the business is typically about the ‘hard’ data – budgets, sales targets, capital – rather than on ‘soft’ skills of the startup team.

    Success, focus, and startups

    In recent times I have been pondering how to assess the soft skills of startup teams. The one trait that keeps coming up is conscientiousness.

    In the long run, brilliance and inventiveness are less important than the ability to focus and persist in the everyday tasks that accrete to make a successful business.

    As Thomas Edison said:

    “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration.

    Related research on the Big Five

    How Universal Is the Big Five? Testing the Five-Factor
    Model of Personality Variation Among Forager–Farmers
    in the Bolivian Amazon

     

    Startup, stay in business.

    luck or hard work?

    The biggest hurdle facing most startups is to stay in business long enough to be successful. If they accomplish this then they have the chance to turn into an ‘overnight success’ after many years of hard work.

    The numbers are against most new businesses. Many new businesses fail within the first three to five years. Even inside well-resourced large companies the challenges of bringing new products to market see many fail to make it.

    This means that every startup sets out on a journey with the odds stacked against it. Every new startup is a triumph of optimism over evidence of other startup failures.

    The real challenge for each startup is to stay in business. And sometimes hard questions must be asked to help the business survive.

    The important factors in small business survival are:

    1. Focus – ability to say no to interesting opportunities that do not support the strategy
    2. Revenue – realistic sales targets with concrete and realistic plans to achieve them
    3. Cost control – ability to resist non-focused expenditure
    4. Customer focus – understand the specific market or markets and deliver what they will pay for; be ruthless with products that they don’t want
    5. Competitor analysis – know what competitors are doing and how to respond (if at all)

    Focus

    As Mick Liubinskas is well-known for telling entrepreneurs, startups must “focus or fail“. It is easy for a new business to find many things that it could possibly do. Often it is more important to identify the things that the business will not do (or will not do now).

    One of the most important things to know is what things the business will absolutely not do. Out of scope items are more critical than in scope items, since they determine the boundaries within which the business will operate.

    Survival

    Everyday that the business survives and makes money is a good day. Many startups have big dreams. But if the business cannot survive to realise them then those big dreams will be crushed.

    Cashflow and sales are nourishment for the business. There is a temptation to say “more capital will solve our problems”. However, this is not always the best course of action. The more investors a business has, then the more obligations one has to deliver for the investors.

    Substance over style

    There is a temptation for many startups to focus on external impressions and public relations at the expense of doing the hard work. That is, the hard work of setting up proper business management systems and processes to support the enterprise. While marketing and public relations are important, if the substance of the business is not well formed, the business will likely struggle to scale (or even to survive).

    Leadership and management

    Typically people startup a new business due to passion, and very often they do not have previous experience in leadership and management.

    Business leaders undertake serious roles with obligations to shareholders, investors, customers, and staff. The fiduciary duties associated with business leadership are often not common knowledge.

    Some things to do…

    • Set up sound management and operational processes and systems to support the business
    • Clearly define roles and responsibilities within the business
    • Have a clearly documented business plan together with key performance indicators to track progress
    • Set up a business support or mentor network – get advice from people with experience (and be willing to act on that advice)
    • Read up on why other businesses failed and work out how to avoid the same pitfalls
    • If in doubt, seek professional advice, and be smart enough to take it

    Some useful links from the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) about running a company:

    Articles on business failures

     

     

    Jobs free future: Machines v Lawyers

    Law books

     

    “As information technology advances, the legal profession faces a great disruption.”
    Along with this disruption come serious questions for the future of legal education, legal careers, and the nature of legal business models.

    In Machines v. Lawyers Professor John O. McGinnis outlines the five key areas of legal practice that are under threat of disruption by ‘machine intelligence':

    1. discovery
    2. legal search
    3. legal forms
    4. legal memos or briefs
    5. legal analytics (to displace lawyers’ hunches)

    These are the basic areas of work that have built up the skills of young lawyers for generations, and which have provided law firms with a steady income. As these tasks become automated, the real question arises: do we need so many lawyers? And, if we do need them, then how do we build up their legal skills post-law degree? How can a law firm ensure good revenue?

    It also raises some interesting questions about legal expertise for computer programmers – lots of changes ahead in the jobs free future.

    Certainly it is food for thought for the legal community.

    Professor McGinnis ends his article on an optimistic note for layers though:

    So long as there is law, however, we will need lawyers to offer interpretations of difficult texts and to smooth legal difficulties in the most important transactions.

     

    Professor John O. McGinnis is the George C. Dix Professor in Constitutional Law at Northwestern University School of Law

    Turf wars on the frontiers of the sharing economy

    it's the future stupid

    The sharing economy is turning into big business now, with companies perceiving a potential advantage: Looking to save money, big business dives into the sharing economy.

    And, as this new economy grows, there will be turf wars between the old and the new world. A recent headline on Mashable read “New York Goes to War Against Airbnb for Disrupting Hotel Business“.

    I’ve been expecting to see headlines like this for a while, as governments and old economy businesses realise that their revenue models are being disrupted by new businesses in the so-called sharing economy.

    Sharing economy?

    It is ‘so-called’ because what is termed the sharing economy really seems, for the most part, to consist in increasing the utilisation of existing assets already held in private hands.

    Thus Airbnb enables owners to capitalise upon their existing excess housing capacity to earn revenue, while UberX enables car owners to use their existing asset to earn revenue.

    This new economic activity is powered by the maturing of mobile technology and the development of clever peer-to-peer applications. This phenomenon builds upon the foundations of social media and the Web 2.0 revolution of the mid-2000s. In the sharing economy we see the unlocking of earning potential from people’s existing assets.

    It is interesting that this phenomenon emerged after the global financial crisis, when consumers sought additional revenue sources as traditional work remained scarce for many in the US.

    Organisations like Airbnb and Uber are on the frontier of the sharing economy. And this frontier is a place where intermediary businesses are being displaced by the democratisation of economic activity.

    Governments are just now beginning to perceive the potential for this kind of economic activity to disrupt their existing revenue collection model. Apart from traditional corporate taxation, the economic activities of these new kinds of businesses do not fall within existing tax raising processes.

    Taxation and Government relations

    Yet, now that these companies are reaching sufficient scale, they are coming to the attention of various governments around the world. This is requiring these companies to rethink their relation to taxation and local regulation.

    For example, Airbnb, which has always resisted hotel taxes being applied to its business, recently indicated a more positive view to hotel taxes being applied to their business: Airbnb Is Suddenly Begging New York City to Tax Its Hosts $21 Million.

    Airbnb has even pointed out that New York city is not setup to receive hotel tax payments from Airbnb on behalf of people letting their apartments.

    Governments are not really setup for collecting business taxes from the multitudes. This increases the need for governments to explore e-government and electronic delivery of services. It also means that governments need to start rethinking the boundaries of their various constituent groups – since companies, individuals, and collectives now start to have fuzzy boundaries.

    The boundaries between personal and business activity are already starting to blur with the emergence of the sharing economy.

    Regulation

    This highlights some issues for the sharing economy. How do these organisations fit into the social and economic structures of government? How do these sharing economy organisations, which are often loose networks of individuals, comply with things like health and safety standards, insurance, and contribution to taxation systems?

    Over many years western society has created a safer lifestyle for people by regulating certain industries to protect health and wellbeing. And, while some might argue that the nanny-state has gone too far, when disaster strikes the populace often seek regulation for their protection. This is why fire codes have made modern buildings so safe in comparison to the past.

    Democratisation of economic activity

    With the emergence of the sharing economy there is a growing tension between traditional corporate modes of organisation, such as government and large corporations, with new kinds of collectivist modes of organisation that are looser and more fluid.

    These new models of organisation provide an umbrella for individuals to participate in economic activity in ways that were previously impossible. It is a kind of democratisation of economic activity for individuals, enabling them to scale their operations using web and API driven solutions.

    This unlocking of the excess economic capacity of assets that are in the hands of ordinary private individuals is the next wave of economic activity.

    How the tension plays out, between the traditional corporate organisations and the emerging collectivist organisations, will be very interesting.


    Inspiring millennials

    Enactus UNSW Pitch Fest

    Millennials or Generation Y have been getting a hard time in the media for a while now. They are alleged to be entitled, they don’t buy cars (which will apparently destroy the economy), and they are said to be extraordinarily optimistic in spite of the economic circumstances into which the emerge as adults.

    Enactus UNSW

    But that is not my experience of millennials. It was inspiring to meet the young people at Enactus UNSW earlier in the week at their pitching competition.

    There I found committed and engaged people who are working to make the world a better place. They were pitching projects to help with youth mental health issues, recycle computers and get them to community groups, provide business support to social enterprises.

    The diversity of ideas was remarkable, the passion and enthusiasm encouraging. The university students who participate in these projects are getting valuable experience for their post university lives. And they are also gaining valuable experience in working to create sustainable business solutions. It is what I like to call a win-win.

    More information about Enactus UNSW here

    Enactus UNSW Australia

     Quiz

    Why not try the Pew Institute’s How Millennial Are You quiz?

    Trade unions and the jobs free future

    Image: Eight-hour day banner, Melbourne, 1856 (Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons).

    Background to the jobs free future and trade unions

    Recently I wrote about the jobs free future, where the traditional model of a job for life is dead and industries that were familiar employers during the twentieth century are significantly reducing their need for labour. The jobs free future represents a major structural change to the global economy.

    Venture capitalist, Steve Schlafman noted in a recent post that we are seeing the Uberification of the US Service Economy, and the same is likely to occur in Australia. Australian industry is being hollowed out now, with new job losses announced regularly. In recent times we’ve seen the car industry in Australia close down, Qantas reduce local jobs further, BP close their Brisbane refinery, and CSIRO announce job cuts.

    And, while Ross Gittins assures that all of these job losses do not mean that we’re all doomed, it does demonstrate the future trajectory of traditional work in this country. The future of low skilled and manual work is not promising, and the new jobs will likely be in services, skilled, and digital work. Callam Pickering reported, in relation to Reserve Bank Governor Glenn Stevens’ speech on Economic Conditions and Prospects, that:

    “Our economy will lose some manufacturing jobs but we will gain jobs in mining and services, in health and professional services, and in industries that we do not currently understand or haven’t been invented yet.”

    Source: Callam Pickering, Why she’ll be right in the long run

    What is not made clear here is that the jobs of the future are not likely to be stable full time jobs. They are more likely to be portmanteau jobs, where lots of little jobs are undertaken. And life in the world of a task based worker is not an easy one, as recounted by Brad Stone in My Life as a Task Rabbit.

    Nor can every worker from old industries be retrained and redeployed into the emerging industries, as Michael Bloomberg commented:

    “You’re not going to teach a coal miner to code. Mark Zuckerberg says you teach them [people] to code and everything will be great. I don’t know how to break it to you . . . but no.”

    Trade unions as businesses

    In this context it is interesting to consider unions as a business. And, like most other businesses, unions face challenges from the jobs free future.

    Trade unions have served their members (a.k.a. customers) well to date by providing collective bargaining in relation to workplace terms and conditions . During the past century or so Australian unions have lobbied to achieve key employment and workplace reforms, from which most Australians benefit today, including:

    Basic Wage Annual Leave Award wages
    Penalty Rates Maternity leave Superannuation
    Equal Pay for Women Health and Safety and Workers’ Compensation Sick leave
    Long service leave Redundancy pay Meal Breaks, rest breaks
    Unfair Dismissal Protection [Source: Australian Unions]

    The benefits of these reforms to workers are undeniable. However, they are predicated upon a world in which work is regular, predictable, and at least semi-permanent. The future of work is not like that; it is more likely to be disjointed, irregular, and impermanent for many workers. Further this model was predicated upon large employers of mass labour within an industry with which to bargain, and it was also reliant upon the notion that threats of labour withdrawal could force change. This is increasingly untrue, and employers have many options with which to respond to threats to withdraw labour.

    The question is how unions will shift their business model to support customers who are not part of the regular routine world of work. What kind of collective model can support workers who move away from permanent or semi-permanent work within a single industry to task based and piece work across industry boundaries? And, what will this kind of shift mean for union funding models?

    Further, how will unions manage in a world where the government is actively seeking to reduce union access to workplaces, remove the right to boycott, reduce or remove penalty rates and other conditions?

    Core business

    Historically, the funds held by unions are derived from a broad based union membership among the working population. However, the Australian unions have already experienced a substantial drop in membership over the past few decades, as noted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) late in 2013:

    “The proportion of employees who were trade union members in their main job has been steady at 18 per cent for the last three years, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). There were 1.8 million people in August 2012 who were trade union members in their main job.”

    It is worth bearing in mind that the number of employed persons in Australia as at February 2014 was approximately 11 million. The following ABS chart from 2011 shows the problematic position of unions even before one considers the digital revolution and the jobs free future. Source(s): Employee Earnings, Benefits and Trade Union Membership, Australia

    Further, the Brotherhood of St Laurence reports that youth unemployment is reaching a crisis point, with Tony Nicholson noting:

    “What it means for all these young people is that they’re at risk of never being able to get a foothold in the world of work,” he said. “And in our modern economy that means that they’re really being sentenced to a lifetime of poverty.”

    With a declining membership, and consequent reduction in funding, the unions were already facing an uncertain future. Now we can add to their woes the disappearance of traditional industries and jobs. This also means that unions face increased funding constraints for future business growth strategies. The real question for unions is can they survive as the jobs they seek to protect disappear in increasing numbers?

    Governance and management

    In addition to the decline in membership, trade unions face other challenges. For example, the recent and ongoing scandals of the Health Services Union (HSU) with Craig Thomson and Michael Williamson; and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) bribes scandal that is now widening to other building unions.

    The Abbott government recently announced a  Royal Commission into trade union governance and corruption and this is likely to further destabilise public faith in the union movement and it close associate the ALP. The stories emerging to date have indicated substantial organisational, management, governance, and cultural issues within the union movement.

    Some trade unionists are starting to ponder the future of their business, such as Dustin Halse in 2012: Is there a place for trade unions?

    The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has released a number of papers exploring the future of unions in Australia, for example,  Urgency & Opportunity: union membership trends and observations 2012.

    The chief response seems to be an ACTU campaign called Secure Jobs, Better Future, which fails to address the structural causes of job ‘insecurity’.

    “Secure Jobs. Better Future is a national campaign to improve the rights and working lives of the 40% of the Australian workforce employed in insecure work.”

    Source: Secure jobs, Better Future campaign – ACTU

    However, there appear to be few concrete proposals for halting the decline in union membership. Nor does their appear to be any notion of how to approach the looming structural shift due to the jobs free future.

    The future

    Considering unions as businesses, the issues they face include a declining customer base, declining revenue, lack of customer focus, and problematic external conditions. The lack of customer focus is especially problematic. It is always fatal for a business to lose sight of the customer. Rarely can a business recover easily from a loss of customer focus – just look at Qantas and its current junk bond status. Further, the governance and management issues that have already come to light in some unions are likely to be reinforced by additional information from the Royal Commission.

    Some unions are already seeking to address the skills gap in their management teams by accessing the National Workforce Development Fund to provide management training to their staff, for example Certificate IV in Frontline Management.  However, unions were only required to educate their personnel on union governance practices commencing in 2013:

    “Changes to the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Act 2012 on Financial Governance required all union officers with financial decision-making responsibilities (including elected officials, finance staff and members of management committee) to do FWC Approved training within six months of June 29th, 2013. In some circumstances, Unions now have until mid-2014 to comply. “

    This means that the unions are now working to professionalise their management and governance practice in a hostile environment. They are doing so while fighting a rearguard action with the Abbott government about working conditions (for example attempts to roll back penalty rates and conditions), and while a Royal Commission is investigating the union movement.

    If ever there was a time that workers needed organisations to represent their interests, that time is now. As Halse notes:

    “In a political economy governed increasingly by the market-oriented doctrine of neo-liberalism, trade unions should not so easily be dismissed.”

    However, it is hard to see how unions will survive the combined onslaught of poor management and governance, declining membership, and the decline of key industries that they have relied upon for the past century.

    If the unions are not up to the challenge, then how will we protect rights and working conditions from deteriorating? How will we ensure that people participating in new forms of work are not exploited?

    These are very real challenges that the union movement must ponder. They must step away from their internecine struggles within the unions and the ALP factions to focus on their real business and their real customers. Otherwise the union movement will continue to dwindle into irrelevance, and workers will lose their hard won collective bargaining capability.

    Perhaps Alex White is right to think that the real future of unions is crowdfunded and crowdsourced:

    “…decentralised, leaderless, temporary movements, empowered by online organising platforms like MoveOn, Change.org, Avaaz, Twitter and Facebook.”