Among the explanations regarding unionisation in Australia there is an implicit assumption that recruitment strategy is not a significant explanation of union growth. This article challenges this assumption and, in the process, will also contest another more explicit assertion regarding patterns of unionisation: that women traditionally have been difficult to organise (see Gardner and Palmer 1993).
These assertions have persisted alongside frequent exhortations that unions devote more attention to organising efforts to arrest declining union densities and despite the dramatic increase in female union density since the 1960s. Recent studies in Britain and the United States have pointed to the significance of recruitment strategies to unionisation levels and ability of unions to arrest membership attrition through aggressive and intensive organising (Kelly and Heery 1989; Chaison and Rose 1991). American scholars have also contested the assertion that women are less organisable than men (Kochan 1979; Goldfield 1987), a view echoed in Australia by Peetz (1990) who proposes greater recruitment efforts by unions to increase female unionisation levels. Yet little is known about past union recruitment efforts and the conditions for successful female organising. This article brings the orthodox conventions into focus through a close examination of the dramatic growth in the 1970s of the Australian Telephone and Phonogram Operators’ Association (Queensland Branch).