Labour History

Strategy and Structure in a Successful Organising Union: The Transformational Role of Branch Secretaries in the Australian Nursing Federation, Victorian Branch, 1989-2009

Labour History (2013), 104, (1), 149–168.


This paper examines the impact of a major Australian professional-industrial trade union’s Branch Secretaries on the adoption of the “organising model.” The investigation was carried out specifically with regard to the union’s organisational strategies and structures that were developed to facilitate mobilisation of workers over the period 1989-2009. The paper draws on the union organising and transformational leadership literatures to develop a theoretical framework. An intensive case study of the Australian Nursing Federation, Victorian Branch, was conducted from October to December 2009. Interview, observation-based and archival data were analysed. The findings demonstrate that, under the executive leadership of two Branch Secretaries, Belinda Morieson and Lisa Fitzpatrick, the union became a member-oriented, decentralised organisation whose main purpose was to support an organising strategy of worker mobilisation. The professional and industrial goals of nurses were aligned. New organisational roles were created and existing roles were adapted to train and support elected job representatives in their key function of encouraging membership and rank-and-file activism. Finally, the entire union became a recruitment and retention machine.

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Author details

Tierney, James

Cregan, Christina