The Trade Union Training Authority: Lessons from a Bold Experiment

Could union education be the key to rebuilding the Australian labour movement? An exploration of the past, seeking lessons for the future.

This free, online conference on 16- 17 November 2021 drew on lessons learnt from the Australian Trade Union Training Authority (or TUTA, 1975-1996) to explore future prospects in union training and education.

Sessions ranged across innovative adult education methods, equity in curriculum and learning, changing legislative frameworks for training and the creative use of film in union education.

Experienced union educators and researchers in labour law, education, social and cultural history came together to consider how our shared history can inform future responses to changing industrial relations.

The conference began with an introductory evening session, outlining interim findings from a 2-year, Australian Research Council-funded research project on ‘Trade Union Training: Reshaping the Australian Industrial Landscape’.

The project’s major focus has been to examine the operation and impact of the Trade Union Training Authority, a statutory body established by the Whitlam Government in 1975 and abolished by the Howard Government in 1996. This has involved interviews with almost 60 TUTA trainers, administrators and course participants.

Another important element of the project has been to explore the enduring legacy of TUTA; the work of its successors including the Trade Union Education Foundation, Organising Works and the Australian Trade Union Institute; and the vital importance of union education in rebuilding worker power here and internationally.

The conference was designed to encourage a constructive and forward-looking conversation between past and present union educators, exploring themes of learning, equity, activism and creativity.


Recordings of the conference sessions have been embedded into the program below. Scroll down to watch the sessions that interest you!


Tuesday 16 November 2021

7 – 8.30 pm AEDT: Introductory session

Conference participants at the live (online) event were formally welcomed to Country by Wurundjeri elder Tony Garvey. The Welcome was not recorded.

This introductory session outlined interim findings from the Australian Research Council Linkage research project, ‘Trade Union Training: Reshaping the Australian Industrial Landscape’, with a particular focus on the work of the Australian Trade Union Training Authority (TUTA, 1975-1996).

Speakers: Dr Mary Leahy and Dr Alice Garner (MGSE); Professor Anthony Forsyth and Ms Renee Burns (RMIT); Mr Max Ogden.

Wednesday 17 November 2021:

1 – 2.10 pm AEDT: Education for the union movement

An exploration of innovative approaches to teaching and learning in union education, focusing on TUTA’s state-based, national and international courses and what happened when participants from different unions, industries, states and countries came together to build their skills and understanding.

Speakers: Phil Drew, Raghwan Raghwan, Glenda Strachan

Moderated by Mary Leahy

For a time code breakdown of this Education session, click on the Vimeo logo in the bottom right corner of the embedded video file (or click here) and then click on ‘Show more’)

2.15 – 3.05 pm AEDT: Equity and trade union education

What does it take to increase diversity and equity in the trade union movement? – past, present and future

Speakers: Fran Hayes, Kathy Sdrinis, Hyeseon Jeong

Moderated by Alice Garner

3.05-3.30 *Break*

3.30 – 4.30 pm AEDT: Building union power through education

How can and should union education adapt to the changing legal and regulatory environment?

Speakers: Amanda Threlfall, Emma Kingdon, Caterina Cinnani

Moderated by Anthony Forsyth and Renee Burns

Recording will be embedded soon!

Wednesday 17 November 2021 (evening session)

7 – 8.30 pm AEDT: Film in union education – screening and panel discussion

Why were films considered an important tool in the trade union training armoury?

Where did they sit in the broader context of Australian (and international) traditions of union film making?

How were the TUTA films used in courses and what impact(s) did they have?

In what ways were the TUTA training films innovative?

How is film being used in union education today? What has changed?

Alice Garner provides an overview of TUTA’s collaboration with Film Australia, and director Keith Gow, in creating innovative training resources, followed by the NFSA’s Senior Manager of Access Bronwyn Dowdall on the riches that lie in the Film Australia collection, some essential historical context for the TUTA training films by labour film historian Lisa Milner, recollections from Clyde Cameron College trainer Des Hanlon and adviser to Keith Gow about the making-of the TUTA films and how they were used in courses, and finally, an insight into current film-making practices by Trades Hall (Vic) digital producer Suzi Taylor.

We thank the NFSA for the digitisation and licencing of the films for this screening.

Image source: Key, Clyde Cameron College, Des Hanlon collection