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What will disaffiliation from the Labor Party achieve for the ETU?

By James Sinnamon - posted Tuesday, 1 July 2008

In recent months the Queensland branch of Electrical Trades Union (ETU) has rightly conducted publicity campaigns against policies of the Queensland Labor Government's which have been harmful to its members' interests.

These include the corporatisation and privatisation of its power generation assets and the consequent neglect of vital infrastructure. The ETU has also conducted an industrial campaign for wage justice for its members and has been critical of the Rudd Labor Government's delays in the repeal of the Howard government's anti-worker “WorkChoices” legislation.

In the Brisbane Times article “Electricity, rail workers to picket Labor conference”, ETU spokesman Peter Simpson complained of “over 12 months of frustrated negotiations” in which “the excesses of WorkChoices were used against state government employees”.


At a protest outside the Queensland Labor Party's conference on the Gold Coast on Saturday, June 21, the Brisbane Times, in its story “QLD Labor stung by protests, poll”, reported:

(ETU assistant secretary Peter Simpson) said the unions had received a slap in the face after supporting Labor through the November federal election.

“How have we been repaid? We have been screwed over and it is a dead-set disgrace,” Mr Simpson said.

However, while Simpson is correct to point this out, it would have been clearly suicidal for the union movement not to have backed Rudd against the anti-trade union Howard government. Whatever can be critically said of the record of the Rudd Labor Government, it was absolutely necessary for the ETU to have campaigned with the rest of the trade union movement to have the Coalition government removed from office.

Peter Simpson continued:

“This may be the last ALP conference that we attend, because I don't think we'll be affiliated with them for much longer.”

While their treatment at the hands of Labor governments is indefensible and the ETU's outrage is entirely justified, their threat to disaffiliate from the Labor Party begs the question of exactly how the ETU can expect better treatment at the hands of any alternative government. Clearly, it would be ludicrous for ETU to hold out hope for better treatment at the hands of a Coalition government whether at the state or federal level.


This conflict calls into question the whole purpose of the Labor Party.

The Labor Party was originally formed in the 1890's to be the political representative of the trade union movement. Its purpose was to form government to enact legislation in favour of the workers upon whose vote it relied to obtain a majority in Parliament.

The conduct of the Bligh Government, particularly in its dispute with the ETU, is only the latest of almost countless illustrations of how far the Labor Party has drifted from this original propose. Far from representing workers or, indeed, any other ordinary members of the community, the Bligh Government, instead, seems to serve a small minority of corporations, land speculators and developers.

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About the Author

James Sinnamon is an environmental and political writer, part-time Linux consultant and web administrator. He administers web sites for progressive and environmental causes. Sites include: and In March 2008 he stood as a candidate for Lord Mayor of Brisbane. His day job is as a cleaner and he is a member of the Australian Workers Union.

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