'The choice is supporting Labor or defending workers'

Issue 

In by-elections in June for the Community and Public Sector Union, one of the country's largest unions, GREG ADAMSON was elected ACT assistant secretary on the ticket of CPSU Challenge. STEVE ROGERS spoke to him for Green Left Weekly.

What does your election show?

The result is a clear endorsement for a union which supports its members and fights on their behalf.

With 21,000 members, the ACT branch of the CPSU is the major union in Canberra, accounting for 42% of all unionists in the city. CPSU Challenge supporters won two of three full-time elected positions in late 1993, and with the by-election the old guard has been completely rebuffed.

During the election period, I was able to speak to around 260 workplace delegates at their agencies. In addition, with the help of others, I was able to mail material to all members and to personally distribute several thousand leaflets. Combined with a national by-election campaign, in all around 80 people were actively involved.

Challenge won the ballot with a margin of more than 1100 votes. Voter turnout was nearly as high as in the general branch elections in 1993, This is a strong mid-term endorsement for the Challenge team.

What does CPSU Challenge stand for?

CPSU Challenge has disputed a few truisms about unions in the 1990s. During the 1993 elections, it published an extensive policy document. The elected officials have stuck by these policies. These include opposition to agency bargaining, which is a method of breaking the federal public service into small parts and then trading off jobs and conditions in each of these agencies.

Other policies include improving union democracy, redirecting administrative efforts to members' needs and opposing the loss of jobs. While a single branch cannot change national direction, the ACT branch has been able to implement changes in the culture of the union.

As a result, the branch has been able to maintain its membership in a difficult period, while most other branches of the CPSU are declining in size.

How does the Challenge position differ from that of the Progressive Caucus, the national CPSU leadership?

The Progressive Caucus presents itself as left wing. In reality, however, its primary allegiance is to the Labor Party, although the union itself is not affiliated to the ALP. Since the poor showing for Progressive Caucus supporters in the 1993 branch elections nationally, ALP affiliation has been taken off the Progressive Caucus' public agenda.

This ALP allegiance hinders the ability of its supporters to stand up to ALP government attacks on the public service. Union officials generally have to choose between supporting Labor and defending workers.

The Canberra Times responded to your election by implying that you have a hidden political agenda and claiming a split between yourself and the two other Challenge officials.

The Canberra Times spoke to a number of opponents of Challenge in and around the Labor Party, and this formed the basis of its claims.

Specifically, the ACT Green Democratic Alliance, for which I stood as a candidate in 1993 and won nearly 4% in the seat of Canberra, was accused of being a Democratic Socialist Party front. This showed ignorance. The Green Democratic Alliance was formed by union activists, environmentalists, interest rate activists and socialists. No effort was ever made to hide the participation of the DSP in this alliance.

The second assertion was that I am "associated with Green Left Weekly, a mouthpiece for the Trotskyite Democratic Socialist Party". Once again, the claim shows confusion. I am pleased to be a sponsor of Green Left Weekly, sharing company with John Pilger, Senator Christabel Chamarette, Senator Sid Spindler, Tim Anderson, George Georges, Joan Coxsedge and several hundred others.

The paper is also sponsored and strongly supported by the Democratic Socialist Party, and by many community and solidarity organisations.

The "Trotskyite" tag is an attempt by the Canberra Times to appear knowledgeable by using left jargon. Unfortunately for the paper, that terminology has been irrelevant for at least a decade.

The issue of alleged divisions within CPSU Challenge is wishful thinking by Labor-aligned former branch officials. These former officials have been involved in several disastrous election results for the Labor Party in the ACT. So they are wishing that Challenge were as divided and disorganised as they are.