The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) voted to affiliate to the ALP at the union's March 2-4 national governing council meeting. The enabling motion, heavily amended during the course of the meeting, passed by 42 votes to 12.
Current assistant national secretary Margaret Gillespie voted against ALP affiliation, although she didn't speak during the debate. Gillespie, along with most of the CPSU's national executive, is an ALP member. Two other national executive members, deputy national president Lisa Newman and executive committee member Louise Persse, also opposed affiliation.
Greens member and Environment and Heritage section secretary Neal Hardy argued against affiliation whereas Greens governing council member Jay "JJ" Jermalinski voted for affiliation along with Jason Wood the previous national president of the Australian Democrats.
The enabling motion commits the CPSU to push for policies inside the ALP (termed a "political claim") including: the adoption of the CPSU/Australian Council of Trade Unions' industrial relations policy and a commitment to legislate its introduction; guaranteed access to a minimum 14 weeks' paid maternity leave and guaranteed minimum employer contribution of 15.4% to employees' superannuation for all Commonwealth and territory employees; restoration of the right to union protection in occupational health and safety matters; and a commitment to an independent, apolitical public service.
The final motion was amended to include a sunset clause requiring the council to review affiliation after three years and so affiliation to the Labor Party "need not include every region". CPSU affiliation to the ALP will take place on a state and territory basis, with the executive saying they will directly consult the union's members.
However, even before affiliation the CPSU has joined with other unions to propose an alternative economic vision for Australia at the Labor Party's April 27-29 national conference, which would include banning free trade deals and public-private partnerships.
There will be no changes to affiliation in the current financial year, so the CPSU won't have a bloc of votes at this year's ALP national conference.
The governing council motion also states that prior to any federal or territory election, the CPSU will canvas the policies of all parties and present them to members, and will not recommend that members vote for a particular party.
CPSU national secretary Stephen Jones argued that if the union was affiliated to the ALP, the CPSU would have more influence on the party's policy. This argument persuaded a majority of governing council members to vote for the motion.
The motion to affiliate to the ALP was not widely discussed among members before the vote. If it had been widely known, it is likely that there would have been more vigorous debates on the CPSU's section councils.
When possible ALP affiliation was raised on the tax section council, a vigorous debate was held before they voted not to support ALP affiliation. Tax section representatives voted solidly against ALP affiliation on the governing council.
The tax section delegates' committee at the Box Hill office has since unanimously voted to oppose ALP affiliation and have indicated support for a members' plebiscite on the issue.
Electoral and employment regulation section secretary and Socialist Alliance member Andrew Hall told Green Left Weekly that the national leadership had used a very top-down approach to get its ALP affiliation motion passed. Similar motions have been rejected in the past.
Hall said, "I disagree that affiliating to the ALP will give CPSU members more influence. Over the last two years, it wasn't until the union movement organised mass protests against Howard's IR [industrial relations] laws that the Labor Party came out strongly against them. That's despite most unions being affiliated to the ALP.
"I'm really worried that CPSU affiliation to the Labor Party is going to mean that the Labor Party will influence the CPSU rather than the other way around, especially as [Labor leader] Kevin Rudd seems to be softening the ALP's commitment to tearing up Howard's laws.
"The ALP is the 'alternative employer' for federal public servants. By being affiliated to the ALP, the ALP could get the CPSU to tone down or drop certain industrial demands. This is what happened when the Labor Party was last in government federally."
Hall said it remains to be seen whether the CPSU leadership has a genuine plan for membership consultation regarding ALP affiliation at the state level, especially as the union mostly dismantled its state structures several years ago. Nowadays, it only organises nationally through sections based on government departments.
The CPSU leadership are now likely to tackle ALP affiliation in the easiest states first — South Australia, Australian Capital Territory and New South Wales. Tasmania and Western Australia are to be left until last because of the likely large numbers of CPSU members who support the Greens.