Victorian Electrical Trade Union (ETU) members have voted resoundingly to disaffiliate from the Australian Labor Party.
In a ballot of ETU members on whether the union should remain affiliated to the ALP, 85% voted against affiliation. Nearly 44% of ETU members voted in the ballot conducted by the Australian Electoral Commission.
This is the first time in many years a union has disaffiliated from the Labor Party, and possibly the first time a union has conducted a ballot of members on the issue.
ETU state secretary Dean Mighell told Green Left Weekly the union had “looked at how we affect political change for our members and what the most effective way was to do it”.
He said: “We’ve been affiliated to the Australian Labor Party for a long time. Over the past 100 years, the union has been dissatisfied with the performance of Labor and looked at disaffiliating.
“The shift of the Australian Labor Party to the right has left many traditional Labor supporters wondering what values the party has left any more.
“The greatest demonstration of this was [then prime minister Kevin] Rudd and [PM Julia] Gillard’s refusal to abolish the Australian Building and Construction Commission [ABCC] and to really address workers’ rights in the Fair Work Act.
“Our members know that this is a betrayal of what were once seen as core Labor values. We had to think how effective we are as an affiliated organisation.”
Mighell also said the ETU learned from the Your Rights at Work campaign that when the trade union movement mobilises independently around political issues, it can be enormously powerful.
“The campaign was the most effective political campaign in the country’s history, not fought by a political party, but by the union movement”, he said. “There was much to be learnt from that.
“What I’m bitterly disappointed about is that the union movement only seriously campaigns when the conservatives are in power. In reality, we’ve got conservatives in power now.
“The issues are still the same. The ABCC’s still there. The industrial legislation fails many [International Labour Organisation] conventions of basic human rights, yet we don’t do enough to campaign to change it. Therefore, the union has to critically examine whether or not being affiliated compromises our ability to apply political pressure in the interest of our members.”
Mighell was pleased with the high return and high vote in support of disaffiliation. “Our members have watched over a long period of time as the ALP has attacked their union, whether it be me personally or the union itself”, he said.
“They like the idea of their union being politically independent and putting their interest first and not the interests of any one party.
“We didn’t get any sense that members don’t want us campaigning on political issues that affect them. But they don’t see themselves as wedded naturally to the Labor Party.”
The ETU polled its members a few months ago, he said, “and we had two thirds tell us they vote Labor and 20% told us they vote for the Coalition, and some vote for the Greens as well”.
“They may be Labor voters in the main”, Mighell said, “but they certainly aren’t wedded to being affiliated to Labor”.
“We’ve got all of these unionists in federal and state parliaments and yet we have the worst legislation for workers that we’ve ever had under any Labor government.”
The ETU is supporting the Greens in the Senate and Greens candidate Adam Bandt in the seat of Melbourne. It displays big billboards supporting the Greens outside its old office in busy Swanston Street, Carlton.
However, the union will still support some individual Labor candidates, such as Kelvin Thomson in Wills and Mike Symon in Deakin.