This year will be forever etched in our collective memories as the year Labor lost what was widely seen as the unlosable federal election, leaving unionists everywhere reeling at the prospect of another three years of Coalition government.
However, more than 20,000 Australian Services Union (ASU) members in Victoria and Tasmania will also remember 2019 as the year our branch held its first contested leadership election in 30 years, when an almost unheard of three tickets ran for office.
Voting closed in the ASU election three days before the federal election and the incumbent ASU United team, with Lisa Darmanin as secretary and Billy King as executive president emerged as clear winners. The win was sizable enough to provide the winning team with a clear mandate to move forward with their plan for union strength, growth and solidarity.
I am a rank-and-file ASU member from Geelong and newly-elected ASU National and Branch Conference Delegate for the Social and Community Services (SACS) Division. These are some of the factors that led to such a strong win for the incumbents from a Geelong SACS member’s perspective.
The ASU has a relatively sizeable membership base in Geelong and while all three tickets appeared to recognise the importance of winning the Geelong vote, only the United team had five rank-and-file candidates running for honorary positions from Geelong on their ticket — three from local government and two from SACS.
This speaks strongly to the strength of the relationships the united team have built with the Geelong membership and also indicates there is a sense of reciprocal trust and shared values between union officials and the rank-and-file membership.
The SACS vote for the United team was strong, not only in Geelong, but across the state. Under Lisa Darmanin’s leadership, Victorian SACS members won the important Equal Remuneration Order in 2012 and more recently, portable long service leave. Plans are now in place to campaign for this important provision for our Tasmanian members.
After the world-first paid family violence leave clause was won in a local government EBA near Geelong, the union has gone from strength to strength in the fight against family violence — an issue that is central to the day to day work of many of our SACS members.
Critically, the SACS membership of the branch has doubled over Darmanin’s time in office, clearly showing that successful union campaigns and a targeted growth strategy are winning factors for union strength and power.
The ASU election was by no means won in Geelong, or by SACS members. But to me, the ASU election was very clearly won on the foundation union values such as collectivism and solidarity, and union actions such as membership growth and a proven history of successful union campaigns that directly benefit the members.
Could a return to our core values be the way forward for the union movement as a whole?