New councillor Sue Bolton: dedicated feminist, driven socialist activist

November 1, 2012

Sue Bolton, the newly elected socialist councillor in Moreland, is a feminist and socialist fighter.

She's been a tireless campaigner for working people’s rights since the late 1970s, when she first joined the anti-uranium campaign in Toowoomba, Queensland.

So incensed was she by the reactionary Joh Bjelke-Petersen government’s ban on street marches, she joined local activists from the anti-uranium campaign to support freedom of speech and assembly. The civil rights movement in Queensland brought a lot of young activists into the social movements, many becoming socialists.

She finished a three-year psychology degree in Toowoomba, but decided, "it was the system that caused the problems so many people faced ... and I wanted to fight for a better one.” She never pursued a career in psychology.

After a stint fruit picking, Sue moved back to Brisbane and worked at Australia Post. She was “razor ganged” out of the public service by Malcom Fraser’s huge cuts in 1981.

Sue joined the then Socialist Workers Party in 1982 after having met several socialists while working in Whitco — a metal factory producing window winders and locks.

She joined the union (at that time the Amalgamated Metals Foundry and Shipwrights' Union — a predecessor of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union) that had been waging a 35-hour week campaign. She was later sacked from that metal shop.

Undeterred from demanding her place in a male-dominated industry, this feminist signed up to become a bus driver.

The 1980s in Queensland were heady days for socialists. The campaign for a shorter work week included many impromptu strikes. When Bjelke-Petersen decided to sack 3000 railway workers — including those on holiday, it sparked a general strike across Queensland.

The 1982 Commonwealth games in Brisbane became the focus for the movement for Aboriginal rights. The large protests and huge numbers of arrests put the spotlight on the oppression of Aboriginal people. In a symbol of the struggle for their rights, Murri people and their supporters renamed Musgrave Park, in south Brisbane, Murri Park.

During her six years “on the buses”, Sue was active in the Automobile, Tramway, Motor Omnibus Employees Union and, alongside other militants, worked hard to influence that union to campaign to improve conditions on the job as well as support civil rights and other progressive movements.

She was highly regarded in the trade union support committee for the SEQEB electricity workers who waged a concerted battle against Bjelke-Petersen’s attempt to cut their jobs and incomes and deregulate the industry. SEQEB workers were locked out of their jobs, but the industrial action, supported by large sections of the population, paved the way for the Nationals’ defeat and some civil rights victories.

In 1987, Sue moved to Queanbeyan and worked variously as a truck driver, a hospital bus driver and cleaner, and a public servant. As the branch secretary for the then Democratic Socialist Party, she was also very involved in building the 1991 protest against the arms exhibition, AIDEX, and the movement opposing the first Gulf War.

In 1993, Sue moved to Melbourne. She became a regular at many protests and picket lines and encouraged many others to also get involved.

During the 1990s in Melbourne there were many struggles against the Jeff Kennett Liberal government’s attacks on workers, widespread privatisations and the closure of more than 200 schools. Sue was active in many of these campaigns, including the campaign to defend the Richmond Secondary College.

In the late '90s, Sue moved to Sydney, where she worked as a journalist for Green Left Weekly before moving back to Melbourne in the early 2000s.

Sue is now the Victorian convener of Socialist Alliance and a member of the party’s National Executive.

She has also been a national convener of the party’s trade union work, during which time she helped coordinate the Free Craig Johnson campaign (jailed because of his union militancy, on trumped-up charges) and the party's work as part of the campaign against John Howard's Work Choices. She was involved in the Northern Communities and Union Solidarity Group in Melbourne at that time.

More recently, Sue helped the campaign to stop the closure of the Ballerrt Mooroop College — the only Aboriginal college in Victoria. At a Palestinian rights protest last year, Bolton was among those arrested and charged for "besetting" a Max Brenner outlet. The court later threw out the charges against Sue and the other activists in the “Boycott Israel 19” in favour of freedom of speech.

Sue has been very active in the refugee rights campaign in Victoria, which recently helped stop the deportation of a Tamil asylum seeker back to Sri Lanka, where it was likely he faced harm or even death.

Sue is widely respected among the broader left for her inclusiveness and persistence. She has an enormous heart and will stop at nothing to ensure that justice and solidarity prevail.

Sue is indeed a defender of the people. Her campaign slogan for the Moreland council election was: “Community need, not corporate greed.”

Moreland Council, watch out.

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