SDA must end its homophobic stance

January 29, 2011
Rally for marriage equality. Sydney, May 2010. Photo: Peter Boyle

The national secretary of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Union (SDA), Joe De Bruyn, recently recommitted the SDA to a homophobic policy of opposition to equal marriage rights.

A member of the ALP national executive, De Bruyn said in November that were he in Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s position he would have “killed the issue off once and for all”, ABC online said.

In our society, the heterosexual nuclear family is portrayed as the only legitimate model for relationships.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGTBI) people suffer oppression because their lives are a challenge to this nuclear family model, which is an economic cornerstone of capitalism.

De Bruyn reinforced this view of the heterosexual relationship as “natural” by saying: “We all know that marriage is between a man and a woman not just because that is what the definition of the Marriage Act says but simply because this has been the way that it has been in the existence of the human race.”

Resistance calls on the SDA to repeal its homophobic policy and come out in support of full marriage equality and an end to all forms of discrimination against LGBTI people.

Other unions, including branches of the Australian Services Union (ASU), Community and Public Sector Union, Australian Education Union, the Communications Electrical Plumbers Union, and the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union have backed the national campaign for equal marriage.

The support from blue as well as white-collar unions dispels the myth that marriage equality is an issue that is not relevant to, or supported by, working class people. Most workers support equal marriage rights.

Along with other forms of discrimination, homophobia is useful to capitalists because it creates divisions in the working class and weakens the ability of workers to unite and organise.

It is therefore in the interest of all workers to support any moves towards equality and equal rights.

The SDA, which is the largest union in Australia with more than 230,000 members, has a poor history of fighting for workers’ rights. It regularly signs deals with companies that undermine employment rights and conditions to secure coverage of the workforce.

Its explicit policy of opposition to marriage equality shows that the SDA leadership is completely out of touch with its members.

Many SDA members are young people — the union covers sectors with high youth representation, including retail, fast food and call centres.

Most Australians support equal marriage rights and support is strongest among young people.

An October 2010 Galaxy poll commissioned by Australian Marriage Equality and Parents and Friends of Gays and Lesbians said 80% of 18 to 24-year-olds agree that same-sex couples should be able to marry.

The key role of a union is to represent and promote the views and interests of its members. The leadership of the SDA is failing to do this by promoting homophobic views that contradict those of the rank-and-file members.

Without surveying its members for their opinions on this issue and making policy decisions in a more democratic manner, De Bruyn and the SDA leadership are only speaking for themselves — they do not represent us.

An understandable frustration at this lack of representation has led some workers to either leave or refuse to join the SDA. But this will not solve the problem.

Young people need to stay in the SDA and actively work to create a strong union for retail workers that opposes all forms of discrimination.

Resistance reaffirms the inherent importance of joining your union and getting active in the struggle for the rights of all workers.

Some young SDA members have already taken positive initiatives to change the homophobic policies of the SDA leadership.

A Facebook group, “SDA Members for Same-Sex Marriage”, has been created and progressive SDA members in Brisbane will attend the next SDA members' meeting to try to vote down the conservative leadership on the issue of marriage equality.

As young people and workers, let’s demand real representation, stand up to the homophobia promoted by De Bruyn and continue the fight for marriage equality for all.

[Sean Brocklehurst, Patrick Harrison and Ash Pemberton are SDA members.]

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