Tim Gooden: ‘Unions need to lead on support for Palestine’

January 29, 2024
Tim Gooden
Tim Gooden. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

Green Left’s Alex Bainbridge asked Tim Gooden, retired secretary of the Geelong Trades Hall Council and member of Socialist Alliance, about how trade unions can force Labor to do more for Palestine, including demanding a permanent ceasefire.

Do you believe Labor is complicit in Israel’s genocide in Gaza?

There is a genocide being perpetrated in the Middle East and, essentially, Australia is a part of that in terms of military technology, political support and military assistance.

This is only going to continue while we remain silent.

The trade union movement, as small as it has become, is still the largest mass organisation of working people in Australia today.

It can reach out to the working class and mobilise against government policies it doesn’t agree with.

At the moment, it's one track to war and the Labor government is part of that.

In Geelong we've got defence minister Richard Marles openly supporting Israel's slaughter of tens of thousands of people so far — largely women and children.

We cannot continue to remain silent.

Trade unionists have been turning up to rallies. The Maritime Union of Australia has been doing its bit. The Australian Council of Trade Unions put out a statement which wasn't bad, but since then they’ve gone quiet.

My union, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), has been trying to get the Palestinian flag flown on job sites — and it’s not easy.

Because the majority of the working class — our members included — have swallowed the Murdoch media and government argument about the “national interest”, often the first reaction is: “Hamas brought this upon themselves … This fight has been going on for a long time … It's got nothing to do with us… Fuck ‘em.”


Good trade union leaders know we’re going to have to challenge that and win over members. That’s going to require articles in our newspapers, workplace visits, and our union secretaries turning up to the Palestine rallies.

Tens of thousands of people are dying. We have to work out which side we’re on in this war in the Middle East and what the Australian trade union movement is going to do. Is it going to stand for peace? Is it going to protect the interests of workers, who will ultimately die on both sides?

Trade unionists, particularly our secretaries — white collar and blue collar — need to come out and lead our membership.

It's going to be hard because, for years, our membership have been told: “Oh these rag heads, these terrorists, they're nothing but trouble …” Labor has been part of that: it doesn’t use those exact words, but it might as well. We have to try and turn that around.

CFMEU national secretary leader Christy Cain addressed Palestine rallies in both Naarm/Melbourne and Boorloo/Perth, where he repeated his call on the ACTU to take stronger action.

Christy is one of the few who have spoken out. [Victorian Trades and Labor Council Secretary] Luke Hilakari is another. They can see what's coming. They can see the working class being forced to fall into step behind the “national interests” arguments.

Christy’s not afraid to upset the applecart and that's what we need other union secretaries to do.

We can't remain silent: we can't pretend this is not an Australian issue. We need all state, local and federal MPs to take a side. If we don't, we’ll be complicit in whatever the final outcome is.

It's not a simple process and we may lose members. But we've been losing members for years. And this is a time when we could win more members.

I've been to eight out of the last twelve rallies in Naarm/Melbourne. We've got union members turning up with their community, but they're not turning up in union colours; they're not bringing a union banner or union flag.

Let's take the opportunity to build solidarity with those communities and say “Peace is our priority; prosperity for workers; no wars”.

Let's not fall into line with Labor and be silent. We have to talk to members, get them to come along. They're not going to come along if we don’t turn up.

If you're a union secretary you need to put out an email to your members saying: “I'm gonna be at the Palestine rally; come and stand with me.” That will have an impact.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong has just visited the region, talking about a “sustainable ceasefire”.

She's trying to look sympathetic to the Palestinians while, at the same time, avoiding any criticism of Israel. What do you make of her posture?

The government’s official line is that Israel has the right to defend itself, same as the United States. That’s code for “Go right ahead with the slaughter”.

The rallies here and around the world are the largest mass movement in recent history. You can’t ignore that. For the last 100 days, in every single country around the world, millions of people have come out into the streets every week for Palestine.

This is what has forced Labor to soften its line, but it hasn't really changed its position. It’s not calling for a ceasefire: it’s saying it’s hoping that there will be a sustainable ceasefire.

What we want Labor to say to Israel is: “Stop slaughtering people”. We want Labor to call the Israeli ambassador in and tell them to back the South African case in the International Court of Justice and admit what they are doing in Gaza is genocide.

We want Wong to say: “Australia does not support this. We’re no longer going to fund illegal settlements [in the West Bank]; we’re no longer going to subsidise weapons that line the pockets of the Israeli government and go to Israeli weapons corporations”.

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