Peter “Simmo” Simpson, a stalwart of the Electrical Trades Union Queensland and NT branch who died on September 24, has been hailed as a “legend” by his union and the wider community. He was ETU secretary from 2009–2016.
Former Queensland Australian Services Union (ASU) activist Marg Gleeson told Green Left that, as well as his enormous contribution to the ETU at both state and national levels, Simmo was a “stalwart of many progressive social movements”, in particular the campaign for Stolen Wages.
“Under Simmo’s leadership, the ETU demonstrated solidarity with Third World revolutions for social change. He supported ETU delegations attending May Day celebrations in Cuba and Venezuela, and he made ETU facilities available for visiting delegations.
“There would not have been a demonstration or picket line in Brisbane for refugee rights, Indigenous rights, civil liberties, against uranium mining, women’s rights and in defence of jobs which the ETU did not did attend.
“The ETU BBQ Van was always a welcome sight — dispensing snag sangers to hungry activists!
“However, the most significant campaign, spearheaded by Simpson and the ETU was the union-community state-wide ‘Public Assets Not For Sale’ campaign (later known as Not4Sale).
“It was set up after Anna Bligh’s Labor government began the wholesale privatisation of state assets — just months after being elected in 2009. Labor lost government in 2012, largely as a result of that community-union campaign.
“The campaign continued under the Campbell Newman LNP government, which carried on where Bligh left off. It was also successful in throwing out that government.”
In a Green Left interview with Simpson around that time, he said: “My goal has been to restore the vital role of unions in the community and to reclaim the good image of unions among local communities, in particular with Indigenous communities.”
The ETU described Simpson as “a giant of the labour movement” and said he would be “remembered as a legend within the demanding world of unions and left-wing politics”.
During his eight years as ETU secretary, Simmo “campaigned fiercely for decent wages and better conditions for all ETU members, their families and their communities”, the ETU said.
“To many he will be remembered for his enormous leadership and strategic brilliance spearheading the Not4Sale campaigns … The campaigns galvanised support from Darwin to Coolangatta to protect public ownership of revenue-generating state assets. In doing so he and the ETU took on politicians from all sides. The campaign played a huge role in three elections between 2012 and 2016.”
Simpson kept fighting for working people into his final days, campaigning for fair cancer funding and the right for people to die with dignity.
He was raised in the New South Wales country town of Harden, and joined the union as a 17-year-old apprentice trainee linesman with the South West County Council in Young.
Following stints in Canberra, he moved to Queensland.
After 17 years as a rank-and-file ETU member, including five as a shop steward helping rebuild the union after the South East Queensland Electricity Board dispute, Simmo became the state organiser in 1997 and seven years later was elected assistant state secretary. In 2009 he became the state secretary, a position he held until 2016 when he was diagnosed with melanoma.