Socialist unionist awarded 'delegate of the year'

Issue 
Marg Gleeson (right).

On September 15, Socialist Alliance member Margaret Gleeson was awarded the prize of delegate of the year by the Queensland state conference of the Australian Services Union (ASU).

She will now be put forward as the Queensland nominee for ASU National Delegate of the Year, to be decided at the union's national conference in November. See nomination below.

Gleeson’s award comes as no surprise to Socialist Alliance members who know her. A staunch unionist all her working life, she is motivated not just by the desire to do the best she can for the union members she represents — strong though that is.

Gleeson knows that advances for workers overwhelmingly come through their own struggle. It’s this socialist outlook on life that has made her such an effective delegate. The job is not just to represent the members as best she can, but to help inspire and organise them to fight for their rights.

This is the thread that ties together the various aspects of Gleeson’s work that are noted in her nomination for Queensland delegate of the year.

Gleeson's work ranges from the “bread and butter” work of convincing wary workmates to become union members, to inspiring them to turn out for the June 10 “Equal Work Equal Pay” rally for gender pay equity, to selling them Green Left Weekly so that they can be inspired by examples of working people in struggle in other unions, industries and countries.

This outlook also explains her commitment to keeping the members she represents fully informed — and so able to decide for themselves what they want of their employer, governments and the union.

Little wonder that she was elected as the chair of the Brisbane local organising committee for the Equal Work Equal Pay national day of action and made certain that its members were fully involved.

The same outlook helped her use the opening of a new enterprise agreement in her sector to help members develop their own log of claims to recruit to the ASU and to build up the union’s delegate and activist network.

Gleeson’s work as a union delegate is part of — and gains from — her work as a socialist activist. Her nomination says: “She can often be found in her spare time selling Green Left Weekly at community stalls, attending forums about the environment or global justice, raising money for Chilean earthquake victims, or protesting the Northern Territory Intervention.

“One of Margaret’s greatest passions is her work with the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network. Margaret was part of the first Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network Brigade in 2005 and hopes to interest some ASU members to go next year for the May Day Brigade.”

In a world where the selfless and vital work of delegates often goes unnoticed, the Queensland ASU’s recognition of Gleeson’s work should give heart to all delegates and activists battling to revive our unions for the fights ahead.


Margaret Gleeson: Queensland ASU delegate of the year

On September 15, Socialist Alliance member Margaret Gleeson was awarded the prize of delegate of the year by the Queensland State Conference of the Australian Services Union (ASU), which has around 16,000 members. Margaret will now be put forward as the Queensland nominee for ASU National Delegate of the year, to be decided at the union's National Conference in November.

The following edited extracts from Margaret's nomination by the Social and Community Services section (SACS) of the Queensland ASU describe some of Margaret Gleeson’s work for her fellow-workers, the ASU and in support of campaigns for workers rights and social justice.

Margaret has been a union member all her working life and a member of the ASU in its various forms since 1988. Margaret is an integral member of the SACS Industry Committee within the structure of the union.
During her time as a delegate at ASU Services Branch in Queensland Margaret has been instrumental in the recruitment and unionisation campaign at her workplace and the Fair Wages 4 Community Workers campaign (which has now evolved into the Equal Work Equal Pay campaign). Margaret has spent much of her own time on weekends at various locations in the community, including West End markets and Kurilpa Hall, collecting signatures for this campaign’s petition.

Local Organising Committees were set up early in 2010 to allow ASU members to have a direct input and control over the development of the campaign in their local area, to facilitate communication, and to maximise attendance at the Equal Work Equal Pay National Day of Action in June.

Margaret was elected as the Chair of the Brisbane Local Organising Committee and ensured that committee members had tasks to share and were involved at every step of the way. Margaret’s work was integral to maximising the attendance at the Queensland event as part of the National Day of Action.

The Queensland Branch seconded Margaret for a period of two weeks to complete intensive phone contact with workplaces and members, asking for their commitment to attend the rally and march. The Queensland rally had a very pleasing turnout of over 500 workers in Brisbane, due in part to Margaret’s hard work on the phones.

A major action of the national campaign was to send a delegation of 20 to Canberra in June 2010 to participate in lobbying of federal politicians. Margaret attended and made a valuable contribution to the effort of the team, attending many of the meetings with the politicians and making valuable networking links with delegates from other states.

Increasing membership

When Margaret started work in her present organisation there were very few union members and no delegate, so she took on the role and has been gradually but steadily building the membership ever since. The organisation has been through a period of growth and is now at the stage of negotiating a new agreement with the ASU. Margaret used these negotiations as a catalyst to increase membership at the organisation. She has also built an extensive network within the SACS Housing sector, and is able to use this network for raising the awareness of the union.

Mapping a workplace

Margaret maintains an accurate knowledge of who any non-members in her workplace are, what their objections may be, and constantly provides updated information to address their objection where relevant. She regularly attends staff meetings at the various locations and introduces herself to new starters and asks them to join.

When the union workers from her place of work move on to other workplaces Margaret maintains contact with them and begins assisting that person to start a mapping process and provide union information to the workers at the new site.

Setting up a communication network

A constant goal for Margaret has been effective union communication within her own workplace, and having a delegate at every site is her ideal way of achieving this goal. She was successful in identifying another delegate in another work site, and assisted this delegate to complete delegate’s training. Margaret also mentored and assisted the new delegate in her role, and ensured she was included in “on-the-job-delegates-training” in workplace negotiations.

Margaret has extensive networks within the Community Housing and Homelessness sector, the ASU Women’s Committee, the ASU SACS Industry Committee, the ASU Local Organising Committee network, as well as various other community networks.

Margaret uses her extensive networks at every opportunity to raise union issues and to report back campaign information.

Developing understanding of collective action

The members at Margaret’s workplace have displayed various forms of activism since Margaret began working with them four years ago.

The first action she got them to take was to fill in their membership forms—then she had them coming to union meetings! Some of her co-workers had never been in a union before and were quite nervous.
However, they filled in surveys and voted on a log of claims. They debated whether to allow non-members in to their meetings. They signed petitions and postcards and made a video to upload onto YouTube. The latest action Margaret has had them complete was the June 10 NDA, when the members at her workplace participated in a collective action—on full pay due to Margaret’s excellent advocating on their behalf. It was the first time some of these members had done anything of the sort. They reported afterwards that they thoroughly enjoyed it too!

Dealing with the employer

All Margaret’s interactions with her employer are characterised by mutual respect and open and honest communication. She is quick to challenge the employer if she feels there is something amiss, but her approach is usually seeking consultation and clarifying information before further action is considered. Margaret’s employer holds her in respected esteem, and is always willing to meet with her and accept her representations on behalf of other members.

Liaising with the community

On a daily basis, Margaret’s work links her to the issues and the networks of our community. Everything she does is community focused. Margaret is politically active in the Socialist Alliance, and has a massive social justice focus to everything she does. She can often be found in her spare time selling Green Left Weekly at community stalls, attending forums about the environment or global justice, raising money for Chilean earthquake victims, or protesting the Northern Territory Intervention.

She attends International Women’s Day and is actively involved in the Your Rights at Work group which has promoted community unionism since it was set up in opposition to the Howard government.

One of Margaret’s greatest passions is her work with the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network (AVSN). Margaret was part of the first Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network Brigade in 2005 and hopes to interest some ASU members to go next year for the May Day Brigade. Margaret said: “May Day in Caracas, rallying with over one million workers in red T shirts from various community, grass roots and union organisations is something to experience…..an activist equivalent of a blood transfusion!”

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander networks and issues also take Margaret’s attention and time, and currently she is actively involved in the Stolen Wages campaign, NAIDOC Week activities and the Northern Territory welfare quarantining and the basics “ration” card, government seizure of Aboriginal land, suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act and other paternalistic policies.

Personal representation of members

Margaret is a fearless representative of workers, and has no hesitation in representing members if the need arises. Her skill and knowledge have been built up over a lifetime, and any member being represented by Margaret Gleeson would be in capable hands.