Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

ACTU Congress report back

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Jacquiline Depru, ACTU delegate and SP member (name changed to stop victimisation) reports on a Congress opened by a police band and addressed by the Qantas boss on same day she announced 25% of her staff to be sacked…

Hundreds of delegates from the unions around Australia attended the recent Australian Council of Trade Unions Congress in Melbourne last month. A police band opened the Congress, which was a delight—especially to those of us whose normal contact with them is generally limited to picket lines as they attack.

We were then welcomed by the traditional Aboriginal owners, who offered delegates a leaf as a welcome. We then met the workers who would look after us for the duration. We also got to welcome ACTU Secretary Greg Combet and ACTU President Sharon Burrow as they walked in. We got to hear a bit more music and some rousing speeches. There were many international visitors, though most didn’t speak. One could have been forgiven for thinking that maybe the US Presidential election campaign had temporarily moved to Melbourne.

Eventually reports were given. Resolutions and amendments were being discussed and voted on. I’m sure some of the items could have been interesting had there been some real debate. Many delegates were only given a copy of the agenda and proposed resolutions on their arrival at Congress and most amendments were only available at the time of debates. Those who tried to add amendments, in particular, controversial ones, found it almost impossible if not totally impossible. These riveting organised debates would occasionally be interrupted by music which shook us out of our lethargy or by ‘special’ visitors.

Of course the usual suspects were there: Simon Crean, leader of the ALP popped in , as did Bob Carr (NSW ALP Premier) and Steve Bracks (Victorian ALP Premier). They just wanted to let us know how relevant they are to the union movement.

They weren’t the most the most special visitors though. That title went to the Qantas boss, who whilst explaining to congress how tough Qantas was doing it, was at the same time beginning the company’s attack against its workforce. Some delegates left the room in protest at this special visitor but most stayed.

Some delegates asked the special visitor questions. One even asked why the company was being so nasty when they thought that the unions and the company had a partnership? Now that word ‘partnership’ seemed to be the new buzz word of the Congress. I’m sure that it’s only a matter of time before workers get to find out the true meaning of ‘partnership’.

An interesting speaker was an American trade unionist. He had lots of colourful graphs and pictures. He told of the difficulties faced in the US in trying to recruit workers to unions, of the low membership and high union fees. He expressed his admiration of the Australian union movement and how the US union leaders saw us as their inspiration.

Of course this was too much for Greg Combet, who quickly stood up and told of how their union movement was the real inspiration. I wanted to vomit.

This Congress showed clearly that the current ACTU leadership is so out of touch of what’s important to working class people that they’re not even on the same planet as the people they say they represent. Whilst it’s important that unions organise on a national level, it’s clear that it won’t happen with this leadership.

The ACTU leaders and their ALP mates at top of most unions are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Militant union officials and rank and filers need to link up to provide an alternative leadership at national level. One that is as loyal in defense of workers’ interests, as the employer organisations and Federal government are in defense of bosses’ interests.


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