NUW: National leaders take over state branches

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Last month the large rightwing industrial union, the National Union of Workers (NUW), held an internal referendum on whether to ‘reform’ the structure of the state branches.

By Socialist Party reporters

The national leadership proposed merging the Queensland, Western Australian, South Australian and Tasmanian branches into one ‘General Branch’. The General Branch would operate beside the existing Victorian and New South Wales branches.

The Yes vote won with 59 per cent, while the non-Victorian branches mobilised 41 per cent of the vote against the proposal.

The national leadership of the union, which is controlled by the industrially-moderate Victorian branch, used the referendum as a power grab to take over the rest of the union. The ‘reforms’ will not put the union in a stronger industrial position. Rather, they will be used to consolidate power and assets around the conservative national leadership.

The national leaders of the NUW, and especially their allies in Victoria, have a record of involving themselves in Labor Party factionalism rather than representing their members. In recent months the leaders of the Victorian Branch have seen themselves isolated within the Labor Party after aggressive behaviour led to a rebellion by sections of their own right wing faction. The Right within the party is now split with a section linking up with the so-called Socialist Left faction to become a majority in Victoria.

The bottom line is that the Victorian leadership hopes that a strong position for the union in the Labor Party and a takeover of the smaller state branches will temporarily protect them from the ravages of the economic crisis. NUW members will increasingly face attempts by employers to close factories as the recession gets worse. This will eat into the membership and leave fewer resources for the bureaucrats to enjoy.

The only way forward for NUW members is a militant, democratic and fighting union that refuses to let its members pay for the economic crisis. NUW members should demand that the union defend every job loss with industrial action and not accept redundancies. The priority needs to be the protection of jobs, wages and conditions – not playing games in the Labor Party.