The Australian Labor Party was formed by the unions to gain parliamentary political power. From its formation a debate constantly raged as to the extent of compromise acceptable to achieve this goal. In the 1980s and 1990s this internal battle chose between adherence to the working class or opportunistic pluralism to attain parliamentary power. It was finally resolved during the Hawke-Keating Labor governments. The importance of parliamentary power became paramount. This meant that the intellectual base of the party was embroiled in the conventional debates of the ‘pluralistic’ society, whose parameters were dominated by the ruling elites. ALP politicians and trade union officials followed, avoiding a socialist critique of society, in an attempt to increase credibility across classes. Consensus politics superseded class politics (from “After the Waterfront – the workers are quiet” by LeftPress).
Queensland is a coal state. In the lead up to May Day 2019 we investigate whether Queensland unions have effective policies on climate change. This research is taken in the context of statements this week by two senior officials breaking ranks with their unions and ALP policy on the proposed Carmichael Mine in Clermont in the Galilee basin in Central Queensland. It is 12 years since former ALP leader Kevin Rudd declared that climate change is ‘the great moral challenge of our generation’.
Neither the ALP nor the union most concerned with mining coal, the Construction Forestry Mining and Maritime and Engineering Union (CFMMEU) have come out against opening up new mines in Queensland’s Galilee Basin. But the cracks are starting to show.
State Secretary of the Maritime Division of the CFMMEU, Bob Carnegie, came out this week in opposition to the Adani coal mine:
“We stand by our mining brothers and sisters in the CFMEU mining division but as Queensland state branch secretary I do not stand by the fact that another coal mine is going to be built to further enrich the world’s CO2 emissions. The world doesn’t need another thermal coal mine.”
Despite Bob Carnegie’s comment, the CFMMEU national secretary Michael O’Connor said “the union has a single position regarding proposed coal mine developments”.
“If they meet the appropriate economic, social and environmental approvals and offer secure, well-paid employment, then we support them.”
There is no questioning Bob Carnegie’s sincerity on this issue. He has a long association with the Miners and their federation. Bob Carnegie (MUA) and Chris from the Miners Union chained themselves to the railway track during the ’98 MUA Here to Stay dispute. Carngeie later said:
It was not the Federal, Supreme or High Court of Australia that held firm on the picket lines, night and day, in bad weather and fair. It was working people of principle. It is my belief that this nation’s union movement, supported internationally, could have defeated Corrigan and Reith. But in the end, the minimalist line (which so typifies the Kelty years of dispute handling) was followed – to contain at all costs workers fighting together for a better future, and to prevent at all costs workers believing in each other.
The MUA Qld Division’s challenge to the CFMEU Mining Division is based on the approach taken by Jack Mundey from the Builders Labourers Federation when he led his union into the Green Bans against Sydney’s Rocks development in the 1970s. Carnegie urged the union movement to follow in the steps of the Builders Labourers Federation NSW Green Bans.
In contrast to the ALP and the CFMEU, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has a policy in opposition to a 20 year coal mine at Carmichael in the Galillee Basin. It states:
NTEU will continue to advocate to see the Carmichael Mine stopped and will work with our allies to campaign against this mine and other similar proposals.
There have been many claims about the number of jobs that the Adani mine will create but Peter Ong, the Qld State Secretary of the Electrical Trades Union was reported as saying that Adani had refused to engage with his union and warned the mine was unlikely to provide decent wages or conditions.
“You open up another coal mine and all it’s going to do is put further downward pressure on the price of coal – and it’s basically flat at the moment – and it’s going to put pressure on the already operating coal mines.” – AFR article “MUA leader declares opposition to Adani“
He said the mine should not get the go-ahead on that basis and Labor should focus on ensuring decent jobs in renewable industries such as solar.
“As a Labor government they should be saying this is the way of the future. We should be looking to transition, not opening up more coal mines, especially not in this current climate.”
We support the statements by State Secretaries of the MUA, ETU and NTEU in their opposition to the Adani Mine. We hope that other affiliated unions like Together, The Services Union, The Nurses and the Teachers will consider their position. It is time to change the rules to put an end to Big Coal and move to a sustainable future. But that will never happen under private ownership of the mines.
As rank and file unionists we call on the Queensland Council of Unions to adopt a Climate Change policy that puts an end to big coal. We don’t just want Big Coal to be replaced by Big Solar, we want workers control of production in creating sustainable energy for Queensland and the rest of Australia and we want it in public hands.
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*The Cleanevent EBA was negotiated in 2006 while ALP Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was national secretary of the AWU. It reduced the EBA wages claim in exchange for a membership deal between boss and union.