Simmo’s Legacy

Peter Simpson, the former state secretary of the electrical trades union, passed away recently after a long fight with cancer. Simmo stood up against privatisation of public assets in Queensland by Premier’s Anna Bligh (ALP) and Campbell Newman (LNP).

He learnt the lessons of the dispute when his own union sold out 1,007 SEQEB workers sacked by the Bjelke-Petersen government. His mentor Dick Williams (Qld ALP President) once said in answer to a question I put to him: ‘affiliation of the union with the ALP is the first agenda item of each ETU conference’.

The Electrical Trades Unions (ETU) gave up on the workers in order to keep Hawke and Keating’s Prices and Incomes Accord in place because the SEQEB dispute threatened industrial harmony nationwide.

Anna Bligh sold us out‘ – Electrical Trades Union (ETU) billboard in Highgate Hill after Labor Premier Anna Bligh announced sale of Queensland Rail

The Victorian Secretary of the ALP, Dean Mighell, left the ALP for the Greens in 2002. When asked why he left the party, Mighell replied that his disillusionment with the ALP “hadn’t arisen overnight“. He had “many reasons which had grown over a long period of disillusionment. I’ve grappled with this issue since the days of the [Prices and Incomes] Accord“.

The Prices and Incomes Accord was the mechanism used by the federal ALP government in the 1980s to hold down wages and conditions and prevent industrial action. [GLW March 27, 2002 Issue 486 by Sue Bolton].

When Anna Bligh sold Queensland Rail, Simmo called her out. In response Bligh threatened to expel the ETU from the ALP. Simmo spoke at the 2011 Brisbane Labour History Association conference titled: ‘Labour in Politics 120 years on: Does today’s Labor Party serve the cause of Labour?’

“Peter Simpson, Secretary of the Electrical Trades Union, spoke about the present-­day dispute that his and other unions were involved in with the Bligh Labor Government. Peter made the point that the majority of Queenslanders are not in favour of selling off public assets and also argued that the selling of these assets would result in the loss of jobs and the general lowering of working conditions.” – The Queensland Journal of Labour History No. 12, March 2011.

Bligh threatens ETU with expulsion

Anna Bligh lost the following election to Campbell Newman’s LNP and he continued with a $37bn privatisation plan. Campbell Newman also sacked 14,000 public servants. So Simmo took on Newman as well. The LNP lost government in a landslide and Annastacia Palaszczuk gained power.

Jeff Seeney, Tim Nicholls and Campbell Newman announce $37B privatisation plan

Former Victorian AMWU Craig Johnston put union disaffiliation with the ALP this way:

ETU-owned Not-for-Sale building in Peel Street South Brisbane

“Johnston explained that “at every state conference there’s a debate about whether we stay affiliated or pull out. I won’t pre-empt the likely outcome of the debate at our state conference in April, but for the first time that I can remember in my 20 years as a conference delegate and a shop steward, there’s a whole heap of resolutions coming from jobs calling for disaffiliation.”

It is time unions disaffiliated with the ALP. In 2021 we are facing the highest unemployment and underemployment in or history. Unions need to restore democratic rights of its members by re-instating the monthly delegates meetings at the TLC in Brisbane and regional centres.

Change will not come unless unions organise to fight attacks on real jobs and conditions during the current recession.

Vale Simmo,

Ian Curr
5 Oct 2020