Politics front and centre at the 2018 Shop Stewards’ Conference

More than 350 ETU Shop Stewards gathered together this May for our union’s biennial Shop Stewards’ Conference.

Politics was at the forefront. Over the course of two days, Stewards mapped out a picture of the challenges facing our community and movement, and set a clear path forward on how to remedy them. With a double election year upon us, the timing couldn’t be 
more important.

Daniel Andrews warmly welcomed 

Victorian Labor Premier, Daniel Andrews, opened the conference. The Premier spoke about the significant advances made in Victorian TAFE and the growth in electrical jobs across the state off the back of the huge investment in infrastructure by his Government. His words were a welcome reminder as to why our union has developed the strong partnership we have with the state ALP Government. He praised the ETU and our leadership for being a strong, principled union that puts our members first.

Responding to a glowing introduction from Secretary Troy Gray who described him as “the best Premier in Victoria’s history”, Andrews said that praise from the ETU was rarely given and highly valued.

The Premier received a standing ovation from the Stewards who later resolved to back his Government 100% ahead of the state election.

Lighting the fire

Normally an economics lesson is the last thing any of us want on a Wednesday morning! But Stewards were left wide awake by a stand-out presentation by Dr Kristy Jones. Dr Jones is the Senior Economist at the Construction Forestry Mining Maritime and Energy Union. She painted an unnerving but clear picture of how badly the rules are stacked against working people and how extreme inequality across the world is becoming. Stewards described her presentation as “a slap in the face” and “a wake-up call”.

The energy in the room was palpable, and it was clear that our Stewards were busting to take action. They didn’t have to wait long to be offered an opportunity though, as Victorian Trades Hall Secretary, Luke Hilakari, took to the podium and walked us step-by-step through the strategy for a massive state election campaign.

Following Luke, ACTU Secretary Sally McManus, gave us an update on the Change the Rules campaign, which the ETU has been front and centre of. Sally noted that in the previous weeks they had a record number of people contacting the ACTU to join a union.

Finding our way forward

In the closing session of the conference we came to one of the most important conversations we’ve had as a union in a number of years. We know the rules are broken, we know the system is stacked against us and we know as a union we have to become more politically active to Change the Rules. It’s time to take things to the next level. Sitting on the political side lines isn’t going to be enough anymore. 

Stewards discussed what “the next level” could look like. After a stirring discussion from TCFUA National Secretary Michele O’Neil, ETU QLD Secretary Peter Ong, former CFMMEU National President Joe McDonald, and MUA WA Secretary Christy Cain, the path forward became clearer. An overwhelming majority of our Shop Stewards voted in favour of reaffiliating with the ALP, giving our State Council and leadership a mandate to move forward.

The Turnbull Government had better watch out – the ETU is coming.