- by Hannah Middleton
- The Guardian
- Issue #2049
There is a slogan “Peace is Union Business” which remains significant today.
Workers in their trade unions have a unique capacity to work for peace, to prevent the development of conflict, and to deal with its aftermath.
We should take this understanding and this commitment to the streets on May Day this year!
The Australian labour movement has a long and proud history of standing against war and oppression, in solidarity with the workers of nations throughout the world.
In 1938, Waterside Workers’ Federation members refused to load scrap iron onto ships bound for Japan. The union’s industrial action was based on anti-war and anti-imperialist principles. They knew that iron exports to Japan would likely end up in bombs targeting Australian workers.
In the 1960s the Australian labour movement was a significant part of the resistance against Australia’s involvement in Vietnam. Australian trade unions opposed the war in Vietnam even before Australia’s commitment of troops to the war in April 1965. Thousands of union members participated in strikes that shut down ports.
When Laurie Carmichael, then-secretary of the Australian Engineering Union, was arrested for protesting against the war, 500 workers at Naval Dockyard in Williamstown, Victoria, and 700 metal workers stopped work.
Australian unions have expressed active solidarity with the struggle for independence in Timor Leste, campaigns for human rights and independence in Palestine, supporting resistance to dictatorships in Latin America, in the struggle to restore democracy in Myanmar, and, most recently, in opposition to the AUKUS deal for Australia to spend $368 billion on nuclear powered submarines.
In Australia today, the media, politicians and academics are beating the drums of war against China. However, AUKUS will undermine Australia’s sovereignty, threaten peace and stability of the region, destroy the economic well-being of this and future generations, and prop up US and British arms corporations.
The United States has massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons, and a minor escalation could easily lead to a major incident that kills thousands, if not millions, of people.
Australian workers are beginning to understand that a war with China is not in Australia’s interest. Nor is it in the interest of the global community of workers. They are beginning to throw their powerful weight behind the campaign to stop AUKUS.
Conflicts have their roots in economic and social exploitation and deprivation. Devoting resources to creating employment opportunities is an essential element in addressing the causes of conflict.
The work of trade unions not only benefits union members but is positive for society as a whole. Several studies show a strong connection between a high degree of union affiliation and income-equal societies.
More egalitarian societies, especially socialist societies where workers hold political and economic power, show greater trust between people and create less social unrest, and political instability.
The history of Australian trade union anti-war campaigns makes it clear that a united union movement requires workplace organising with a clear anti-war message that highlights the major causes of war and builds bonds of solidarity that unite workers across the world regardless of national identity. Unions can build on worker anti-war education in the workplace to develop industry-level and labour movement-wide anti-war campaigns, and connect workers with broader anti-war and pro-peace movements through participation in demonstrations and other protests.
Trade unions can play a crucial role in reducing tensions around the world. If we want to build societies that are characterised by peace, security and social justice, we need many more people to stand up for trade union rights.
Peace is trade union business!