Friday, June 4, 2010

Electrical Trades Union Bans Members from Working in Nuclear Industry

Lisbeth Latham

The Queensland and Northern Territory Branch of the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) announced on May 31 that its state council had placed a ban on its members’ working in uranium mines, nuclear power plants or any part of the nuclear fuel cycle.

The ban reflects both the ETU’s concern regarding the threat to the health and safety to workers engaged in the industry and its view that nuclear power should not be a source of power generation. In a statement issued on May 21 Peter Simpson, ETU state secretary, said “we are sending a clear message to the industry and the wider community that vested interests in the uranium and nuclear industries are trying to hoodwink us about this dangerous product and industry. Corporate interests, and their political supporters in the Labor and Coalition parties, are also trying to buy working families off with high wages, while denying the true short-term and long-term health risks of such jobs”. The ETU statement went on to note that the union’s decision to intensify its campaign against uranium mining comes at the same time as there is a push by both major parties, the media and mining companies to expand uranium mining in Australia and for nuclear power to be considered as an energy option. The union views its ban and expanded campaign as a change to this push.

Under the ETU’s rules all members bound to abide the unions policies, members that fail to do so face the potential of having disciplinary proceedings taken against, which include expulsion from the union. Two ETU members, Neil Roberts and Jason O’Brien, who are also both ALP members of the Queensland parliament, were expelled from the ETU in February of this year for their continuing support for the Bligh Governments’ privatisation plans in violation of the ETU’s policy against the sale of public assets.

As part of its campaign the ETU has also launched a new DVD which it commissioned When the Dust Settles, which features long time anti-nuclear campaigner Dr Helen Caldicott and directed by progressive film maker David Bradbury. The film outlines the dangers of uranium mining, the nuclear fuel cycle and the use of nuclear materials in weapons production. The film has been sent to all 14, 000 of the Branch’s members. An aim of the film, according to Simpson, is to make members “fully aware of the dangers and health risks, if they decide to take a job in a uranium mine or other nuclear facility”.

The campaign against the nuclear industry is an important renewal of support for the Australian anti-uranium movement by the Australian unions. During the 1970s and 1980s Australian unions were heavily involved actions against uranium mining including the refusal by Australian Railways Union (now the Rail, Tram and Bus Union), Transport Workers Union and the Waterside Workers Federation (now the Maritime Union of Australia) to place bans on the movement of uranium ore. However this campaign was undermined by the decision by the Hawke Labor government to not implement the ALP’s policy to oppose uranium mining combined changes in the legislation have sharply increased the penalties for unions engaging in industrial activities around social issues. In this context the ETU’s move to ban members working in the uranium industry is both a significant strengthening of the movement and an innovative approach to taking action to support a social movement.

Copies of When the Dust Settles are available from the ETU.


marianne birkby September 28, 2012 at 8:57 PM  

If only the Sellafield Unions in Cumbria were as enlightened! They've a way to go....

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Revitalising Labour attempts to reflect on efforts to rebuild the labour movement internationally, emphasising the role that left-wing political currents can play in this process. It welcomes contributions on union struggles, internal renewal processes within the labour movement and the struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

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