2194Response to Bob Gould on WA ETU elections
- Aug 26, 200323/8/03
Response to Bob Gould on WA ETU elections
By Anthony Benbow, WA CEPU/ETU member and member of Perth branch of
Bob Gould's distance from WA, and the WA CEPU/ETU has given him a
distorted view of the election campaign that is currently being
fought in that union. Factual inaccuracies in Gould's emails about
the WA ETU elections indicate that he doesn't understand the issues
in the union.
This is shown by his latest email offering, where he reprints
official material from incumbent WA state CEPU secretary Bill Game's
Workers First ticket, juxtaposed with an unauthorised anti-Game
leaflet which is presented as typical of the reform ticket ETU
Recharge's material. This is unfair. Gould has not reprinted the
official ETU Recharge leaflets and has also not reprinted an
unauthorised anti-Recharge leaflet. I have had Recharge's official
material put on a website visit <www.iinet.net.au/~axb> to view.
Let me first say that I am indebted to comrade Peter Boyle for
contributing to this debate so far. Personally I have a schedule that
does not allow time to spend glued to email debates on an ongoing
Gould takes Boyle to task on many points, including accusing him
of "shifting the responsibility" for deciding to support the Recharge
ticket on to me. It's a strange accusation, as it is quite proper
that a fair degree of the responsibility should rest with me as I am
a member of the WA CEPU/ETU, and I am the one who recommended after
much consideration and discussion that the Recharge team be
supported. I also agree with Boyle that Chris Latham's article could
have been clearer on some points, but, as Latham was relying on me
for key information and organisation of interviews, that is my
I am puzzled by Gould's claim that the Green Left Weekly article
about the WA ETU election campaign had inferred that WA ETU state
secretary Bill Game had been interviewed for the article. I have re-
read the article and cannot find any inference that Game was
interviewed. We never interviewed Game as the article was about the
ETU Recharge team, however, we did quote official leaflets circulated
by Game's "Workers First" team.
Gould suggests that the Green Left article glossed over my past
differences with Bill Game. I have known Game, McLaughlan and most of
the key people on both sides for over 10 years. In 1995 I supported a
challenge to the Game leadership. During my time as a State
Councillor, I supported Game's Hamersley Iron legal challenge. In
1998 and for most of 1999 I was living interstate, just prior to my
return to WA in 1999, Game was returned unopposed as state secretary.
This information was omitted from the Green Left article as I didn't
think it crucial to an article about the current election campaign.
The ticket I supported in 1995 was led by the organiser of the
electronics section (this is the sector I work in), Vince George.
George was not only "industrially militant" but was an active
socialist, having been a member of the New Left Party. George was
also outspoken against the ALP for selling out workers and against
the prices and incomes accord. George was not successful in his
challenge, but a numer of his supporters were elected to the unions'
State Council, myself included.
My support for Les McLaughlan and the Recharge team is not based on
old differences but is based on differences which have arisen
My criticism of the Game leadership does not hinge around the union's
role in the now-concluded Hamersley Iron dispute, but around what the
union does next in the climate of renewed attacks in the construction
sector and Tony Abbott's anti-union laws. On a local level, there are
opportunities for the union to expand in the north-west of the state
with a large increase in construction activity there and there is the
challenge of fighting off the state government's proposal to
restructure and corporatise WA's electricity supply.
Gould states that his information is coming from "acquaintances and
observers" in WA. I appreciate these people may be well-meaning but
from what Gould presents as fact, I doubt that any of them are close
enough to know the WA ETU from the inside, or else, they are
supporters of Game.
It is not accurate to caricature this election campaign as being
between "the militant left versus the ALP right". The choice is
between continuing with a principled leadership that has come through
tough fights in the past but has no effective plan to address several
pressing issues the union currently faces; or, to elect a new
leadership team that has a plan to meet these challenges and which
has proven itself to be industrially militant and is left-wing.
So who are the Recharge team and what do they stand for? Gould jumps
to hasty and incorrect conclusions such as: the Recharge team have
their base in the contracting (construction) sector therefore they
must be puppets of Kevin Reynolds. Or: the Recharge team are opposed
to Game therefore they must be in the ALP. Or: Bill Game has been
outspoken and active in the past therefore he must be playing the
same role now.
The Recharge team is led by long-term contracting organiser Les
McLaughlan. McLaughlan has been an active unionist in Australia for
more than 20 years, and was an active unionist in his native Scotland
before that. He has been a successful shop steward and convener in
the contracting sector, and has been an organiser for 13 years. He
has represented members all over WA.
Politically McLaughlan regards himself as a socialist. He was a
founding member and was active in the now-defunct New Left Party. He
was also briefly involved in the Nuclear Disarmament Party before
that. McLaughlan is not, and has never been a member of either the
Labor Party in Australia or in Britain.
Fellow contracting organiser Peter Carter is another key member of
the Recharge leadership. Carter is not politically affiliated, but is
supportive of left causes, and has long been scathing in his
criticisms of the ALP.
The Recharge leadership does include some who are ALP members or
supporters such as Jim Murie. However, Game's Workers First team also
includes ALP members or supporters, such as organisers Joe Fiala and
The DSP branch in Perth only became aware of the ETU Recharge ticket
in June when official nominations were not yet open, but the putting
together of a reform ticket was already well advanced. This was long
after any opportunity to "mediate" between the two tickets had
Members of the Recharge team approached me in late June and asked me
to nominate for state council as part of their ticket. After being
briefed on their reasons for challenging the Game leadership, the DSP
leadership in Perth and nationally discussed the respective merits of
the two tickets.
We had three options open to us: 1. support Bill Game's Workers First
ticket; 2. Don't take a position on which ticket to support; or, 3.
Support the Recharge ticket. Our decision to support Recharge was not
a hasty but a considered one. With a member in the WA CEPU, it wasn't
possible for the DSP to abstain from supporting either ticket. We had
to make an assessment of which was the better team.
It is true, as Gould notes, that Game is a socialist and has been
outspoken on issues of principle in the past such as opposing the
wage-cutting prices and incomes accord of the federal Labor
government under Hawke and Keating. This was a courageous position to
take. Game has also maintained a principled opposition to the ALP as
a party which does not represent the interests of workers. Game is
not a member of the ALP and the CEPU is not affiliated to the ALP.
Game was elected as state secretary in 1995 after around 18 months as
acting secretary. In the 1999 election, Game was returned unopposed.
In recent times, Game hasn't promoted as much activism among members
as he might have done in the past. Game's key achievements are in the
past rather than in the present.
The team challenging Game is not a right-wing challenge. McLaughlan
and Carter consider themselves socialists, although they haven't had
the same level of socialist education that Game would have had when
he was a member of the Socialist Labour League. McLaughlan has
advocated progressive causes while being a union official, although
he doesn't have a profile on the left outside the union.
Contrary to Game's allegations, McLaughlan and Carter are not pushing
for the ETU to reaffiliate with the ALP. Neither of them are Labor
Party members. McLaughlan says that if the ETU was pushed by the
national executive of the CEPU to have a ballot over the question of
reaffiliation, he would not shy away from members having a say over
the issue, but that he cannot see any good reason for the union
reaffiliating with the ALP. Carter has a similar response. The
Recharge team's election material makes this plain: "Recharge are not
promoting a reaffiliation to the ALP...every union needs to strive to
influence the political agenda for the benefit of their members and
the community at large. Any decision to reaffiliate or not with the
Labor party will be by democratic vote".
A sign of the quality of a union leadership and a union's strength is
the ability to inspire members to mobilise and to take action. At the
big rallies against the third wave of draconian WA industrial
legislation in 1997, the majority of ETU members mobilised for the
rallies came from the construction sector, the sector which
McLaughlan and Carter organise.
Game doesn't have a high profile on the ground among the members,
even during major industrial disputes over the last two years such as
the 10-week strike in the lift industry and the 10-week strike at
There were two key issues which convinced Les McLaughlan and his
running mate Peter Carter that they had no choice but to challenge
Bill Game's leadership of the union. One issue was the failure of
Game to use the construction boom on the Burrup Peninsula to further
the organising of the north-west mining sector. Game sacked the
previous north-west organiser in 1999, but made no arrangements for a
replacement. Les McLaughlan and Peter Carter currently organise the
north-west on a fly-in fly-out basis. However, this arrangement isn't
adequate. The size of the workforce and the distance from Perth
warrants a full-time organiser being based in the north-west. This is
essential if the ETU is to play a big role in helping re-unionise the
Since the Hamersley Iron dispute in the 1992, there has been a lot of
hostility among mineworkers in the north-west toward unions. Much of
this hostility is based on the perception that union leaderships
based in Perth or over east make decisions without consulting the
workers in the north west. This hostility is starting to be broken
down now, but the process would be aided if the ETU had an organiser
based in the north west rather than flying in organisers from Perth.
Also, when McLaughlan or Carter visit the north west, it leaves one
contracting organiser for the rest of the state. Given that the
contracting section is by far the biggest section of the union
(almost 50%) this cannot continue. The Recharge team's leaflet
pledges: ``We will put an organiser in the north-west to rebuild the
strong membership we once had there".
The second issue is that the Game leadership has failed to allocate
an equitable share of resources to organising the contracting sector.
This is a serious issue given that all construction workers are
likely to face draconian special legislation in the wake of the
building industry royal commission.
Are the Recharge team a front for WA CFMEU secretary Kevin Reynolds
as Bill Game alleges and Bob Gould speculates? The view of the
Recharge team is that the ETU must assert its own position in the
contracting sector. They don't want the ETU to be swallowed up by the
CFMEU but they do want to work in an alliance with other construction
unions. Furthering relations with the principal union in the area,
the CFMEU, is a key part of such a strategy.
With the federal government planning to target construction workers
for special anti-union laws as a first step towards extending such
laws to all workers, it is logical that the WA ETU should seek to
join with other militant unions in the state to challenge such
attacks on unions. This means building an alliance with other unions
which are prepared to take a stand, like the CFMEU. Working
cooperatively with other militant unions does not mean that the ETU
has to give up its political independence.
Some of the allegations being made by Game in the election campaign
do not help this process. Gould echoes Game's allegation that
Reynolds is the force behind this challenge and Gould implies that
the Recharge ticket is receiving money from Reynolds. Gould asserts
that Game's Workers First ticket is conducting its campaign "on the
cheap" by mailing out its how-to-vote ticket and ringing delegates
whereas McLaughlan's Recharge ticket is conducting its campaign in
the ``new, extremely expensive way" of doing an extensive phoning of
The facts are that Game's Workers First ticket has done two or three
mailouts, as has the Recharge ticket. The Recharge team is also doing
an extensive phone around of members, but that is standard practice
in most union elections where there is a serious challenge. If the
Workers First team is only phoning delegates, that is likely to be an
indication that they have not been able to mobilise many supporters.
There is no mystery about where the Recharge team's funds are coming
from. Key members of the Recharge team have been putting aside money
each week over the last few years, giving them adequate campaign
funds for an election in a union the size of the WA CEPU which has
around 4000 members.
Gould alleges that the Recharge candidates for the full-time
positions are all current full-time officials. This isn't true.
Although most of the Recharge candidates are full-time officials, Ian
Gill is a convenor and is not a full-time official. In contrast, the
Workers First candidates are all full-time officials.
Gould points to Workers First's production of a leaflet indicating
support from a range of members in different sections of the union.
Contrary to Gould's information, many of these are rank and file
members, not delegates.
Although the Recharge team didn't produce a similar leaflet with the
names of its supporters, this does not demonstrate that the Recharge
team doesn't have widespread support among delegates. The contracting
section of the union, where the Recharge team has its biggest base,
has had more than a dozen major blues over the last 2 years. Some of
these have been drawn-out battles which they have won, such as the 10-
week strike at Alcoa and the 10-week strike in the lift industry. How
would this be possible if the contracting section rank and file were
not solid and organised, and if the membership didn't have confidence
in the key officials leading those struggles? The people who led
those struggles are the leading Recharge candidates.
On the issue of the WA state Labor government's proposal to
corporatise Western Power, both the Recharge team and the Workers
First team say that they are opposed to corporatisation on the basis
it will lead to privatisation.
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