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Issue 576, 7 December 2007 - Union Campaign Smashed Howard

An active Rights at Work presence swung seats

Campaigning by Your Rights at Work local groups swung a number of seats against Howard. Jim Nilon,
Rights at Work campaign co-ordinator in the seat of Blair in Queensland spoke to James Supple about why.

An active Rights at Work presence swung seats"We're just pouring over the results now, but we can say prior to postals and pre-poll votes the figures show a 10.8 per cent swing in Blair. That's way above the national swing, and if you examine all the seats where the ACTU and other unions adopted seats of their own the swings were demonstrably larger wherever there was an active Your Rights at Work presence."

"The CFMEU in the seat of Dawson [achieved a] 14 per cent swing. A number of unions got together and targeted the seat of Leichhardt based on Cairns and achieved a 15 per cent swing.

"And I think if you listen to the language of Kevin Rudd as the campaign progressed across the six weeks, by about week four he wouldn't say three sentences without mentioning working families and WorkChoices. That was clearly coming through in their polling and their focus group exercises.

"[This electroate is] extremely diverse. The new boundaries [include] just about all the town of Ipswich which is enormously fast growing. It's the domicile for Brisbane's workers. The other votes are made up of the Lockyer valley then down to the Shire of Boona [which have] high levels of National Party support. Pauline Hanson enjoyed strong votes in these areas.

"Late in 2006 I was appointed to set up a community campaign committee to turn [the seat] over WorkChoices.We used databases of people that had expressed interest through the various days of action that happened, through the Rights at Work website, and got together with local ACTU affiliates in Ipswich.

"We tried to spread our wings into the local community into what we thought would be support bases from community groups - different church groups, unemployed housing groups, disability groups - people that would be sorely affected by a dog eat dog world of industrial relations that WorkChoices represented.

"Hundreds of people turned up in orange shirts on election day to hand out, people who had never been involved in the political process before.

"Most of [those involved] were union [members], but they weren't the usual suspects. We have people that were paid up members of the Greens, people that were avowed conservative voters, but unionists none the less.

"We gathered support over a 12 month period and got to the point where we had people involved who were apologizing to us because they weren't members of a union.

Our goal with the whole of the campaign was not just to knock over WorkChoices. The union movement had frankly disengaged from the community. We needed to re-engage so that a generation of young people understood the value of collective [organising].

"I was seconded by the ACTU [to the area] but we're currently trying to set up a model of activity and engagement for the future. We don't want to get into this parlous position again.

We also don't want a Kevin Rudd government to take the win for granted.

When you get the national campaign manager for the Liberal party acknowledging that WorkChoices was [what] undid John Howard we want to make sure that everyone understands that. "