The Enduring Importance of the Labor Movement

Below is an edited extract of the speech given on 19 February 2013 by Bill Shorten MP, Member for Maribyrnong, Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation and Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations to the 2013 Australian Workers’ Union National Conference on the Gold Coast, Queensland.

- By Bill Shorten, MP for Maribyrnong

What I know is a story which never gets written. But it deserves to be. And that is the quiet, noble, story about how every day and every night all of you in the union do the work that some Victorian branch organisers had to do recently in the hours and days after the tragic loss of two fire-fighters. It’s about visiting the families, trying to help fill a hole which can never be filled. Making sure that the workmates are supported. Helping investigate how such things can be avoided in the future. Every day you do this difficult, this stressful, this emotional task of standing up for other people.

It isn’t work that sells the newspapers, but I tell you what, it’s the work which makes me proud to be an AWU member. That’s what you do every day; that’s why I’m here to pay you respect, because you stand up for people. I am very proud to carry each day in the Parliament of Australia my union membership card. You give me immense pride. I am what I am because of you. There would not be a day goes by where I don’t apply my union organising experiences. Be it issues to do with people disability, be it superannuation, be it employment or work safety.

I am, and indeed the Labor Party is, what it is when we are at our best. When we remember where we come from and remember what get us up in the morning and drives us each day until we finish work every evening. It’s the labour movement’s values which make the Labor Party the pre-eminent political force in Australia. I know and believe that what union delegates, members and officials do every day is seek cooperation in the workplace. They seek to dismiss, eschew and reject disharmony and conflict. All our members want is to be paid fairly, to be paid reasonably so they can get ahead. So they can pay their housing mortgages, so they can educate their kids, so they can have a holiday, so they can retire on something approaching a reasonable form of dignity.

think it is logical, reasonable and sensible that Australian workers in combination with Australian employers create the national wealth of this country. And it is entirely appropriate that unions would seek the fair distribution of national income, being the fruits of the work of Australian workers. Let me report to you about who else is standing up for working people.

Friends, the Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard and the Treasurer, Wayne Swan. They are standing up in tough times. You know, there have now been something like 470 pieces of legislation passed in this Parliament since September 2010. And we’ve passed this legislation – when it’s a vote – by one or two votes. Now, if your favourite football team was winning every game by one goal or two goals, that would inject of level of stress into the supporters. But when it’s 470-nil, the scoreboard’s on our side. And whilst we shall never own the forms of communication in this country, no one can take away from us our ability to tell the stories and tell the facts. In no particular order of priority, this is what we have been doing: better road safety for the long distance truck drivers,