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SA Unions Motion

7 March 2024

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (16:38): I rise to speak in support of this motion. I think it reflects the support the Greens have for the union movement and the principles of unionism that both of our members of parliament want to speak on this, because we recognise just how vital it has been to the progress of our state. I want to commend the Hon. Reggie Martin for putting this on the council's agenda.

As he has stated, this motion recognises the 140th anniversary of SA Unions, formerly the United Trades and Labour Council of South Australia. Workers' rights have been fought for as early as 1791 in Australia, when early convicts took strike action to demand that their rations be distributed on a weekly basis. In the 1830s, workers started to form their own societies and associations. South Australian industrial action was being taken as early as 1836, when people were threatening to strike for extra wages, and South Australia became the first territory of the British Empire outside of Britain to legalise trade unions.

On 31 January 1884, at the Bristol Tavern, a group of trade and labour societies met to come together and form the United Trades and Labor Council, the peak body for trade unions. It represents more than 160,000 members of unions, and SA Unions coordinates political, social, economic and industrial campaigns between its affiliate members.

As my colleague the Hon. Tammy Franks has recognised, the Greens have a long association with the union movement. Indeed, the formation of the Greens as a political party came off the back of the green ban movement, which was led by the Builders Labourers Federation. It was from the green ban, where workers boycotted the destruction of key heritage projects and environmental projects, that the Greens political party takes its name, so the union movement is important to us.

I might remark a little bit on my own personal journey with unionism. I have always been a member of a union during my working life. I became very actively involved with the student union movement during my time at university, and I recognise the good work of the student movement in terms of driving social and political change. More recently, I was proud to be a member of the NTEU during my time working in the university sector and, of course, the ASU during my time in the community sector as well.

I really take my hat off to the union movement for the great work they do and have continued to do over many years. Fundamental to their work, in terms of advocating for the rights of individual workers who are in trouble, is also advocating for the social changes and progress that benefit us all as part of the collective.

Indeed, I recognise the important role they played in the campaign for yes here in South Australia recently in the referendum and also the leadership of the union movement—many in that movement—in advocating for marriage equality and being out there on the streets campaigning for that and also campaigning against apartheid. They take up a range of really important social issues, recognising that in order for us to progress as a society we need to work together collectively. It is through that collective process that the rights of workers have been won and, indeed, the rights of all groups that are often excluded from political power. It is through working together that we are able to advance the change that we need.

I join with my colleague the Hon. Tammy Franks in congratulating the union movement on this significant achievement. It was a real pleasure to get along to the event at The Franklin Hotel recently, hosted by Dale Beasley of SA Unions. It was a great event and a really good way to celebrate this milestone. I look forward to seeing the union movement in our state continue to grow and celebrate further milestones in the years ahead.