|Damien O'Connor accused the Labour Party list of being determined by a 'gaggle of gays' and 'self-serving' unionists. We're in good company, then.
One might raise an eyebrow at Mr O'Connor's outburst, especially given that the EPMU (Engineering, Manufacturing and Printers Union) has been strongly involved in assisting the stricken citizens of the West Coast town of Pike River deal with the hideous mining tragedy that befell that particular community. However, what relationships exist between contemporary LGBT communities and trade unions today?
The trade union movement predates us considerably as a social movement, founded in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Over time, the rise of the comprehensive welfare state and expansion of democratic franchise past property ownership alone led to the coalescence of the Labour Party and its counterparts in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom. In the case of New Zealand, it won power in the mid-thirties. Although it deviated from its core working class constituency and was hijacked by Roger Douglas, Richard Prebble and the New Right in the mid-eighties, the party also became more pluralist and broadly based. As it rebuilt in the nineties, LGBT voters became an increasingly organised and integral constituency.
Contrary to what left 'fundamentalists' like columnist Chris Trotter might think, there has always been a strand of the LGBT community that has strongly supported state intervention against economic and social inequality. It arose when lesbian feminists and their feminist community organisations were faced with the New Right benefit cuts and social turmoil of the early nineties and when gay men realised that the US HIV/AIDS epidemic had spiralled out of control because that ostensibly western nation lacked a comprehensive welfare state, including a proper public health system. As a result, many of us joined white collar unions like the Public Service Association, EPMU and others- although there are also some lesbian manual workers and retail and sales workers out there, active in the Distribution Workers Union, Unite and others. And of course, like me, some of us were raising in working-class households anyway and can belt out a chorus of Solidarity Forever with the best of 'em.
This may well be why Out at Work was founded as an LGBT network within the Council of Trade Unions in 2000. And with the weakening of Employment Relations Act protections against unfair dismissal, our right to a discrimination-free workplace under the Human Rights Act 1993 is threatened. At the same time, the Key administration has also threatened the rights of younger and re-entering LGBT workers under its 'fire at will' provisional employment legislation, and the righrs of tertiary students to organise under its attack on comprehensive student unionism with the connivance of ACT, despite submissions overwhelmingly against it.
Given that Grant Robertson (Wellington Central) and Louisa Wall (List, Manurewa candidate) have strong backing from the Public Service Association and Distribution Workers Unions, and Maryann Street's past role as a university industrial relations lecturer, it looks like we are experiencing a strengthening alliance between ourselves and the trade union movement, and with good reason.
Out at Work: CTU: http://www.unions.org.nz/outatwork Craig Young - 18th April 2011