ETU state organiser Stuart Traill (left) and state secretary Peter Simpson won’t have a bar of the LNP’s privatisation plans.
ETU state organiser Stuart Traill (left) and state secretary Peter Simpson won’t have a bar of the LNP’s privatisation plans.

Dynamic union duo put workers first

WHEN Peter Simpson and Stuart Traill saw fellow workers lose their lives and families get torn apart by corporate greed they couldn't stand by.

Talk to Traill and Simpson about their work with the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) and you soon realise it is more than a job for them.

The QT discussed what makes the pair tick at the Ulster Hotel in Ipswich.

Former linesman Simpson, the ETU state secretary since 2009 and a union member since 1980, moved from down south to work for the South East Queensland Electricity Board (SEQEB) at Stafford in 1991.

It was the aftermath of former premier Joh Bjelke- Petersen's 1985 sacking of 1100 electricity workers and ETU members.

"There were a lot of suicides, family breakups, and blokes who never worked again or in the industry again," Simpson recalls.

"Guys moved interstate. It hit Ipswich pretty bad too.

"I was just horrified by what I saw. Workers were being treated like dirt. So I went from being a placid member, to an active member, to a shop steward, to an organiser, to assistant secretary to the secretary."

Simpson has seen plenty of tragedy, often caused by unreasonable management deadlines.

"When I was on the tools we had two deaths in two days at SEQEB," Simpson recalls.

"I've had 10 mates die since I have been a tradesman in this industry.

"I have spent a lot of time, as have a lot of our organisers, sitting down with families to help them out afterwards. People remember it when you do help them out."

Traill, the ETU supply organiser, got a lot of his Labor values from his grandparents.

"My grandfather was an active member of the ALP in South Sydney, hence me being a mad keen Rabbitohs supporter," Traill says.

"I moved up to Cairns when I was 10 and got an electrical apprenticeship with a ship builder.

"It was a highly unionised work place, and I forged my union values then seeing the unsafe nature of shipbuilding.

"I saw dozens of deaths over my apprenticeship. It was a terrible place to work…a lot of cost cutting."

Traill has had many union roles and now it is also his responsibility to ensure the success of the Not 4 Sale campaign, opposing asset sales and the long term leasing of public assets.

"I've always been a passionate advocate against privatisation.

"I saw the Commonwealth Bank and Telstra privatised.

"A lot of the mates I played footy with worked for Telstra and I saw their jobs disappear out of small towns.

"I've toured regional Queensland and it is devastating the stories you hear about the loss of jobs and services as a result of privatisation and ultimately corporate bloody greed."

The ETU copped a lot of flak for their stance against the privatisation of Queensland Rail and other assets under the former Bligh Labor government.

Simpson and Traill both subsequently got thrown out of the Labor Party for campaigning against Bligh's plans.

Their actions have no doubt allowed Labor to rebuild, reconnect with their values and be in a position to give the LNP a run for their money at next year's election.

"The Labor Party went to that (2009) election saying there would be no privatisation," Simpson says.

"Then a week before the ALP conference they said they were going to take a privatisation agenda (to sell) $15 billion worth of assets….to the next election.

"They definitely betrayed our members. We reacted the only way you would react.

"We blew up.

"We were at conference and we had a left faction dinner that night. I was sitting there with steam coming out my ears.

"We walked out and left the faction the next morning and we had our full delegation on the floor."

Traill insists the decision was the right one.

"As a union, we put our members first," he says.

"Of course we were going to. I don't understand why anyone with true Labor value should criticise us for what we did."

It was a tough time for Simpson. So-called friends brushed him. But he soon found out who his true friends were.

"The proudest thing I had happen in my career was when someone I'd known for a long time said, 'You haven't changed a bit. You are still the rank and filer you were, with the same values'.

"The day I lose that is the day I don't want to be doing the job, and I've been doing this for 17 years.

"The Tories try and paint us all as career union bosses.

"But we are electricians. We are linesmen. We are every aspect of our trade that have worked their way up through the ranks and come to the union office for one goal, and that is to represent our members."

Traill wouldn't have it any other way.

"We don't grab people off the street and train them up to be a union organiser.

"Every one of our officials has come off the job, been delegates and demonstrated their commitment and loyalty all the way through.

"There is nothing better than to stand in front of your members when you are one of them. We are no better. We just represent their views."

Traill insists Labor has learned its lesson.

The party has many rank and filers with ingrained Labor values running at next year's state election and Labor Party leader Annastacia Palaszczuk has taken a firm stand on opposing asset sales.

"The most sincere comment I have heard from a pollie since the wipe-out (of 2012) was from Annastacia on the Sunday of the last ALP conference," Traill says.

"As she spoke we were sitting in the front row…on the left hand side of the room of course.

"She was looking straight at me…eyeballing me, and she said, 'An elected Labor Government will not sell assets'.

"I gave her a nod. She meant it.

"We are going into all the branches educating members about the perils of privatisation, so that a wipe-out will not happen again."