Far-right vs the union movement

A participant in the UPF rally on May 31 in Richmond, wearing a CFMEU cap, clashes with anti-racist demonstrators.

Two months after the most significant far-right mobilization in recent Australian history, the Victorian Trades Hall Council executive has adopted the following motion (emphasis added):

“That the VTHC celebrates the contribution to our community from Victorians of many cultures and faiths. There is no place in Victoria for discrimination or racism and we deplore those who would demonise any group by reason of their faith, race or culture. Affiliates pledge to work alongside groups and organisations representing our many faiths and communities to counter those that oppose multiculturalism and in particular those individuals and groups that are currently fostering anti-Muslim sentiment“.

– Victorian Trades Hall Council Executive minutes for 12 June 2015

Far-right agitator Shermon Burgess has responded to this development by calling upon his supporters to protest to their unions, and by threatening a mass walk out of racists from the trade union movement:

So I urge everyone from Reclaim and UPF, all the tradies and stuff who support us, all the hard workers who are union members – contact your union and let them know not to rally against us. Because we are for our unions, we are not against our unions.

But if we are going to have the unions start attacking us, then, you are going to have a whole lot of Aussies who support Reclaim Australia and UPF tearing up their union membership, and it’s going to cost the unions money.

Burgess and the far-right Reclaim Australia milieu have struggled to work out the best position to take in relation to the union movement.

The United Patriots Front are committed anti-leftists; their Facebook page proclaims that they are “a nation wide movement, opposing the spread of Left Wing treason and … Islamism”. This stance would appear to place them at odds with the values of the modern trade union movement.

Yet at the same time as they rail against “left wing traitors”, Burgess and other elements on the far-right harbor dreams of building a political base amongst ‘blue collar’ segments of the white working class.

The far-right do not know whether they want to attack, or enter, the existing trade union movement, and so they often end up attempting to do both at once.

At the same time as Shermon Burgess published his call for ‘patriots’ to contact their unions and agitate for racism, his fellow UPF agitator Neil Erikson was announcing he would never again have anything to do with the union movement:

When I was younger I used to have a lot of respect for the union. I liked to be protected at work, from the evil bosses that are gonna sack ya for f-cking nothing.

I joined the union many years ago, but guess what – NUW? [crumples his membership card] Not anymore.

It’s a sad day in Australia when I gotta worry about my own union workmates. Youse are there to protect me at work from bosses and fucked up shit, not outside when I want to protest something I believe in.

So that’s it, no more union for me. Ok, the Marxists, Communists have taken over your unions. They’ve got you in so much fucking trouble and you keep doing it.

Me personally, I’m not paying another dollar to any union. Ok. I’ve had it.

I’m not going to be fucking be manhandled and bullied to keep my mouth shut whilst my brothers and sisters die all across Australia all across the world. Christians being murdered for fucking nothing. You gu- [Video ends suddenly]

Erikson’s rant was clearly off message and was quickly removed from the UPF Facebook page, although not quickly enough.

The far-right dream of building a base amongst segments of the labour movement. They share the same offensive assumptions about blue-collar workers held by so many middle class social-democratic snobs; that white male blue-collar workers are naturally racist and are thus susceptible to the appeals of fascism.

The politics of the far right are anti-union, in that they attempt to mobilize one segment of the Australian working class against those workers who happen to be Muslim. The racism, bigotry and Islamophobia of the far-right are an attack on the basis of the union movement, they are an attack on the very idea of working class solidarity.

For these reasons, the far-right must be publicly, forcefully and unequivocally rejected by the entire labour movement.


Image credit Wardenclyffe Photography.

A participant in the UPF rally on May 31 in Richmond, wearing a CFMEU cap, clashes with anti-racist demonstrators.

A participant in the UPF rally on May 31 in Richmond, wearing a CFMEU cap, clashes with anti-racist demonstrators.


  1. Johno the dumb fascistJune 29, 2015 at 11:49 pm

    Kieran, you are an excellent writer and an all-round beautiful human being.

  2. ablokeimetJune 30, 2015 at 11:01 am

    What this Erikson joker doesn’t know is that the union movement was built on the basis of an old principle – that an injury to one is an injury to all. This means that anything that divides the working class is an attack on the class as a whole. Anti-Muslim racism is thus an attack on the working class, even if that racism is being spouted by somebody who works for a living. If the NUW is standing against anti-Muslim racism, that is to be applauded, not condemned.

    Another point worth emphasising and building upon is Kieran’s point about the Fascists holding onto the same prejudices about the working class as social democratic (and, I would add, liberal) snobs – assuming that the working class is exclusively composed of white, male, blue collar racists. Some facts, however, are in order.

    (a) According to the latest data I can find (June 2014), around 49.4% of union members in Australia were female.

    (b) ABS estimates at present that 13.6% of Australian residents were born overseas in a country that was not the US, nor Canada, nor South Africa* nor in Europe. There would be another substantial slice that has been born here, but to parents or further ancestors who were born in that part of the world. We should also add that another 3% of the Australian population is Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

    (c) The non-white sector of the population in Australia would be concentrated overwhelmingly in the working class and, in particular, in its blue collar sector.

    The idea that the working class in Australia is, therefore, a bunch of white male racists is a myth. The working class is male and female and is multi-racial, multi-cultural and gender diverse. The racism of the Neil Eriksons of this world is poison to the cause of unionism and has to be emphatically rejected.

    * I excluded South Africa because, although its population is overwhelmingly non-white, South African migrants to Australia seem, anecdotally, to be overwhelmingly white.

  3. doubt this Shermon Burgess would know what to do with a blue collar if he found it lurking in his sock drawer.

  4. peter smithJuly 1, 2015 at 1:30 pm

    I’m a ASU Rep and will never bow to fascists!!
    Thank you for your well written and considered peice.
    I fear you shall never work for Rupert.

    • Thank’s Peter đŸ™‚

      It was really good to see a few ASU members down at the rally on Saturday in colours.


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