That’s not us. That’s not who we are.
That was the overwhelming gut reaction from rank and file union members across the country as they watched on in disgust and dismay at the scenes of chaos, violence and white-hot anger that ran through the streets of Melbourne this week.
What pitched itself as a “protest” by construction workers in Melbourne’s CBD regarding the mandating of vaccines on construction sites across the city, revealed itself to be a spiral of violence and angry self-indulgence fuelled by a cabal of nasty proto-fascist agitators and conspiracy loons.
It was ugly. Shameful. Depressing. Bewilderingly stupid. Dangerous and reckless.
What it wasn’t though was the behaviour of anyone claiming to be looking out for their families, their communities or each other.
It was none of those things.
A statement released by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) on Monday evening underlined the level of anger felt by the wider union movement at what occurred.
“Workers across the country are under extreme pressure because of the threat to life and health the pandemic poses, and the restrictions health experts deem necessary to save lives. Those exploiting this pressure and seeking to divide people are a danger to us all,” the statement read.
“Unions put the safety of working people first.
“High vaccination rates are the only way for us to get out of lockdown, save jobs and get back to work in safe workplaces and communities.
“Division and the spreading of misinformation against the vaccination program are putting the lives of vulnerable people at risk and will lead to the overwhelming of our health care system, endangering the health care workforce.
“Where public health experts deem it necessary to mandate a vaccine, everything that can be done to assist those workers to get vaccinated must be done. Every worker who can get vaccinated should get vaccinated as soon as possible.
“Australian unions will never be intimidated by violence or threats from extremists who refuse to put the good of the community first.”
The frustration expressed by the ACTU in its statement is echoed around the country by the hundreds and thousands of union members who are doing everything in their power to ensure their families, their communities and the country can navigate the very troubled waters of this pandemic.
It’s unionists like those in the Goulburn Valley around the Victorian town of Shepparton who rallied to the aid of their stricken community when it found itself in lockdown by raising over $50,000 to assist families in need.
You see it in the teachers and early childhood educators who have continued to work in near on impossible circumstances because they believe deeply in the importance that education plays in helping each child reach their full potential.
It’s represented in the tens of thousands of health care workers staffing hospitals and ICUs to provide world-class health care to gravely ill COVID-19 patients.
These union members head to work every day knowing they are facing risks to their own health. They must work in gruelling conditions, in full PPE, and they’re constantly faced with the trauma of people in deep distress. Their hours are long, and there’s seemingly no let up.
It’s punishing and heartbreaking work, but they turn up day in day out, because they are committed to doing what they can to help others.
There are so many other examples of union members going above and beyond for their communities, from retail workers, public transport staff, public servants keeping the function of governments and institutions ticking, and first responders like police and emergence services who make others their priority in the name of the greater good.
This is what being in a union is about.
It’s about living the values of solidarity with others and leaving no one behind, a belief in the power of our collective spirit and action to build stronger, stable vibrant communities in which everyone, regardless of race, colour, gender, sexual orientation or religious conviction belongs.
This is who we are.