We’ve had international treaties banning the use of biological weapons and chemical weapons for more than thirty years. But did you know it wasn’t until 2017 that we reached the same level of agreement to abolish nuclear weapons?
It seems like common sense to agree that nuclear weapons do not belong on this planet. But it has taken decades of campaigning from the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) to see the creation of the treaty.
The efforts of the treaty campaign saw the ICAN award the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 – the first time an Australian-born organisation had received the prize.
Adopted at the United Nations in 2017, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons came into force January 2021. Shockingly, Australia has yet to sign the treaty and for the last decade the former Liberal-National Government refused to support the campaign to rid the world of nuclear weapons.
Australian unions have always stood alongside ICAN throughout the campaign to abolish nuclear weapons, since it was founded at Victorian Trades Hall in 2006. Union members came together last year to welcome the treaty coming into force last year and call on the Federal government to sign and ratify the treaty.
While nuclear warfare may sound like the subject matter of sci-fi novels and Cold War disputes, nuclear weapons have left their mark here in Australia, including on Australian workers.
The ACTU has always supported efforts to ensure a peaceful world because we know it is working people who suffer during war. ICAN’s work in moving us towards a world free from the threat of total annihilation by nuclear weapons is something all working people should support and one the ACTU is proud to support.
Lessons from the past
Under the Menzies Government of the 1950s and 1960s, the Australian Government allowed Britain to test nuclear weapons in Australia.
One of the test sites was Maralinga in South Australia – the lands of the Maralinga Tjarutja people who, along with the Australian soldiers who worked on location, suffered the deadly health consequences of radiation exposure.
Just last year, Australian researchers found the soil at Maralinga and other test sites were still highly contaminated.
Generations of First Nations survivors continue the campaign to ensure the Australian Government addresses the intergenerational impacts the nuclear fallout has had on their families.
A union movement for peace
This history and its modern-day consequences are exactly why the Australian union movement will always commit to a world free of weapons of mass destruction and a nuclear-free defence policy for Australia.
In fact, Australian unionists are the ones leading the charge to ensure international nuclear disarmament.
International Trade Union Confederation general secretary Sharan Burrow has put in years of work alongside ICAN to abolish nuclear weapons in Australia and overseas.
“So many trade unionists are proud members and activists within ICAN,” Burrow says.
“It doesn’t make sense for trade unions not to be at the helm for this,” she says.
Peacebuilding is front of mind for union members who are calling on the Australian Government to sign and ratify the treaty as a necessary humanitarian act.
As Burrow observes, “We can’t build a world that we want as working people for our families if there’s no underlying condition for peace.”
Union members act today to change tomorrow
Burrow explains there is still plenty of work left for workers in unions to do so we can see the end of nuclear weapons for good.
“Yes we have a strong movement. Yes we have the treaty. But tensions between the nuclear powers are rising. Military spending is also rising and nuclear arsenals are being upgraded,” she says.
Union members and activists coming together to end global warfare? That’s pretty hardcore stuff.
But these massive achievements are always possible when you’re part of the union movement.
Australian Unions is made up of workers driving the movement to create a better Australia and planet for the future.
Join almost 2 million other workers and prove that change is much more than an idea; it’s an action we take every day.