Power workers 'sold out'

by Chris Griffith
Published 9 January 1994 in The Sun-Herald


my face


A controversial new book on the 1985 Queensland electricity dispute has raised questions about the fate of an alleged $7 to $10 million collected to aid the 1,002 electricity workers sacked by the Bjelke-Petersen Government.

The 1985 electricity strike and the sacking of South East Queensland Electricity Board (SEQEB) workers led to one of the state's most bitter industrial confrontations, a prolonged disruption to domestic power supplies, and an ACTU- sponsored blockade of Queensland.

However the book "Sellout, The Story of the SEQEB Strike", by author Mark Sherry, has claimed the Queensland Trades and Labor Council (TLC), the ACTU, the Labor Party, and some left-wing political parties "sold out" striking workers because their agendas conflicted with continuing industrial action.

Power was restored and the blockade ended without the workers being reinstated. It was only after the Goss Government's election that sacked workers received compensation.

The book has received a hostile response from state Labor Party and Trades and Labor Council (now ACTU- Queensland) figures.

Mr Sherry said he has spent $10,000 to print and publish the 200-page book himself, and has received abuse and even a death-threat since its release. So far only 2000 copies have been printed.

In his book, Mr Sherry said the ACTU was worried the strike, which was escalating into a national dispute, threatened the Accord with the Federal Government and the National Wage Case. He said the Queensland Labor Party feared a prolonged dispute would undermined its electoral support in a pre-election year.

Mr Sherry has also attempted to follow the money trail of what he said was between $7 million and $10 million collected by the union movement to aid the sacked workers. He said the TLC donated $40,000 of strikers money to the ALP to fight the 1985 Redlands state by-election.

He reiterated his claim made before a Senate committee in 1991 that a former Queensland senator was concerned about accounts being put under scrutiny by the Cooke Inquiry into Unions, as many accounts may not stand up to "rigorous scrutiny".

Electrical Trades Union state secretary, Bob Henricks, who was assistant secretary in 1985, said he was yet to read Mr Sherry's book, but said the strike money was donated to the ALP openly by the sacked workers themselves. "There were decisions of sacked workers to donate money from the strike fund to political candidates who they believed would assist their cause," Mr Henricks said.