There is power in a Union

By Nayuka Gorrie

For a long time I didn’t feel so good about unions but not because I was conservative.

My Mum was a police officer with the Queensland Police Service from 2002 until 2012. Only a few years into her time as a police officer, Chris Hurley killed Mulrunji Doomagee except we aren’t allowed to say that so maybe I’ll just say Doomadgee died in the same room as Hurley.

There is a line I remember reading about his death that will stay with me until my own. They said that his liver was pretty much cleaved in two. Now, as we know, police officers are protected when they kill (black) people in custody. Hurley was the only person who went to court for killing a black person and he was found not guilty. He then appealed the coroner’s report stating that Hurley had killed Doomadgee.

It was an interesting time to be a black cop then. What stuck with me was the Queensland Police Union’s response to Doomadgee’s death. They completely and wholeheartedly supported Hurley. This always seemed interesting – the choice to protect someone who killed instead of the person actually killed.

The police were initially established as a way to control the native population. To help protect “landowners”. This history informs our relationship with the police now. It shouldn’t be surprising or shocking that we are the most incarcerated people on the planet.

The Union protecting Hurley was neither brave nor just. Hurley would always have been protected. All police forces and services have interpersonal and structural methods for protecting those who kill people while on duty. They make sure their stories stack up, they call people who make internal complaints ‘dogs’. On at least one occasion they tried to make my black mother work at the black protests against deaths in custody, which in my mind is some bizarre psychological torture. With the Queensland Police Service backing him, Hurley was always going to be fine and certainly didn’t need a union to protect him.

I recently shared the above at a conference organised by the ACTU. Like I told them, it was weird that I was there. Since the age of 14 I’d felt weird about unions but also, as you may have gathered, I am cynical and spend most of my time anxious and depressed. I didn’t consider myself the best person to talk about the future. I often wonder if our species is worth saving and I am currently writing a book about why we should lean in to the apocalypse.

But I also have worked in the last seven years with young blackfellas. I am an Aunty. I plan on having children. I guess on some level I have a biological imperative to make the world better for the little bloodsuckers yet to be born. I have a vested interest in making the world better/not as shit.

I don’t think the world can get better without a stronger union movement and yet I don’t think any sustainable movement can be strong if it isn’t intersectional. What is intersectionality? Kimberle Crenshaw pioneered the term intersectional feminism and its theory, which is essentially about how different oppressions are compounded with the intersection with another. For example, for many black women, the racism we experience is often gendered.

To me, intersectionality in movements is thinking about the people who get left behind and, as we try to shift the world to a fairer and more equitable place, we need to organise with them. Our shift to make the world better cannot replicate the structures that got us into this mess in the first place.

Climate justice is a good example of this. We are a country that distances ourselves with climate change through space and time, assuming it’s a problem that affects other countries and will impact us in the future. Try telling that to the mob whose seasons are already changing or are already feeling the encroaching ocean. The way climate change is being fought is often with First Nations people as an after-thought.

Around the world and in our own country coal-fired power stations are being shut down as they become economically unviable. On Gunai/Kurnai country Hazelwood Station was shut down by its French owned company with little thought of what would happen to those workers. We need unions to back a safe and just climate future.

Unions, employers and governments need to prepare workers and communities for that future. As we make the necessary shift to renewable energy we need to consider exactly how we go about that shift. How the land required to go about that shift is acquired. There is no point in any movement that replicates colonisation.

We need movements to not wait until something is trendy before it is backed. We need to get angry, hideously angry. The anger can’t and shouldn’t be pretty. The anger shouldn’t be Kendall Jenner in a Pepsi ad. When has the sanitisation and corporatisation of struggle served anyone well?

When have the master’s tools ever dismantled the house?

Nayuka is a Gunai/Kurnai, Gunditjmara, Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta woman working in the youth sector. Nayuka writes about black politics and feminism. She tweets at @nayukagorrie.


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