OPINION: New Union, with a Proud History

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As we wrap up 2023, the Mining and Energy Union is celebrating our proud past and optimistic future.

On 1 December, the Mining and Energy Union was formally established as a new union. This was a great achievement that provides for an independent future, although our day-to-day work of fighting for better wages, safety, rights and jobs continues unchanged.

Just the week before, the MEU Queensland District celebrated 115 years since our formation as a statewide union for coal miners. While there has been active trade unionism in the Queensland coal industry since the mid 1800’s – mainly concentrated around the Ipswich coalfields – the establishment of the Queensland Colliery Employees’ Union (QCEU) in 1908 meant there was finally a registered state-wide union.

This was an important development for workers, who understood that organising and acting collectively was the only way to stand up to profit-hungry mining bosses and improve the extremely harsh and dangerous working conditions they faced.

Since then, the coal miners’ union has existed in various forms, in particular the Australian Coal and Shale Employees’ Federation which was commonly known as the Miners Federation.

During the 1990s there were a wave of amalgamations and we were among them – joining with construction and forestry workers to form the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), with the later addition of the Maritime Union of Australia to become the CFMMEU.

With coal port and power workers joining our ranks, we have continued to operate autonomously as the CFMEU’s Mining and Energy Division, until our members made it clear a few years ago they didn’t believe the CFMEU was the right home for us any more.

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Withdrawal has been a long and arduous legal process since then, but members have not backed down on their desire for independence and it is fantastic to come to the end of this process, formally withdraw and register as an independent organisation.

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This process has been an immense administrative and legal effort, however it doesn’t change the day-to-day work of our union on the ground. All membership and union structures have simply transferred to the new Mining and Energy Union and our work representing members continues.

Despite all the changes we’ve been through, I’m extremely proud that we have maintained the traditions established over the past 115 years and more. These traditions were on proud display at a wonderful event at Brisbane Town Hall in November to celebrate our history and endurance.

I especially enjoyed watching Lodge representatives award their workmates with 40 and 50 year service Awards. I could see their respect and pride for comrades who have worked hard for decades, while also standing up for conditions and standards across the industry through their union involvement.

I’d like to acknowledge the newest life member of the MEU Queensland District, Rick Hibble, who has had a long career as a coal miner and union activist at Callide and Boundary Hill mines, as a part of our Callide Valley Lodge. I thank Rick for his decades of service and leadership and the legacy he leaves his workmates including a strong and enforceable enterprise agreement that prioritises job security.

Another proud tradition of our Union is our commitment to democratic processes. On that note, I am honoured to have been elected to the position of President of the mighty Queensland District of the MEU. I look forward to representing members and putting our union in the best possible position to meet the challenges ahead.

To all workers in the coal industry, I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and a happy and safe New Year. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to join the MEU in 2024 and help us build the strong industry and proud traditions workers will celebrate in years and decades to come.

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Mitch Hughes

President Mining and Energy Union Queensland District

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