APHEDA people

Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA is the global justice organisation of the Australian union movement. The IEU has a long history of supporting APHEDA and its important work. Recently APHEDA featured IEU Secretary Mark Northam in the APHEDA People section on its website. Northam has been an APHEDA member for 20 years. Here is an excerpt.

What does APHEDA mean to you?

I feel an obligation to not only work within my union, but more broadly across Australia. I respect the work APHEDA does, and it seems such a small thing to give a monthly contribution to keep the organisation's projects going.

In terms of recent discussion about our role in Asia, it’s even more important that unions in Australia collectively reach out to other unions that are doing it tougher than us so we can assist them collectively for the benefit of all workers.

What part of APHEDA’s work do you feel most connected to or proud of?

Historically, it would be the work in Timor Leste. After independence, our union sent some delegations there. We assisted with schools, and some of our staff members worked there for a period. This sparked my interest because we had a focus on education and getting some assistance into the schools.

The other one that resonates with me right now is the project in Vietnam supporting more women being elected to parliament. I’ve been to Vietnam a couple of times and, when I was a classroom teacher, I put together some teaching resources for schools over there to use.

So, I’ve got an affinity with the place, I think that’s the epitome of a useful program that union members in Australia can understand.

What does it mean to you to be union?

When I was an organiser, it was about making sure that those individual matters that were so important to our members were attended to. Growing out of that, importantly, being able to take industrial action on a large scale.

One thing that is critical to successful unionism is getting mass collective action every few years to drive home and get particular and long-lasting improvements.

The other dimension is improving policy directives. One that is close to my heart is social housing. Those public policy settings come off the back of the work of all unions. The provision of social housing is such a critical thing right now.

Why is building internationalism among unionists so important?

Unions are a force for social good. They make things better for everyone by providing long service leave, sick pay and safe working conditions. They’re all things that make people’s experience of going to work better.

I think unions would say that democracy is a very good thing. If we can work through APHEDA and support the development of trade unions in other countries, then that’s a positive step.

More information: apheda.org.au