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TWU redirects funds earmarked for Julia Gillard away from Kevin Rudd

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ONE of the nation's biggest unions has snubbed Kevin Rudd by withholding $250,000 in political donations to the Labor Party that would have been made if Julia Gillard had been prime minister.

The decision by the Transport Workers Union, whose national secretary, Tony Sheldon, is also the ALP's senior vice-president, reflects unease among some key union leaders about the return of Mr Rudd to The Lodge.

Sources said the union had instead decided to spend $500,000 in the lead-up to the federal election on two campaigns, costing $250,000 each, designed to highlight issues relevant to its members in the road transport and aviation sectors.

As part of its long-running push for "safe rates" for truck drivers, the union will organise protests outside Coles supermarkets across the nation. The union will invite individual Labor MPs to participate in the protests.

The second tranche of $250,000 has been committed to the union's campaign to try to improve the employment conditions of aviation workers.

Sources said "half" of the $500,000 would have been donated directly to the ALP if Ms Gillard had remained prime minister.

"Kevin doesn't have an intrinsic understanding of the views of two million trade union members," one senior union figure said yesterday. "Kevin's concern is on other issues. He doesn't have the depth of understanding that Julia Gillard had."

Mr Sheldon refused to comment directly on the decision to withdraw the funds when contacted by The Australian yesterday.

In a written statement, he said the union's branches would be campaigning on issues that "reach across the basic human rights of workers in trucking, aviation and the transport industry, and fair competition and conditions for the 1.2 million people on work visas".

"The Labor government has demonstrated its commitment to these issues, most recently by steering through legislation to tighten up the management of the 457 visa system," he said.

"In contrast, the federal Coalition applauded when Qantas locked out their 35,000 staff in October 2011, has pledged to 'urgently review' safe rates and to turn the clock back on sensible legislation on skilled migration.

"At the end of the day, our members and their families expect us to fight on these issues no matter who is in government."

The Australian reported last year that Mr Sheldon had warned that if Mr Rudd was re-elected leader, his union's national office and its state branches would refuse to make financial contributions to federal Labor's re-election campaign.

It is understood he told a meeting of union leaders in July last year that returning Mr Rudd to the prime ministership would be a "disaster" for the union movement.

Sources said Mr Sheldon had said Mr Rudd "cannot be trusted" to represent union members and would lose the election if he returned to the leadership.

It is unclear whether other unions intend to follow the TWU and withhold political donations to the ALP.

Sources said the Australian Workers Union, whose national secretary Paul Howes was a key supporter of Ms Gillard, had not altered its plans for a marginal seats campaign.

The AWU announced in February it would seek to mobilise thousands of members across key marginal seats to campaign for federal Labor, promising to replicate the tactics used by unions in the US to help Barack Obama seize power in 2008.

Source: The Australian

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