Movement That Sings (Will Never Die)

Danny Blackman

The slow decline in union membership in Australia apparent by the early 1980s was intensified by the rise of the New Right and the new approach to industrial relations spearheaded by the ideologues of the HR Nicholls Society, formed in March 1986. By the middle of the decade, Peko Wallsend’s de-unionisation of the Pilbara through the Robe River dispute and other major employer wins at Mudginberri, the Southeast Queensland Electricity Board (SEQEB) and Dollar Sweets had significantly altered the balance of the Australian industrial relations landscape towards the employer.

Tasmanian songwriters Peter Hicks and Geoff Francis wrote If It Weren’t for the Union in 1991 to emphasise the importance of unions and as a rallying call to unionists to fight for their unions and industrial rights – to “stand up and stand by (their) unions” against the New Right onslaught. Hicks, a singer in his own right, has performed the song widely, as has his choir, the Tasmanian Grass Roots Union Choir. In the nearly three decades since it was written, the song has been regularly performed by other union choirs across Australia, usually in Chrissie Shaw’s four-part arrangement, because its message has become ever more urgent with the passage of time.

If It Weren’t for the Union
Words and music by Peter Hicks and Geoff Francis, 1991. *

Our union’s story is there to be seen;
We’ve won many victories, we’ve suffered defeats.
As I turn through the pages, and look back through time,
There’s one single question stands out in my mind.
Today we may prosper, today we live free,
But if it weren’t for the union, where would we be?

It’s our union, our union, defending our rights,
But our union’s as strong as our will is to fight!
For the union is you and the union is me,
So stand up and stand by our union! 

From its humble beginnings our union has grown
So no working person need struggle alone,
But no gain that’s been made has been made without cost,
And together we’ll see that no gain’s ever lost.
Take a look at those countries where workers aren’t free,
If it weren’t for the union where would we be?

Would you choose to go back working twelve hours a day?
Would you choose to toil more and a pittance be paid?
Will you stand in the union against the New Right?
Or do you think on your own you can withstand their might?
The answer is written in our history:
If it weren’t for the union where would we be?

They say we’ve got problems and the unions they blame.
Well, Franco and Pinochet, they said the same!
If our unions they weaken, our union they break,
Then where’s our defence from becoming enslaved?
So would you choose bondage above liberty? 
If it weren’t for the union, where would we be? 

Chorus (twice)
Stand up and stand by our union!

*Song lyrics reproduced with permission from the authors.
There is a sound file available at
and a video at