Union boss and environmentalist bury the hatchet in the Hunter

In the bruised days after Labor’s shock national election defeat last May, union boss Steve Murphy, a Maitland boy, thought long and hard about what went wrong – and came to a very different conclusion than the Hunter Valley’s most prominent ALP figure, Joel Fitzgibbon.

Murphy, then the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union state secretary and from Monday its national leader, believed Labor had not failed because it had favoured action on climate change over jobs.

Environmental campaigner Felicity Wade and AMWU leader Steve Murphy outside the site of the demolished Clyde Petrochemical Plant in Rosehill.

Environmental campaigner Felicity Wade and AMWU leader Steve Murphy outside the site of the demolished Clyde Petrochemical Plant in Rosehill.CREDIT:LOUISE KENNERLEY

“We failed because we allowed the bosses to turn the workers and environmentalists against each other to their own benefit,” the former fitter and turner said this week.

Murphy’s view – one that is far from universally shared – was if Labor could solve the culture war over coal and emissions in regions like the Hunter it could campaign on both climate action and job creation.

From this conviction, an alliance formed between Murphy and Felicity Wade, a lifelong environmentalist and political activist.

In 2013 – after Labor lost another election in the face of a devastating campaign against carbon pricing by then Liberal leader Tony Abbott – Wade had resurrected the Labor Environment Action Network after being approached by senior party figures who feared the ALP would abandon climate.

In November last year Murphy invited Wade to attend a delegates' meeting at the left-wing AMWU’s Granville headquarters.

“It was old-fashioned workers education,” says Wade, who addressed the group of about 25 delegates about the history of co-operation between the labour and environment movements.