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AWU farewells outgoing Assistant National Secretary Misha Zelinsky

December 10, 2022

The Australian Workers’ Union has paid tribute to outgoing Assistant National Secretary Misha Zelinsky, who yesterday announced he will be moving on from his role as an AWU official after 12 years with the union.

Mr Zelinsky started with the union in 2011 as its National Economist after practicing as a Criminal Defence Lawyer for the Aboriginal Legal Service. He was elected as the union’s National Vice President in 2014 and as its Assistant National Secretary in 2016.

He was instrumental in a broad spectrum of key AWU initiatives during this period including helping calibrate the union’s position on vital issues like gas policy, anti-dumping, fuel security, salmon farming, and worker exploitation in agriculture.

He led the AWU’s push to better represent hair stylists and spearheaded the creation of the Julia Gillard Next Generation Internship to encourage more women into the labour movement. He was a crucial part of the national leadership team during extremely challenging periods, including the infamous AFP raids on the AWU offices in 2017 and the threat of widespread industry shutdown during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr Zelinsky had responsibility at a national level for overseeing the union’s representation of workers in the steel and aluminium industries, including deep involvement in the Alcoa 52-day lock out in Pinjarra.

Misha speaking to delegates at the Alcoa Strike

AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton said Mr Zelinsky’s unique set of skills and capacities were invaluable over a challenging decade.

“Misha was born and raised in the proud union town of Wollongong and that’s reflected in his character. He has always been a powerful, eloquent, and steadfast champion for the interests of our members and for all working Australians,” Mr Walton said.

Misha at the Port Kembla Steelworks during industrial action supporting workers’ wages

“Misha has been instrumental in the renewal of our union and its current growth. His intellect and vision ensured our union was consistently a few steps ahead of the national debate on issues that matter to our members. For example, long before the mainstream media and parliamentary politics recognised the gas crisis, Misha was dedicated to designing and guiding our union’s Reserve Our Gas campaign in 2013.

“He also recognised the need for reform in fruit picking and horticulture at a time when it was generally considered impossible to take on the powerful farming lobby.

“His leadership in our union on steel and aluminium helped our members save their jobs during times of crisis and secure better deals in times of prosperity.”

Mr Walton also noted his deputy’s broad range of interests and initiatives adjacent to his work with the union. In recent years Misha has studied at the London School of Economics, established one of Australia’s most popular political podcasts, ‘Diplomates,’ and won a Fulbright Scholarship to Washington. When Russia began threatening Ukraine, Misha returned to his ancestral home to use his foreign policy and language knowledge to report on what was happening on the ground.

Misha with Daniel Walton and Liam O’Brien during the UGL Dispute

“We’ve always known Misha’s talents extend well beyond the industrial realm and we were all relieved when he returned safe and sound from Ukraine,” Mr Walton said.

“I know I speak on behalf of all his many friends within the union when I say I genuinely can’t wait to see what he does next. He has been a loyal servant of the AWU and he leaves with our very best wishes. One thing I know is that whatever Misha does it will be consistent with his values, which are our values – union values.”

Mr Walton congratulated the AWU’s longstanding Senior National Legal Officer Stephen Crawford on succeeding Mr Zelinsky in his role as Assistant National Secretary.

“Crawf is the epitome of dedication to this union and his quiet and tireless efforts have been pivotal in achieving so many important legal wins for our members over the years,” Mr Walton said.

“He served ably as Assistant National Secretary while Misha was on leave this year and I am extremely pleased he has accepted the role on a permanent basis now.

“I know he will leave no stone unturned when advocating for our members and I know I speak for the whole National Executive when I say I look forward to working alongside him in his new job.”

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