The Rail, Tram and Bus Union was created in 1993 through the amalgamation of four of Australia’s oldest unions:
- the Australian Railways Union (ARU);
- the Australian Federated Union of Locomotive Enginemen (AFULE);
- the National Union of Railway Workers (NURWA); and
- the Australian Tramway and Motor Omnibus Employees Association (ATMOEA).
The Union’s history goes back to the 1861 with the formation of the Locomotive Engine Drivers Association in Victoria. Initially workers in the new rail and public transport industries became organised in their local areas, but as Australia became a political federation, so to our transport unions came together to form national associations. They also formed Trades Councils in each state, and were central to the formation of the Australian Labor Party.
Rail and public transport unions have been involved in some of the most important industrial disputes in Australian history – including the 1912 Brisbane Tramway Strike and the 1917 Railways Strike in NSW, both of which turned into massive general strikes and social confrontations.
One of the leading figures in the 1917 Railways Strike was an engine driver from Bathurst called Ben Chifley, who went on to become Labor Prime Minister of Australia from 1945 to 1949.
The 1993 amalgamation brought together the great majority of railway workers for the first time in one united union. The new union was also powerful working class advocate for public transport, as it also unified rail workers with the government sector bus and tram employees across the country.
The new union was originally called the Public Transport Union, but the name was changed in 1998 to Rail Tram & Bus Union because of the impact of privatisation on the union's identity.
Today the RTBU has 35,000 members in the rail, tram and government bus sectors across Australia. It is affiliated to the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), and the Australian Labor party (ALP).
The International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) is a federation of 621 transport trade unions in 137 countries, representing around 5 million workers.
The ITF was founded in 1896 in London by European seafarers' and dockers' union leaders who realized the need to organise internationally against strike breakers. Today the ITF organises workers in ships, ports, railways, road freight and passenger transport, inland waterways, fisheries, tourism and civil aviation.
The ITF represents transport workers at world level and promotes their interests through global campaigning and solidarity. It is dedicated to the advancement of independent and democratic trade unionism, and to the defence of fundamental human and trade union rights. It is opposed to any form of totalitarianism, aggression and discrimination.
The ITF is one of 10 Global Union Federations (former International Trade Secretariats) allied to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).
The RTBU is also an Associate Member of the Australasian Railways Association, and a member of the International Union of Public Transport (UITP).