Ferguson started his career as a research officer of the Miscellaneous Workers' Union (whose remains are currently a part of United Voices), rising to become assistant general secretary and general secretary of the union.
From there, he moved on to become a member of the executive of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, ACTU (1984-90), vice-president (1985-90), and president of the ACTU (1990-96). Since 1997 Ferguson has been a federal Labor MP.
As he announced to Parliament his decision, Ferguson spoke of his career as trade unionist:
" 'My main motivation has been to get Australians into decent, well-paying jobs', Mr Ferguson said today of his career.Some five years ago, former federal treasurer Peter Costello (National/Liberal Coalition, "conservative, centre right, libertarian") hurled that most damning accusation against the opposing bench: all Labor MPs were trade union members.
" 'This is what the Labor party means to me - helping those less fortunate in life by providing new jobs and opportunities to achieve a better quality of life'.
" 'Creating opportunities by working with business is not the same thing as pointless class rhetoric. In essence, we need to grow the pie to share it'." (See here)
It's regrettable that Ferguson either wasn't present that day in Parliament, or, if he was, did not care to reply to Costello.
Ferguson could have spoken, then, of his pride on being a representative of the vast majority of Australians: the workers. You know, those who built the Parliament, and clean and guard it; those who tend to its gardens every day and cater for the MPs and take their phone calls. Those who drive buses and trucks and taxis all over Australia, manning also supermarket checkouts and attending patients and teaching kids and picking fruit, and packing meat, and delivering mail and collecting garbage on the streets.
It is us, the faceless, voiceless, ignored people, who are the blood, flesh and bones of this country. It is because of our vote that you were there, Ferguson.
We, not "business", make the "pie grow". You, Ferguson, you may speak to "business", to well-dressed people, like yourself; and you may beg for what was ours all along; Costello and others like him may represent "business" in Parliament; but it is us who are Australia.
Had Ferguson spoken then, perhaps he would have spared his fellow Labor colleagues the nervous, embarrassed smiles or the need to keep their mouths shut or to pretend to follow written notes, as Costello taunted and mocked them.
But, for some reason, he never did.
A couple of weeks ago, the ABC's Chris Uhlmann published an opinion piece entitled "Labor Finds Itself Without a Homeland to Defend".
In it, Uhlmann relates how, among other Labor politicians, Kevin Rudd metamorphosed from "Christian socialist" into "economic conservative", to suddenly become "social democrat".
It's a sad reading, but it's not mistaken.