One of the most senior officials of the United States trade union movement has outlined how Australian superannuation funds will be involved in shaping US President Donald Trump’s corporate agenda, while backing new Australian Council of Trade Unions boss Sally McManus’ message that it is acceptable for unionists to break “unjust laws”.

McManus made the comments in defence of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union.

“I believe in the rule of law, when the law is fair and the law is right,” McManus told the ABC’s 7:30 last week. “But when it’s unjust, I don’t think there’s a problem with breaking it.”

Damon A. Silvers, who is the director of policy and special counsel for the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations, is visiting Australia for the Conference of Major Superannuation Funds 2017, taking place on the Gold Coast, March 22-24. He defended McManus and said he was amused that people had found her comments so controversial.

“The union movement was born out of people breaking laws: occupying factory floors, striking, collectively bargaining,” Silvers said. “It’s like these people have never heard of Gandhi or Martin Luther King…who was killed [days after] leading an illegal march of striking sanitation workers.”

“[In] the debate you are having over Sally McManus’ comments in this country, people have to choose what side they are on. If you are not on the side of Sally McManus, then you are not on the side of Martin Luther King.”

Opposition leader Bill Shorten has sought to distance himself from McManus’ comments but the ACTU is an important support base for the Australian Labor Party.

Silvers also threw his support behind his Australian trade union colleagues, as he called on the union-aligned super fund sector to embrace its power to influence conditions for average US workers.

“Australian super funds are major players in global capital markets. Your funds help determine the working conditions for our members,” he said. “In the era of Donald Trump, issues of basic human rights will be fought in boardrooms. Your funds are major shareholders in US companies and will be called upon in the coming months to exercise important votes.”

He called US President Trump an “authoritarian threat” and implored the gathered super fund trustees and executives to remember that “every aspect of the Trump agenda” would be reflected on the ballots at US corporate meetings.

Silvers noted that union-affiliated super and pension funds around the world did “not always act in alignment with our values” and this was an area that deserved greater collaboration.

He said increasing trade union membership rates was a social imperative at a time when workers needed more collective bargaining power to combat the disconnect between rising productivity and wage deflation for the lowest paid.

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