“National union chief Greg Combet is clearing the way to run for a safe Labor seat at this year’s federal election, and has dismissed suggestions he wait,” The Australian reports today. Isn’t this a dumb move?

There’s strong speculation about what will happen in four NSW Labor seats – Charlton, Fowler, Blaxland and Chifley. The party has delayed opening preselections in these electorates, ostensibly to prevent any unpleasantness from tainting the national conference.

Charlton is in the Hunter, the very heart of Labor nepotism territory. The only thing that distinguishes its Member, Kelly Hoare, is that she is the first daughter of an MP to follow her father into the family business. Labor can certainly do better.

But isn’t it a dumb move to play Combet now? Shouldn’t the bloke wait? Of course he’ll end up in parliament, but the timing could be better.

Combet is currently at the helm of a massive guerrilla campaign being waged against the Howard government in its marginals.

Crikey yesterday reported on the 21 full-time grassroots campaigners the union movement has in government seats as part of the Your Rights at Work campaign.

“The unions are absolutely committed to getting the message about Work Choices out to everyone, not just members,” a source tells Crikey.

“Significant local campaigns are in full swing and are being supported by full-time union officials who have been ‘seconded’ to the W campaign. In the case of one Queensland seat, a teachers’ union organiser is dedicated to the campaign on his teachers’ union wage. This is being funded by each state teachers union branch.

“This funded position is nothing when compared to the hours of voluntary work being donated each week by union members,” they say.

“Each Your Rights at Work organiser is able to very quickly activate a group of union members and fellow travellers to participate in events ranging from community picnics, markets and letterboxing planned well in advance to protesting at events involving members of the Government at very short notice.

“The Government should be very afraid. I can’t imagine your average Lib or Nat being quite so committed to campaigning in such an activist fashion — and we’re talking union members — not ALP members. That’s a whole different group of people with a clear focus on one task — getting rid of this Government.”

Can Combet desert this? Surely he’s more valuable at the helm of the ACTU?

There’s an important perception issue here, too, that provides quite a challenge for the Labor leader. The government wants to paint Labor as the union party. Kevin Rudd is trying to keep a polite distance.

Surely in this election year Combet is of more use to the ALP in his current job, working in all the marginals – not tied to one safe seat as the Labor candidate.

If he forces the issue, the ACTU boss risks damaging Labor’s campaign chances.