Victorian Electrical Trades Union Secretary Dean Mighell has been made the sacrificial lamb by the ALP to appease the gods of capitalism. “We expel the most militant union leader we can find to prove to you our credentials to run this capitalist system”, is what, in effect, Rudd and his deputy Julia Gillard told the bosses yesterday.
So it’s OK for Kevin Rudd’s multi-millionaire wife to buy off her workers’ conditions for 45 cents an hour. And it’s OK for union leaders who put bosses’ needs before their members’ needs (like the AWU’s Bill Shorten) to have a place in the party. But there is no place for Dean Mighell.
What was his crime? Doing his job better than 99% of other trade union leaders in Australia. ETU members in Victoria are the best paid in Australia and the union has a sophisticated array of services for members. The ETU has been generous in its support for community groups and all those in struggle ever since Dean and his team won control of the union from moribund Stalinist leaders in the mid-1990s.
Even Murdoch’s Australian newspaper had to expose the hypocrisy and weakness of the case against Mighell: “Kevin Rudd is, of course, a God-fearing man and former diplomat. He is obviously horrified that Victorian Electrical Trades Union leader Dean Mighell would use expletives in describing – or, more likely, exaggerating – how he got employers to pay more than they needed to through the perfectly legal industrial tactic of ratcheting up enterprise wage agreements.
“Rudd described Mighell’s actions as “obscene at every level”. One wonders whether Rudd will stop with Mighell; if he applied the same standards of decorum and sanction across the labour movement, he would probably have few union leaders left in the ALP.”
The Herald Sun editorial praised the ‘Labor’ leader this morning: “When news broke yesterday of intemperate comments by Victorian Electrical Trades Union secretary Dean Mighell the portents weren’t good for the Opposition Leader.
“But demonstrating again a rare assertiveness and political savvy, Mr Rudd moved. First he demanded and got Mr Mighell’s resignation from the ALP, and then declared that any money the ETU had donated to the federal party would be returned.
“Then deputy Labor leader Julia Gillard chimed in: she acknowledged unlawful activity on building sites and declared the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), created to eliminate illegality on building sites, would be retained until 2010 then replaced with an equally tough body.
“Thus, by accident or design, Labor turned what could have been a bad day to its advantage.
“In doing so, Mr Rudd and Ms Gillard made it clear they will allow nothing to get in the way of their quest for government.”
The Gillard announcement that the ABCC would stay at least until 2010 was not made directly to construction unions or even the ACTU, but at the National Press Club in Canberra.
The hated ABCC Commissioner, John Lloyd, cockily told The Australian that he was happy to continue in his role if the ALP won the federal election: “I have a five-year term, it goes through to October 2010 and I intend to stay in the job as long as the job is there.”
The central thesis of the construction unions’ argument of the past year has now been fatally undermined. Construction workers have been told to keep their heads down as the cavalry in the form of the ALP will come over the hill later this year, win the election, smash the ABCC (which has the power to detail workers without trial or legal support indefinitely!), and everything will be near enough back to normal.
The CFMEU National Secretary, Dave Noonan, has criticised Gillard’s announcement yesterday. But the construction unions now need to see there will be no cavalry coming over the hill. We need a return to militant action to defend workers’ conditions. In a booming economy, a well thought-out industrial campaign can achieve good results for members. Anything has to be better than the current demoralising ‘do nothing/wait for the ALP’ strategy, the central point of which (that the ALP will abolish the ABCC) was fatally undermined yesterday.
The WA ALP Premier Alan Carpenter said yesterday that more industrial relations retreats were to come from Rudd and Gillard. He confidentially predicted they would reverse the party’s opposition to Australian Workplace Agreements in the next few days – at least amongst higher paid workers.
The massive politically-organised attacks on workers (AWAs, the ABCC in the construction industry, Work Choices) has smashed forever the idea that workers and unions can ignore politics. We need to put class politics and socialist politics on the agenda instead of the domination of collaborationist politics and capitalist politics.
It is a contradiction to be angry at the way Dean Mighell was treated yet refuse to offer a political alternative other than a grudging ‘ALP is better than nothing’ strategy.
The campaign for a new workers’ party (a new mass left wing party) has been given a fillip by the recent developments. More and more workers and young people are seeing the ALP for what it is – and this is even before it wins power nationally.
The Socialist Party has argued that unions like the Victorian branch of the ETU, plus community and resident groups, and left leaning individuals should unite to create a new mass, democratic workers’ party to put class politics back on the political agenda.
The Socialist Party would join and be a socialist voice inside such a party, arguing for it to take on bold socialist policies and campaigning methods to grow and offer a real alternative to the capitalist voices.
By Socialist Party reporters