Federal Government prepares to unleash the dogs on the CFMEU (construction division)
The Coalition victory in the Federal election was a major blow to the hopes of the leaders of the CFMEU. The Latham Labor Party had promised to abolish the building industry Task Force set up by the Government to police the current and new anti-union laws aimed to stifling the effectiveness of Australia’s strongest and most militant union.
The building industry bosses and the Government hate the fact that an industry making up about 6% of Australia?s Gross Domestic Product has to deal with a strong union able to win decent wages and conditions for building workers – at least on commercial construction sites if not in the housing industry. The union has also played a role in the anti-capitalist globalisation rallies in 2000 and in other broader political struggles.
The ruling class hope a defeat for the CFMEU will be a blow for all workers, much like the defeat by the Thatcher government of the Miners Union in Britain in the 1980s knocked back the working class there for many years.
The CFMEU (construction division) pumped much money and resources into getting a Labor victory. However, for reasons explained in our page 2 editorial, the Coalition was not only re-elected but also won control of the Senate. The assault on the union is now on; probably beginning in February when the relevant legislation passes through Parliament.
The new laws take away the right to silence for building workers and union officials when questioned over industrial action. In other words, people charged with terrorism maintain their right to silence, but not trade unionists in an effective union! Other laws further limit legal strike action and the right of entry of union officials onto building sites.
However, as both the ruling class and socialists understand, laws are just bits of paper unless the Government can implement them. The key part of Howard?s anti-CFMEU agenda is the setting up of a Task Force of personnel with police powers and unprecedented powers to attempt to implement the anti-union laws. They will enter building sites, union offices and members? homes like an industrial FBI ? boot boys for the ruling class.
Fire must be met with fire. It would be wrong for the union to give up on any new gains in the next Enterprise Bargaining round in order to get the bosses to sign on the dotted line more quickly. A more moderate approach will not win over the bosses but merely wet their appetite. This was shown, unfortunately, with the union gave up on the fight for pay rises for high-rise projects and shelved plans to increase apprentices? wages. The MBA, however, decided ?to push ahead for a review of the allowance as it was being claimed by workers who worked in safe air-conditioned offices and high-rise buildings? (Financial Review, 25 October).
We must prepare now for the battle. Mass meetings, site meetings and more propaganda must be organized by the union to prepare the membership. We need to set up a partners? committee to involve our own community in this battle ? similar to what the British miners did in 1984-85. We need a rank and file committee of the active members of the union, plus supporters amongst other sections of workers, youth and students to build support for the union.
Many building workers have big mortgages and more than a few would have voted for the Liberals, believing Howard?s scare campaign about interest rate rises under Labor. We have to explain that whatever will be the hardships in the impending industrial action, it is better to fight now than lose our union and see our wages reduced to factory rates. There will be no chance of getting a mortgage then!
Construction workers will be fighting for their wages and conditions and the very existence of their union. They will also be fighting for the next generation of building workers ? they will either beat back this attack or end up with New Zealand-style conditions or worse.
The time for having heads down after the Howard re-election is over, ?It?s On? ? let?s start getting ready!